If you're like my language students, reading and writing in your target language is easy but speaking and listening are hard. Especially speaking.
A lot of that has to do with the fear of making mistakes but, overwhelmingly, my students worry about getting laughed at. In their culture, the fear of failure and derision trumps even their achievements and the desire to claim credit for all of their hard work.
Of course, bragging on oneself runs counter to their culture, too.
Working against such a massive cultural influence to help them prepare for exams, I always tell them "You're neither showing off nor bragging; you're demonstrating the result of years of language study. There's nothing shameful about that." Sometimes it works for them and sometimes it doesn't. I hope it will work for you.
Another exam preparation tactic that works well is knowing what's expected of you. Of course, you already know that you'll be expected to speak French; that goes without saying. But in what context?
A lot of what you can expect from your GCSE French speaking exam depends on which exam board your school offers. From AQA to Edexcel and through Eduqas, each exam is slightly different but, overall, you might discuss these topics:
|Culture and Identity||1: My family, friends and me |
2: Technology in daily life
3: Hobbies and leisure activities
4: Food and drink
5: Customs and festivals
|Local, National and International||1: Hometown, neighbourhood, environment |
2: Holidays and travel
|Current, Future Study||1: School |
2: School subjects
3: School life
4: College and university prospects
|Ambitions for Jobs and Careers||1: Current or past part-time work |
2: Career aspirations
Now, let's dig deep into each of them, toss around some sample questions for you to practise with and give you some talking points for the conversations you expect to have.
Reviewing the GCSE French Speaking Exam
Your French speaking exam has two main components: roleplay and conversation. Depending on your level, whether at the foundation level or a higher tier, these elements will vary in length and difficulty.
Foundation tier students will be expected to converse between three and five minutes; for higher-level students, that expectation rises to between five and seven minutes.
Note that, because you're conversing - exchanging ideas, you have to ask questions. Foundation level students may get by with asking only one question but, if your French speaking levels are of a higher calibre, don't limit yourself to just one. Regardless of your level of French, if you fail to ask at least one question during your conversations, you will lose points.
Spontaneity and fluency account for five points of your exam's conversation segment - that's the grading aspect your questions fall into. Other areas of speech are graded like so:
- communication: worth 10 points of your overall grade
- language accuracy and range: worth 10 points of your overall grade
- intonation and pronunciation: worth 5 points of your overall grade
- total possible marks for the conversation segment: 30 points
Believe it or not, knowing the exam's points breakdown is an effective strategy to help maximise your overall score. For instance, if you're concerned that your pronunciation may cost you points but you're not worried about using the right verb tenses or gendered nouns, you would logically spend less time reviewing French grammar and more on your intonation and pronunciation.
With words like bouilloire and grenouille, reportedly two of the most difficult French words for English speakers to pronounce, we could hardly blame you for your worrying about your French pronunciation.
On the other hand, if you are fretting over the language accuracy criterion, you might need to brush up on your French grammar and verb tenses.
The Role Play Component
Your French speaking exam will challenge you to two roleplay exercises. The first one is not quite as flexible as the second one; you're expected to speak lines as prompted. However, the second exercise allows you more latitude; this is where you can really shine.
For both roleplay exercises, you'll be given a card that lists expectations - elements that you should include in your speech. This card will indicate the five elements you must incorporate into your roleplay. For instance, the word written in French means that you must include a sentence related to that word, or that uses that word.
If your card lists a French word followed by a question mark, that signals you should ask a question relating to the topic that word represents. For example, if your card reads 'Vacances ?', you should ask your teacher something related to taking holidays.
Throughout your French speaking test, you will be graded on your use of verb tenses and proper grammar. To ensure the best marks, take your cue from the teacher: if they use a conditional tense, you should use it, too.
And, of course, to roleplay competently, you should have a full lexicon of French words at your disposal. How well do you know the words on your French vocabulary list?
The main point to remember is that this is your assessment, not your teacher's. Therefore, you should speak at least twice as much as your teacher does. When your teacher asks "Parle-moi de ta famille.", the answer "Ben, il y a mon père; ma mère, quelques frères..." will net you the bare minimum score.
The longer you can talk on any topic your teacher broaches, the better so, if you were to go on about your family - how your father is a teacher and your mother an engineer, what you think of their professions; which one is your favourite brother and why... and so on,
And don't forget: "Que pensez-vous de ma famille?" would be an ideal conclusion to your response about your family.
Note the 'Ben...' in the above answer; it's the same as 'well...' or 'erm...'. In any language, these are considered fillers; they are usually used when a speaker is ordering their thoughts or mentally scrambling for some suitable response. Occasionally tossing a 'Ben...' in doesn't do much harm but if your speech is littered with fillers, this too will cost you.
The best way to avoid fillers is to have complete ideas ready to present ahead of your ordeal. You can anticipate which questions may come your way if you know what themes might be addressed so why not get some French reading practice in by going over the themes and sample questions in the next segment?
Lucky for you, your GCSE French speaking test won't last forever; you won't be subjected to endless topics that you have to discuss at length. Here are a couple of the themes your examiner might broach, along with a few sample questions for each.
Careers, Work Experience and Ambitions
You might get asked if you have a part-time job: "Est-ce que tu as un petit boulot au soir et au weekend?". You could then talk about any job you've had or reveal that you've not ever worked but you volunteered at your local hospital or animal shelter. You could even say that you do a lot of work around the house. Your concluding question might be: "Did you work part-time when you were in school?"
How to respond if you're asked about your dream job: "Si tu pouvais faire n'importe quel métier; lequel choisirais-tu?"? Don't stop at describing your career goals, talk about why you want to work in that field and what attracted you to it. Your closing question should be obvious.
Getting away from the 'wildest-dreams' query, you may just be asked: Qu'est-ce que tu voudrais faire comme travail dans l'avenir?" Note the distinction: one question begs for your dreams while the other is rooted in practicality. You may want a career as a Space Federation cadet in your wildest dreams but you'll likely have to limit yourself to things you can do on Earth.
Studying and School
"Tu aimes étudier les langues?" Closed-ended questions such as these, ones that normally would be answered with just a 'yes' or 'no' may prove more challenging than those that ask for your opinion or call for you to imagine something. Still, like the 150-word question you'll be tasked with elsewhere in your exam, this question gives you a lot to work with.
All you have to do is address the implied 'pourquoi' this question suggests. Why do you like to study languages? What is the value of studying them? How does language learning fit into your future career plans? Should everyone study languages?
Likewise, "Qu'est-ce que tu "étudies au collège?" seems to limit your response to a simple list of courses you've selected. A worthy answer goes beyond saying 'Maths, English and, of course, French'; you might start with your favourite subject - why you like it so much and how well you're doing in it; move onto your least-favourite and why you hate it but still attend every class.
As always, don't forget to follow up with a question for your teacher, maybe something like "Et que pensez-vous des matières enseignées au collège aujourd'hui?"
You might also field questions about your school uniform - don't just describe it, also share your thoughts on school uniforms being a good/bad idea, and why. What you'll study in the future: again, a seemingly limiting question but one you can expand on.
Remember that the key to success for GCSE French speaking is to move beyond the foundation of French language usage to get as fluent and expressive as you can. And don't forget to ping-pong back with questions of your own. Bonne chance!
Now, discover our complete guide to GCSE French revision...
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