Everybody can appreciate the importance of being able to speak a second language.
Whether you dream of a special trip to Paris, or you want to make a career in international business, learning a language as widely-spoken as French can only be a good thing!
For Australian children who don’t grow up in a bilingual household, the offer to learn a second language usually first comes at school. This is the reason why embracing such a fantastic opportunity while it is presented to them as part of the national curriculum is so important.
When it comes to the French language in particular, there are infinite ways in which being able to speak and write it to any level it can be rewarding.
“Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can; there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did” – Sarah Caldwell
This quotation about languages is particularly pertinent to taking advantage of French education programs or courses at school. With the expertise of the French teachers, an environment which is optimised for learning and plenty of classmates to help you practice your French-speaking skills in your lessons, you may come to regret wasting such a special opportunity in the future.
But why is this learning experience such a big part of speaking a language? Are the same benefits not available through a private education program? And why choose French?
Taking lessons in a second language has the potential to change a child’s life – so is it worth doing the grammar exercises, oral revision and vocab lists week by week?
Superprof’s guide to learning French at school will tell you all you need to know about the beauty of the French language and why its education is so rewarding.
A Brief History of the French Language
Most people are able to identify the French language in both writing and speaking, and some can even pick out meaning from cognates (words with are similar in two languages, such as French and English), but where did French come from? And how has it changed over the centuries?
French is part of the special group of romance languages.
Romance languages are also known as Latinate languages because they are derived from the version of Latin spoken by those who adopted Latin as their language in territories during the Roman conquest in 1BC. This variety of Latin is known as Vulgar Latin.
Vulgar Latin was the product of the standard variety of Latin which was spoken in the area now known as Italy. As more and more territories were brought under Roman rule, the version of Latin which was spoken as the mother tongue of the Roman soldiers spread throughout the Empire.
Since Latin was spoken as a second language by the subjects of the Roman Empire, the version of the language spoken in various territories became heavily influenced by the languages and dialects which preceded it.
As various versions of Vulgar Latin developed individually, they quickly became distinct from one another and the standard Latin of Italy. The gap between Vulgar Latin and standard Latin eventually became so wide that the new varieties of the language were virtually unrecognisable as Latin, and so new languages were born.
In France, the result of the development of Vulgar Latin throughout the Hexagon was a number of new languages – each one belonging to a geographical region.
The ancestor to modern French was one of these.
Following the promotion of the language spoken in the Ile-de-France area as the language of France in the mid-16th century, the language of Molière gained prowess in the world of literature and the arts, and French was declared the official language of public administration in 1539 by Francis I.
Since this proclamation, standardising the French language has been an ongoing effort by the French government and international language experts.
Standardisation has involved establishing an official grammar and spelling system for the language to be used for administrative and business purposes as well as for the media.
Over the years, French has become the official language of many other countries abroad including Canada, Cameroon, Senegal, Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar, Haiti, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and the Ivory Coast.
The vastness of the territory on which French is spoken is due to France’s colonial past, but interestingly, the languages spoken alongside French in these countries are now influencing the language spoken in France.
These effects are most prevalent in the slang used by French speakers.
Here are a few examples of these slang words derived from Arabic (spoken in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia):
|Slang word||French Equivalent||Meaning|
It’s easy to see that the adopted Arabic words bear no resemblance to the French words they replace, which is what is so interesting about the language spoken in France today!
France’s past efforts to colonise Africa, and an Arabic-speaking part of Africa in particular, have not only has linguistic consequences what is spoken on colonised territory but on its own language too.
The fascinating history of the French language is revealed in its modern lexicon.
The many conquests of France and its geographical size and position within Europe also make French a great language to learn if you’re interested in being able to communicate with people of various nationalities.
Learning French is a fantastic option for those who want to make the most of learning a different language and reap the rewards of their hard work.
Why Learn French at School?
At the start of secondary school, the language learning program is a compulsory part of the national curriculum. This means that everybody will have the opportunity to study a modern foreign language during their education – but how is the school environment useful for learning to speak French? Why can’t you just be free to wait until you’re older to start taking your languages seriously?
Language lessons are on the school curriculum for many good reasons – but what about the offer to learn the French language in particular?
