Have you read The Little Prince? Have you read the original French-language version? It would make for wonderful reading practice ahead of your exam...
At one point, early in this enchanting tale, the Aviator muses about adults' propensity for statistics. How old are you? What grade are you in? How many of this and how much of that? The Little Prince, too, wonders about people's obsession with counting things; particularly when he leaves the company of the businessman who repeatedly tallied the stars.
There may be something to that bemused speculation. While planning and researching this article, I wondered how many words are on the GCSE French Vocabulary list.
Statistics show that the average adult English speaker has a vocabulary of around 20,000 words, with a little under half being regularly used. For people your age - old enough to sit GCSEs, that number hovers somewhere between 10,00 to 15,000.
There, now doesn't that make the roughly 2,000 words you're expected to know for your GCSE French seem paltry?
Before we go over your vocabulary lists and share a few tips to help you remember French words, let's look at some of the categories of words you need to know.
Connectives and Conjunctions
When you think of these categories of words, 'if, and, or but' come easily to mind but there is also 'therefore', 'however' and 'including'; 'because', 'for example' and 'even if''.
Greetings and Exclamations
Surely you know to greet your teachers and other adults with the standard 'hello' and leave them with the formal 'goodbye' but your mates can be treated to the informal hi/bye. And then, there's Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, happy birthday and good luck. How would you give someone your best wishes in French?
Numbers and Describing Time
We're not just talking about 'before', 'after' and 'soon', here; we mean 'now', not 'sometimes' or 'a long time'. The list of time words is satisfyingly long; it encompasses everything from 'habitually' to 'occasionally', with every measure of time from 'everyday' to the 'weekend' thrown in for good measure.
One of my favourite French words, auparavant, features in this category.
As for numbers, there are less than a 'dozen' of them but 'around ten' will prove critical for your exam.
Distance and Location
There are the 'suburbs' and 'centre-city', and, 'somewhere' out there, the 'countryside'; there's 'right' and 'left' and nothing gauche about any of it. How far are all of these locales? You can measure them in kilometres or simply say they're 'quite near'.
All of the words in quotations will feature in your exam, and there are quite a few more categories we haven't even touched on, yet: colours, questions and weather among them.
So, let's get to the meat of things, shall we? Let Superprof talk about what's expected of you at the foundation stage and the higher level and, most importantly, arm you with a few suggestions to make learning these words easier.
Parts of Speech
Nouns and pronouns; verbs, adjectives and adverbs; prepositions, conjunctions and determiners: these are all parts of speech.
As your French vocabulary list overwhelmingly consists of nouns, there's little need for us to talk about them as a separate category in this section. We'll give you some handy tips for remembering them later.
Verbs get no distinction on your vocabulary list. They are, after all, a part of speech; we'd be hard-pressed to describe actions without verbs, wouldn't we? But they don't feature as a special category on your list, either, so we won't cover them here. You might check out our related article on French verb tenses, though.
So what parts of speech feature on the vocabulary list, then?
Prepositions: from the single-lettered à (at, to) to the three-word en dehors de (outside of, apart from), these words all show the relationship between the noun/pronoun and the rest of the words in the sentence.
Your list contains 32 need-to-know prepositions.
Conjunctions: to join clauses, phrases and words in French, you need to know about 'et', 'mais', 'aussi' - not to be confused with 'ainsi'. One means 'also'; the other means 'so'. To understand this critical difference, you only need to think of 'moi aussi' - me too, not 'so'.
Par contre merits extra attention because, taken individually, 'par' and 'contre' are both prepositions but, put together, they form a conjunction.
There are 28 conjunctions on your list of French words.
While not formally a part of speech, comparatives and superlatives take up a bit of room on your list. Perhaps the trickiest one to watch for is 'plus', 'plus que' and 'le plus' - 'more', 'more than' and 'the most', respectively. 'En plus' does not fit into this frame. That combination results in an adverb or preposition, depending on how it's used.
Here's an example of prepositional usage: "Je veux pas sortir! Il fait froid et, en plus, il pleut!"
In all, there are 20 comparative/superlative terms you need to be familiar with for your GCSE French.
With all of this French vocabulary at your disposal, you won't need much else to write your response to the 150-word essay question...
Whether you're testing at the foundation level or higher, the themes remain the same:
- health, relationships and choices
- free time and the media
- home and local area
- school, college and future plans
- current and future jobs
Naturally, the foundation-level requirements aren't quite as extensive as those for higher level but, for either one, you must have a substantial vocabulary to draw on to meet your challenge.
For either level, you will have to know the same number of conjunctions, prepositions, words to describe time and access and, at both levels, you will be called on to make comparisons and denote superlatives.
Do you know the words to describe weather conditions - orageux, tonnerre and tempête? How about le brouillard, ensoleillé and le météo?
There are also a substantial number of abbreviations you must learn and remember. Would you know that CDI means the school library and EPS is physical education?
The higher-level exam demands that you know, understand and, most importantly, that you can use about twice the number of words needed to earn good marks at the foundation level.
That's a rather tall order but, if you've been diligent in your studies so far and know how to revise for your GCSE French exam, that shouldn't be a problem.
Especially if you adopt some of these study tactics...
Revision and Memorization Tips
Unless you're an absolute lover of words - you like to roll them around in your mouth, say them out loud, find out everything about them, from their origins to the different forms, learning new words is boring. Why not make it fun?
Let's start with an onion (yes, they're on your list). Oignon sounds roughly the same in French and in English but the French version has a different spelling. A good way to remember it is to say it as it's spelt: whah-nyon.
Are you having trouble remembering words with the 'gn' sound? Just think of a cute onion: l'oignon. mignon. In fact, you could build silly sentences using only 'gn' words.
While we're on the subject of onions... did you know that word came to us from the French language?
Roughly 27% of all commonly-used English words have their roots in French (and, going further back, Latin). This titbit leads us to Valuable Tip #2: go through your entire vocabulary list, searching for words you already know.
Words like hôpital, rapide, commencer and discuter mean the same in English as they do in French. You can mark them off as known and understood.
Beware, though, that a substantial number of words in French look and sound the same as in English but have completely different meanings. Abusif, for instance, means punishing - not abusive. Others, like sensible (sensitive) and courrier (mail) could trip you up so, before you mark known words off your list, be sure that the French and English versions match.
Tip #3: look for roots in long or compound words. The French word for umbrella looks nothing like the word we use. What makes parapluie instantly recognisable? If you know what 'pluie' is and understand the prefix 'para' means 'against', you can immediately deduce that a parapluie is a device to protect against the rain.
Tip #4: understand pre- and suffixes. It's not hard to tease out the meaning of 'bon-', as in bonsoir, bonjour and so on. 'dys', 'dés' and the whole host of 'mé' (mau, mal, més) all signal the negative while re-, ré-, ra- and r- mean 'again'.
Suffixes can be a bit trickier because of gendering. For instance, a chanteur and a chanteuse are represented by the same word in English. But, by the eur/euse (-ice) suffix, you know it's somebody who does something.
Mastering pre- and suffixes can give you an idea of which direction the word wants to go; by reading a bit further into the text, you may be able to tease out the unknown word's meaning simply by what you know of prefixes, suffixes and what you pick up in context.
A final tip: use mnemonics and visualisations. This memory enhancement trick can help you remember particularly stubborn words - words that simply won't get in your head.
In fact, 'words not going into your head' is a pretty good visual for 'tétu', the French word for stubborn.
Now, with worries over your vocabulary list out of the way, let's move on to your GCSE French speaking questions...
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