The reason I haven’t posted for quite some time is that I have been inundated by work!
Obviously I’m not complaining. Last year, in particular, was crazy and I ended up teaching every day of the week!
This year I have tried to be more sensible but it’s very hard to turn people away when I know that it’s not easy to find tutors in this area. This year I have quite a variety of students from the age of 8 up to 17 studying English Language and Literature, French and Latin. Proof reading hasn’t been quite so busy but I have spent any spare moments still working on the joint novel.
I’m lucky to have a share in a house in France but sometimes it does test my fluency in French! There’s nothing quite like things breaking down for revealing the gaps in one’s command of a language.
The word capacitor isn’t one that I use regularly in English and I would be hard pushed to explain exactly what one is. I have a vague idea that they are connected to motors? So when the pool pump died recently I was pleased the OH (an engineer) was with me in France to diagnose death of said capacitor. But I hadn’t a clue what the word is in French and dictionaries are notoriously bad at including technical words or making clear which ones are used in which context. Cue panic in how to track one down – and not just any one – one that would fit the pump.
After an involved discussion with French friends the required word appears to be condensateur.
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.
Teaching pupils their numbers in French is usually fairly straightforward until you get to 70 upwards. Soixante-dix (70) literally means sixty-ten; quatre-vingts (80) means four twenties and quatre-vingt-dix (90) means four-twenty-ten. Pupils often find this hard to get their heads around. I spent a year working in Switzerland where their version of French has certain differences – some vocabulary, a few grammatical constructions and numbers. Instead of the versions above the Swiss use septante, octante and nonante which certainly makes life a lot easier for non native speakers.
If you’re interested in other differences between le francais et le francais suisse there are a few websites that are worth looking at. My favourite is www.topio.ch which is quite a fun website.
While I was watching the BAFTAs award ceremony last night something struck me with some force. The Artist won many awards and the mainly French actors/writers /production people who came up for their awards gave their acceptance speeches in excellent English. (Rather ironic when you consider the film is primarily a silent one!)
Can you imagine a reverse situation at an awards ceremony in France, Germany or Italy, for example, where English actors/production people gave their acceptance speeches in French or German or Italian? I don’t think so. It was some comfort to hear Stephen Fry, host for the night, break into French at one point but he’s hardly typical in terms of skills and intellect.
Why do so few English people speak another language? What goes so badly wrong with the teaching of languages at schools or is the malaise deeper seated than that? Does it link to our history as a colonial power or perhaps our geographical status as an island? Is the solution teaching languages at Primary level? Or perhaps the public doesn’t think it matters? Everyone speaks English, so no problem. What do you think?
Many parents ask how they can help encourage students’ French learning. Of course, you can always help with testing vocabulary, for example, but in my experience students often resist the more obvious types of parental assistance. So, how about some other ploys?
Why not try switching your car radio to a French station – France Inter and Europe 1 are both easy to get on Long Wave – they won’t understand the majority of it but it will tune their ears to the pronunciation, and some of the words from the new bulletins and weather forecasts should be familiar.
Or, if you’re lucky enough to have satellite TV there’s a movie channel that shows a topical current affairs/news programme late afternoons plus a variety of French films. You may also find that your local Blockbuster has French films to rent and even if they read the subtitles they’ll still be absorbing some French.
Why not encourage your son or daughter to do a French exchange if their school runs a scheme (and if it doesn’t, you could suggest it)? There’s nothing quite like staying with a French family that speaks no English to force you to speak French!
Or, if finances permit, a trip to France will certainly help. Even if little French is actually spoken (you could try getting your son or daughter to order in cafes/buy food in markets but co-operation is not a certainty!) they will passively absorb a huge amount of French just by hearing it and seeing signs etc. Even a day trip to Calais to buy wine for Christmas would give them a taster of France.
Learning a language is so much more than just mastering the grammar – it should involve an appreciation of the culture of the country too. And with France’s reputation for good food and wine that’s not a hardship. is it?