Here are the top five reasons to study French during your school years:
1. Improve Your English
It’s no secret that French and English have quite a lot in common – this makes picking up new vocabulary far easier.
If you’re ever stuck for a French word during your lessons, taking a guess based on the English equivalent might not be a bad idea.
Did you know that speaking a second language can improve your general understanding of English?
As Geoffrey Willans said:
“You will never understand one language until you can understand at least two”
Getting your head around French grammar, in particular, can really help when it comes to understanding English grammar rules thanks to the fact that the two languages (while one is a romance language and the other is Germanic) are closely related.
So, when your English teacher starts talking about information regarding special nouns, verbs, or direct objects, you’ll know what’s going on.
Similarly, if you ever read or hear an unfamiliar word, being able to identify any of its French roots can help decode its meaning in English. For example, the English word ‘inevitable’ resembles the French verb ‘éviter’, which means ‘to avoid’. Pairing this with the negator ‘in’ then gives you the meaning of ‘inevitable’.
2. Gain Useful Expressions and Vocab for Holidays
Breaking down the stereotype that English speakers are lazy monolinguals by being able to communicate with a group of French people can work wonders for your general confidence and make holidaying in Paris or other parts of France that bit easier.
Whether you utter a simple ‘merci’ as your waiter brings your food, or you befriend a French student on your Summer family holiday, putting your skills into practice is useful and satisfying at any level.
For instance, being able to work out that a local business in Paris closes for lunch from the phrase ‘fermé entre 12h et 14h’ can save you the hassle of skiing back into the resort to visit it during l’heure du déjeuner.
3. Take Part in a French Exchange Programs
A major part of language learning in school is the language exchanges that take place abroad.
Language exchange programs are visits arranged by schools where pupils host French students of the same age to help them improve their English skills as well as doing the same in France to improve their French skills.
Taking part in an intensive French exchange is not only a great way to discover more about the education system abroad, but also to connect with students of the same age. Although going to live with a stranger in a foreign country for a few weeks may seem to be a daunting prospect for teens, being thrown into the deep end is the best way to improve your language skills.
4. Make Francophone friends
Aside from the special and lifelong friends, you will make on French exchanges, learning French gives you the skills to be able to communicate with the 276 million French speakers that live in all corners of the world.
Befriending a group of native French speakers abroad is also a fantastic way to keep your language on-the-go through the Summer holidays or even beyond school, so you’ll never be without a French teacher!
5. Take Advantage of Your Youthful Brain
You’re probably familiar with the idea that language learning becomes more difficult with age.
There are various ways to support a child’s multilingual or bilingual development, young people especially have such a willingness to learn – and this is most noticeable in their ability to develop a level of fluency in a second language more quickly than adults taking lessons.
Their advantage in language acquisition is not just to do with age, but also the environment.
While adults are preoccupied with work and other private responsibilities which come before their language study, school pupils spend most days in an environment which is optimised for learning, making it easier to concentrate on taking in new information during their lessons each week.
French at High School
Studying French as a subject in Year 11 and 12 is an excellent way for Francophiles to channel their appreciation for the culture or even to lay the foundations of an international career in the years to come.
The purpose of the ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) exams is to determine whether you can apply what has been learned in your lessons and think critically about the various topics in the syllabus.
Much of the content is relevant to daily life. General themes may include identity and belonging, travel, family, career interests, global challenges, etc, therefore you will have the opportunity to use all the new vocabulary learned to talk about your everyday life.
Science, history, or maths assessments are often just held in an exam hall with a pen and paper. However, intensive language programs are much more varied and need to be split into a group of four general areas of listening, writing, speaking, and reading.
And so, showing you have studied a foreign language on your CV demonstrates a versatile and adaptable skillset.
Now, what can be expected from French exams in high schools?
Essentially the final assessment will involve the following components:
- Listening: A short dialogue or sound bite will be played from a CD, you will be required to answer a group of questions relating to extracts of the recording. These may be multiple or single choices questions, or you may have to write a few sentences for your answer. The instructions must be read carefully, some answers may require English and others will need the responses in French.
