French Ab Initio is a course designed for students with little to no experience in the language. Although this course is intended for beginners, it is important to remember that learning a foreign language needs constant practice to maintain fluency. Here are my tips to help you along the way!
Preparing for the oral assessment
While speaking a new language can be intimidating, practice makes perfect, so don’t be afraid to flop in the beginning! To improve your speaking skills, you should try to engage with French-speakers as much as possible.
During the oral you will be presented with a selection of two visual stimuli, which you will have 15 minutes to write brief notes on. You will then present the image for 1-2 minutes and then continue a discussion with your teacher. To best prepare, I would advise using images online and practicing according to the time conventions of the assessment. I have compiled a few images here. Record yourself while you practice, and play it back to determine where you struggle with pronunciation and how you use your intonation. Sharing this recording with your teacher or French-speakers and obtaining their feedback can also be helpful!
I also prepared a general structure that I used to describe an image every time. For example, I liked to start by describing the people and their relationships, then the background/weather, then what I thought the people were doing and why, followed by any last thoughts. Try to integrate past tense or future tense through explaining what the people have done and what they will do because this increases the complexity of language used. Another way to do this is to have a list of helpful phrases/words that you can use to vary your language.
An area where students often lose marks is related to linking your ideas to the target culture. I advise documenting the things you know about French culture (e.g stereotypes, customs, food, celebrations) which you can reference in your oral. For my oral, I had an image of a woman and a man in a mall staring at a bikini, so I drew on the stereotype that the French love fashion and that the bikini is a French garment!
Although making this preparation is helpful, remember that you will not have access to any supplementary notes during the oral and that your presentation should flow and feel spontaneous.
Preparing for the listening assessment
The listening assessment was one of the hardest aspects for me. I tried to use my down-time to practice. I practiced using French listening comprehensions on YouTube, Duolingo podcasts which told stories alternating between French and English. Watching French movies or kids’ shows like Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir (which isn’t your average kids’ show) will help you gain auditory fluency.
Note that, for students taking exams in 2021, the listening component has been removed.
Preparing for the written assessment
The written assessment tests both your ability to use your grammar and vocab. It additionally tests your usage of an appropriate text type and register. For example, let’s look at this possible prompt:
E.g: Vous avez déménagé et vous voulez informer vos copains. Écrivez un texte dans lequel vous décrivez la nouvelle maison et expliquez ce qui vous plaît le plus. Mentionnez aussi les inconvénients.
Translation: You have moved and you want to inform your friends. Write a text in which you describe the new home and explain what you like most. Also mention the disadvantages.
You are provided with a selection of an email, invitation or diary entry as your text type. Of these three options, an email would be the most appropriate. It’s important that you format your piece according to the conventions of an email. For example:
|De: (From) X|
|Á: (To) X|
|Sujet: (Subject) X|
|Salut, (informal hello)|
I would advise keeping a few examples of different text type formats you learn in class and the language you should use for a specific audience. Remember that for Paper 1 you will be required to produce a personal text (diary entry, blog, etc.) as well as a professional text (email, formal letter, etc.) or a mass media text (speech, article, etc.).
Overall, the key to improving your understanding of French is to immerse yourself in the language both inside and outside the classroom. I advise you to create grammar cheat sheets and practice them in sentences you would say in everyday life. Remember to actively try to gain new vocab! For instance, I wrote down new vocabulary at the back of my book. Use your down-time to revise words with flashcards, watch French entertainment or listen to French music. Just through engaging in these habits a few times per week you will be well on your way to being confident in the language.