Let’s face it! Learning a foreign language can be tedious and difficult and at times it can be quite frankly, very boring! Being able to communicate in the mother tongue and in foreign languages is among the eight key skills for lifelong learning identified by the EU. So why does this lifelong journey to dual language learning have to be a difficult one.
Below, we have included innovative and exciting ways you can learn French as a holistic experience that is not limited to a classroom setting. But first, let’s look at how The French Oral Leaving Certificate Exam is broken down and marked so that you can prepare as best you can.
How to prepare for the French Oral Leaving Certificate Examination
The French Oral Exam is worth 100 marks (25%) for higher level and 80 marks (20%) for ordinary level of your final mark in French. It is separate to the written paper and aural listening exam. It is very worth your while to prepare well in advance for this speaking part of the exam. The Oral exam lasts approximately 12-15 minutes and is a basic interactive conversation between you and the examiner. You must demonstrate an ability to discuss your family, friends, hobbies and interests and other general topics. Remember, there is no limit to the amount of questions the examiner uses. However, you have the opportunity to command the conversation and allow it to flow naturally in whatever way you wish and towards the topics that you have best prepared for. The exam is a chance for you to exhibit and show your ability to speak french proficiently.
A positive attitude will go a long way in preparing yourself for this exam.
In the beginning, the examiner will ask questions to get to know you e.g. family, sport, hobbies, where they live, house, school. After the initial general questions, the conversion can take any course and you should be ready to articulate and adapt your responses on the spot as accurately and fluently as possible.
Look at the examiner as someone who is there to reward you with marks rather than someone who wants to “catch you out”. They may even push you outside your comfort zone as their best effort to get you a higher mark. You are there to demonstrate your level of french and they are there to help you get the best grade possible.
Let’s take a look at the breakdown of marks in the exam and where some students tend to fall down on the day.
Vocabulary 20 %
Structure 30 %
It is advisable to maintain a french accent throughout the oral French exam. Your marks will be rewarded based on how much you say. You cannot rely on learned off material, this is something that examiners have expressed in past years that impacts your grade negatively. Students should imitate native speakers as best they can.
Below are some common errors of pronunciation:
- Pronouncing final silent consonant, e.g. trucs, trop, cours, sport, heures, je sors.
- Mispronunciation of words such as: natation, installation, récréation, émission.
- Difficulty in pronouncing correctly the “gn” in gagner, campagne, Espagne.
- Confusion between ville, mille, tranquille as opposed to famille, fille, pavillon.
- Difficulty with the nasal sounds in words, e.g. examen, jardin, vin, mon, on, ans.
- Little or no effort to pronounce the French [r].
- Failure to observe the silent “e” or “ent” in the Present Tense, e.g. je joue, il aime,elles regardent.
- Confusion of matière/métier, vie/ville, aîné/année, cheveux/chevaux.
- Final “é” in the Passé Composé not pronounced, e.g. “j’ai joué” pronounced “j’ai joue”.
- Not making correct liaison, e.g. les élèves.
- Mispronunciation of school subjects, especially “le français”, “la chimie”, “la biologie”.
- Mispronunciation of common nouns such as “parents”, “poulet”, “soeur”, “travaille”.
- No distinction between the pronunciation of “un’ and “une”.
The acquisition of new words begins for students in First Year (family, weather, hobbies). Frequent revision to these topics is recommended. A range of vocabulary words should be learned within context. This means they can be applied during the exam when the time comes. Reading is a great way to learn new words but also watching videos on youtube and listening to music in french works wonders.
Below are some common errors with regards to vocabulary:
- Les faux amis: “collège” used instead of “université”, “facilités” used instead of “installations/équipements”.
- Confusion between certain words, e.g. journée/voyage, travailler/voyager, boisson/besoin, Pâques/bac, chambre/pièce.
- School subjects and names of countries not known.
- Inability to mention a favourite dish other than “frites” or “pizza”, or items of clothing bought or received as a present.
- Limited range of adjectives and verbs.
- Failure to recognise words within the question which hint at the correct tense to be used in answering, e.g. dernier/prochain, hier/demain.
- Irish words used instead of French words, e.g. “le” for “avec”, “mar” for “car”, “nó” for “ou’, “a lán” for “beaucoup”.
- Occasional inappropriate use of slang terms, e.g. vachement.
- Widespread inability to cope from a lexical point of view once pushed, albeit gently, beyond their comfort zone.