- Writing: The written exam is to be done in French. Each section will often have a choice of two questions, students must respond with a short essay that shows their skills in grammar and vocabulary. The paper may include a translation aspect as well, a chance for you to demonstrate your understanding of special French tenses.
- Speaking: The oral examination is typically divided into two sections lasting approximately a total of 20 minutes. The first involves a general conversation where the assessors will ask the students questions about their everyday life or their reflections on French language and culture abroad. The second part focusses on a discussion about a subtopic chosen by the student who may wish to bring some supporting visual material to stimulate the conversation.
- Reading: Here you will need to demonstrate their level of reading comprehension. The paper will include extracts from a text followed by various questions. Students must provide accurate and detailed responses to show they have clearly understood the content. The answers should be cohesive, well-structured, and show a range of ideas.
French as an ATAR Subject
Selecting which subjects to study in high school is an important choice that demands serious consideration. In terms of choosing something practical, languages are undoubtedly a useful tool for all students to carry beyond their schooling days into the 'real world'.
Choosing French will develop your language proficiency to new heights and greatly enhance your speaking and writing skills. There may be some minor difficulties in using challenging grammatical structures and vocabulary however by the end of studying French in Year 12, you should feel confident in having a discussion with a native francophone.
Aside from having access to a variety of courses and employment opportunities, studying French and gaining the ability to properly speak the language will also open the door to its rich culture.
“Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going” – Rita Mae Brown
Discovering French culture as a non-native speaker will be an enriching experience. Not only will you be able to communicate with a large group of other people, but you will also be in the best place to learn the linguistic characteristics of French and appreciate the culture which comes along with it.
So if French is chosen as an ATAR subject, will the course be the same for all students?
It is important to note that whilst the ATAR ranking system is used across Australia, each state and territory has a unique syllabus and therefore different assessments.
The way French is calculated into a students' ATAR will also vary according to where you attend school. For example, VTAC will produce the ATAR for Victorian students, UAC for those in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, SATAC in South Australia and the Northern Territory, and TISC in Western Australia. From 2020, Queensland will also follow the ATAR system through QTAC.
We recommend looking up the local curriculum in your state or territory to get an idea of how French will be examined and what is expected of the those studying it. The VCE French Study Design for example can be easily found online. However the content, structure, and marking scheme will be different for students completing their HSC, WACE, SACE etc.
One similarity is how the prescribed themes and study topics are divided into 'the individual', 'the French-speaking communities,' and 'the world around us.' The types of texts that will be used in class to learn and practice the language (e.g. articles, letters, emails, scripts) are also very much consistent.
Additionally the aims and objectives relating to French listening, writing, speaking, or reading skills will share some commonalities for students across states.
Studying French as an ATAR subject is indeed a challenge – but it is an exceptionally worthwhile and rewarding experience for any high school student!
Useful Resources for French Revision
Revision sessions will become more frequent as you approach the end of the school year!
As far as French is concerned, it is normal to feel a little uncertain about doing exam preparation by yourself and without teachers each week.
One of the most useful pieces of advice that can be given to any student is keeping their French syllabus or study design close by! This is important as it will ensure what you are revising is not only relevant, but also on the right track. Reading the course requirements and knowing exactly what will be assessed will furthermore help prepare you for the final assessment. Those who write the French exam each year will base it off the syllabus, therefore if you use it as a resource you will be very well prepped.
Another great tip is downloading past exam papers to practice on. These can be found online on each state or territory education website alongside the curriculum. Be sure to ask your French teacher if there has been any major recent changes to the assessment.
Without their close help however, how will you know where you've made mistakes? And what about if you learn something by heart that has been written down incorrectly? We recommend finding some good quality information online or using French revision textbooks as study guides when learning at home week by week.
Refining your ability to read in French and broadening your vocabulary is important for exam preparation, however, remember to also dedicate some private time each week or even better, each day, to practice your speaking skills!
In your free time, you may like to get together one day with a small size group of your classmates, or perhaps you might join an online French language club for a few weeks?
However much invested you are in French language and culture, finding the right education program or online resources to help your preparation of your French exams is essential to both achieving a good ATAR and more broadly to your journey and success as a non-native speaker of French.