French Oral Tips

This probably won’t help with your French oral exam but there are some tips that may!

This is the time of year when many students are tackling their oral exams. The present format is that students learn an initial short presentation and then have to answer several prepared questions. This format means that most students learn the responses by heart and then repeat them back to the teacher/examiner. The answers will have been prepared in advance with the assistance of their teachers and are designed to show examples of ‘good’ French! The teacher will have ensured that the answers include: past and future tenses and  possibly a conditional tense; interesting grammatical constructions; varied vocabulary. Although this approach means that pupils are producing (albeit not spontaneously!) a higher quality of French than the old-fashioned, unstructured and rather one-sided conversation that used to form the oral exam, it does have its pitfalls.

The result certainly doesn’t sound natural and there is a tendency to deliver the learnt text at high speed.

So, remember to slow down a little and breathe during your exam! If you rush the delivery your pronunciation will suffer.

Concentrate in particular on those sounds that are different from English like the soft ‘d’ or ‘p’, the rolled ‘r’ and the vowel sound in ‘tu’, ‘du’ etc. Attempts to produce something more authentically French sounding will gain you marks.

Try to take the odd pause to make it seem more natural, as though you’re considering your reply – maybe add the odd ‘err’ or even better, an ‘en effet’ or similar phrase.

For the drama students out there, think of this as an opportunity to practise – the odd shrug or wave of the hand at appropriate moments will also help to slow down your delivery.

Try to be aware of what you’re saying so that if you forget some of it you can quickly adjust your reply, rather than completely freeze like a rabbit in the headlights. If your answer isn’t exactly what you prepared, it’s not a disaster as long as what you do say makes sense.

And most important of all, LISTEN to the questions. Don’t assume that they will be taken in order – you might end up giving a perfectly good answer –  but to the wrong question.

Finally, get in the mood by listening to some French radio on the morning of the exam.

Good luck!


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