This area mainly focuses on your grasp on French grammar and is an area where a lot of students fall down. It is a big measure of whether the student will achieve a high grade. Allocating a specific time to go over small grammar rules such as adjectives, pronouns, and prepositions will help you to stand out in the exam. This is your chance to change from different tenses within one conversation. The examiner will ask deliberate questions that will require you to respond in the same verbal tense. The keyword in most sentences is the verb, this is something the student should look out for. Also look out for words such as “aujourd’hui”, “demain” et “hier” as they will give you a clue at what tense the examiner is looking for.
Here are some examples of common errors:
- Confusion between the subject pronouns “il” and “elle”.
- Total absence of verb, e.g. Ma famille grande.
- “C’est” and “il y a” confused.
- Avoidance of the future tense by over reliance on “je voudrais” or “j’espère” + infinitive.
- Incorrect word order, e.g. Ils s’appellent mes soeurs Aoife et Mary.
- Incorrect or unnecessary use of prepositions, e.g. en Paris, à France, je regarde à la télé, sur samedi, rencontrer avec.
- “Être” used when speaking of age, e.g. je suis 17 ans.
- Little distinction between definite and indefinite articles.
- Expressions of quantity such as ‘beaucoup’ followed by “des” instead of “de”.
- Incorrect idiom when speaking of sport and pastimes, e.g. je joue au sport, je fais natation.
- Confusion regarding expressions of time, e.g. pendant/pour/depuis.
- Incorrect conjugation of “acheter” and “étudier” in all three basic tenses.
- Gender of very common nouns confused or not known, e.g. la café, le mer.
- Incorrect auxiliary verb or omission of same in Passé Composé, e.g. j’ai allé, je sorti, je ne pas vu.
- Confusion relating to verbs followed by preposition + the infinitive, e.g. j’espère d’aller.
- Use of “parce que” or “car” confused with “à cause de”, e.g. “parce que mes études” instead of “à cause de mes études”.
- Echoing the question form used by the examiner, e.g. j’allez, je regardez, etc.
You are required to listen and respond to a wide variety of topics in a fluent manner. Every question asked, is a chance for you to expand on the topic and demonstrate your level of understanding. Try and avoid yes and no responses. Fleshing out your response will really help to show off your language skills and it may also direct the questions that will follow after. Writing down your own personalized responses in advance will help you to stand out from the other Leaving Certificate candidates. If you do not understand a question, take a deep breath, stay calm and ask the examiner, in a nice way, to repeat the question. If you choose to bring a document with you, be prepared to answer all types of questions the examiner could ask.
Common errors in communication:
- Unwillingness or hesitancy on the part of some candidates to venture beyond the comfort zone of their prepared script, despite gentle but persistent encouragement from the examiner.
- Over-reliance on long sections of learnt-off material or speeches, often introduced mal à propos by the candidate. Some candidates seemed indeed frustrated by any attempt from the examiner to judiciously steer the conversation towards a more natural and authentic exchange.
- Tendency to misinterpret the question, often caused by focusing on just one word.
- The candidate then proceeded to say all that he/she knew on the topic, regardless of its appropriateness as an answer.
- The need to have many questions reformulated.
- Poor overall preparation and perceived lack of interest in French.
- Restricted or erroneous vocabulary, coupled with such inaccurate pronunciation that a native French speaker, with no knowledge of English, would be at a loss to understand what was being said.
- Lack of necessary strategies to overcome any gaps in vocabulary or lack of opinion on a given subject.
Now that we’ve managed to get the technicalities out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff!
We are very aware that when traveling to a new country, you become stimulated and curious about their home language and it encourages interaction with the local people. Speaking the native language when visiting a new place connects you to the people around you and the culture they celebrate there. There are a desire and motivation to interact with them and learn about them as a people. You begin comparing your own culture and language to their way of living. You begin to learn more about yourself by doing so and a brand new growth mindset is born.
School Language trips are often students’ first chance to travel abroad, presenting them with a unique opportunity to explore a new culture that varies from their own. Our Summer Language trips to Paris and Biarritz will allow you to be immersed in French culture and explore a country outside of your own. You will practise conversational skills with native French people. Your vocabulary will be enhanced with the diversity of people both destinations have to offer. You will practise the language on a daily basis and meet other students also learning the french language. Class sizes are small for optimum teacher-student ratio to ensure you receive all the attention you need to enhance your language acquisition skills and prepare for The Leaving Cert Oral Exam well in advance.
There are up to 30 classes per week, with some in the morning and some in the afternoon. This leaves you with afternoons and weekends filled with activities and adventure. You will be carefully placed with a French host family who will take care of all of your basic needs whilst also providing you with an immersive and engaging french language experience.
Traveling to France will boost both your skills and confidence and it will put your language skills to the test. You will develop your listening aural and verbal skills with ease and confidence in authentic conditions.
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