It is well known French is one of the most widely spoken languages around the globe. It is therefore no surprise that it is extremely popular among the students choosing languages as ATAR subjects.
Knowing how to speak French is an extremely valuable skill to have. Not only are there cognitive, literacy, and communication benefits to learning French, but it is useful for further study. Deciding on French as an ATAR subject will open students up to a world of opportunities, it will provide a professional advantage after finishing school, and will develop a student’s overall cultural awareness and understanding.
French language skills are broken down into the four main areas of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Throughout Year 11 and 12, students are required to work on and will be assessed on each of these categories.
Before we delve into the tips and tricks to help you learn French, it is important to note that each state and territory in Australia has a unique syllabus and assessment for Freanch. The content, structure, and marking scheme for example will be different for Victorian students completing their VCE, those in New South Wales studying for the HSC, and students in Queensland completing the QCE etc.
So if you have chosen to study French as an ATAR subject, continue reading to find out the essentials things you need to know, and how you can prepare yourself to do well in your exams.
Practice Your Grammar and Vocabulary
Learning how to use basic grammar is fundamental to studying French. Students preparing for their ATAR will be expected to have a well-rounded understanding of various grammar points. This includes nouns, articles, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and prepositions.
Your French lessons in Year 11 and 12 will reinforce what you have already learnt throughout high school to then build the new skills needed for the assessments and exams.
One of the most commonly used methods of practicing grammar is flashcards. Whether you are a learner trying to memorise a new group of adjectives the gender of nouns, or how their spelling changes according to if the noun is singular or plural - flashcards are a great way of ensuring you recognise the key elements of French grammar.
When it comes to learning French verbs, you’ll need to dedicate proper time to practicing the different moods (e.g. indicative, subjunctive, imperative, conditional) as well as all the various simple and compound tenses (e.g. conjugation of the present, imperfect, future tense etc). Students taking French for their VCE, HSC or any other state or territory certificate will be expected to have more of an advanced language level especially with regards to the use of complex verbs.
One way to improve your understanding of difficult grammar areas is creating a colourful poster or mind map that summarises the most commonly used verbs. Another excellent resource that will help you learn how to effectively conjugate irregular French verbs is a ‘verb wheel.’ Having trouble knowing which auxiliary verb to use in the passé composé? Why not try the Dr and Mrs Vandertramp mnemonic!
With regards to learn French vocabulary, it is particularly important to develop a strong knowledge base as this will lay the foundations of your reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. It will also help you express yourself more fluently in French, and better understand a range of texts.
Building a solid vocabulary does require work however you may already know the meaning of some French expressions, for example, faux pas, RSVP, déjà vu. For the words you don’t know, a useful phrase to memorise in French is “Comment on dit ça en français?”
Improving Your Reading & Writing Skills
There is a wide range of texts used for Year 11 and 12 French. Students should familiarise themselves with the various types, for example, different articles, letters, diary entries, email exchanges etc.
We suggest students get themselves used to seeing how French grammar and vocabulary is used in different contexts whether this is a persuasive text, an informative piece or something more evaluative. There is a range of online French resources such as newspapers, magazines, blogs, cartoons etc which you can use to practice your reading comprehension.
When completing homework or an assessment, rather than launching straight into writing, students are encouraged to take a breath and read the question carefully. If you like to underline or use highlighters, pick out the most important words and refer back to them. This will ensure you have answered each section appropriately.
Whenever you write in French, it is a good idea to plan it out first. Putting together a simple draft before going ahead with a few dot points of what information and examples you will use will prove incredibly useful. If you are writing an essay for instance, you should roughly plot out what to put in your introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Brainstorming your ideas beforehand will ensure your writing is relevant, succinct, and most importantly coherent.
Once you have finished your writing task, leave some time to edit it afterwards. It would be useful to have a checklist of things you should remember to look out for. Are there any spelling mistakes or grammar errors? Are you using either the ‘tu’ or ‘vous’ form consistently? Does the text include the right features (such as the date/time for a journal entry, or subheadings in an article)? Have you adhered to the word count?
Expand Your Listening Skills
The best way to develop your listening skills in French is immersion, that is to surround yourself with the language. Put on the French news, listen to a radio program, train your ear by tuning into a French video or podcast online, or what about making a French music playlist. Any foreign language can be hard to understand when it is spoken very fast, French is certainly no exception. The idea of studying French isn't always to recognise each and every single word, but rather to understand the general meaning of what is being said in French.
Listening is a key component of learning French. If you need to improve in this area, why not supplement your lessons by picking an audiobook related to a topic you're studying in French class and follow along with the text. If you love French culture, you can watch a classic French movie in your spare time each week, or add French subtitles to your favourite Australian or British tv series. This will not only help you associate English words with their French equivalent, but it will also help train you to process information in real-time as it is spoken. Listening to audio resources will also help you pick up on the context of various phrases and expressions you would have learnt in your French classes.
Develop Your Ability to Speak French
Throughout Year 11 and 12, students will have the opportunity to give a number of presentations in French that will help prepare them for the end of year oral exam. You may find French speaking challenging at first, however, being able to communicate with another person just using the French language is an incredibly rewarding achievement. There are a number of ways you can practice speaking French whether this is reciting a poem at home or chatting with a friend through a video call. Connecting with native speakers in a language exchange group is also an excellent way to improve your pronunciation and conversational skills through French immersion.
Some may find public speaking difficult for a number of reasons. It might be a fear of making a grammar mistake, perhaps you find yourself at a loss of words, or are embarrassed of saying the wrong thing. Whatever it is holding you back, we encourage you to persist with practicing French and be confident in your abilities. As students step outside their comfort zone, they will find themselves improving their language level and proficiency. It is important to remember that achieving a high intermediate level or fluency takes time, your teacher or the examiners don’t expect you to speak like a native francophone but rather they want to see students put effort into their learning.
Familiarise Yourself with the Syllabus
A key piece of advice often given to Year 11 and 12 students is to read the curriculum. As mentioned, this varies according to which state or territory you are studying French in therefore it is important to be aware of how you will be examined, and what exactly is expected of you. If you are completing the QCE in Queensland or HSC in New South Wales, for example, you should know what the ATAR format and requirements are for French as this will help you tailor your studies and better prepare for the final assessment.
We often recommend students also practice on past exam papers. These should be easily found on the website of each state or territory education authority. Whilst it is a handy revision tip, be aware no two exam papers are exactly the same therefore it is a good idea to ask your French teacher if any major changes have been made recently to the assessment.
Students should have a go at timing themselves when completing previous French exams so they know how exactly long should be spent on each section. If you find yourself often struggling to finish a paper in the allocated time, it is important to use your time management skills well and get used to writing quickly. This method of practicing will furthermore help students figure out which language areas they are good at, and where there is room for further improvement in order to get to an advanced French level.