Everyone knows at least a few words of French, but have you ever considered studying the language and working towards a qualification? Or maybe you’re already studying GCSE French and looking for some exam tips.
Language GCSE qualifications are incredibly valuable. Holding such a certificate demonstrates a high level of perseverance and willingness to learn a new skill to employers, as well as being a rewarding skill which you can make use of throughout your life.
Whatever stage you’re currently at in your learning of the French language whether you're still working on building your vocabulary or have mastered the grammar rules, getting to grips with the GCSE French syllabus and finding out ways to make your learning and revision more effective will not only set you up for academic success but ensure that you are able to confidently use your new language skills in the real world.
So, whether you’re in the process of deciding which GCSE options to take, currently studying GCSE French or you’re about to sit your final GCSE exams, this article will tell you all you need to know about getting to know your course and preparing for exam day.
Why Study French at GCSE Level?
Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for people to sit GCSE exams in languages from all over the world – so why should you choose to learn to speak French?
As a global language and the language of our neighbours across the channel, there are many advantages to knowing how to speak French.
Here are three reasons why learning French is a great option at GCSE level:
1. Learn a Global Language
There are over 220 million French speakers around the world today – that’s a lot!
Not only is French the official language of France, but it is also widely spoken in other European countries like Belgium and Switzerland as well as further afield in Canada, Madagascar and even the Seychelles!
With its status as an official language in 29 countries, having even a basic knowledge of French will come in handy wherever you travel!
2. Explore Francophone Culture
French and French-speaking culture is famous around the world – but can’t you just experience it in English?
Of course you can! However, being able to experience such a fascinating culture and discover its history in its own language will make for a much richer experience.
3. Become More Employable
It’s a well-known fact that employers love languages on a CV. Not only do they represent your global outlook but having a GCSE qualification in a specific language certifies your intellectual ability in language learning.
Know the Syllabus
If you’re a current GCSE student studying French, it can be helpful to put in extra work over the course of the academic year to give yourself a strong foundation for exam revision when the time comes.
It is essential that you know the specification of your course back to front if you’re serious about getting the most from your French classes and achieving academic success.
So, where do you start?
In your very first GCSE french lessons, your teacher will make clear the assessment pattern for your course.
Here is the assessment pattern for AQA GCSE French higher tier:
- Paper 1 – Listening: Students will be asked to respond to questions on a set of audio recordings by a native French speaker.
- Paper 2 – Speaking: Students will be asked to prepare a discussion based on a topic given to them before meeting with the examiner to engage in the discussion. Following this, students will take part in a further general discussion of two themes which have not yet been discussed.
- Paper 3 – Reading: Students are required to answer questions on a piece of text as well as translate a set of sentences from French into English.
- Paper 4 – Writing: The writing paper comprises of three questions. The first two are writing exercises in French and the last is a translation of around 50 words from English into French.
Throughout your study of GCSE French, you will also cover a range of topics which will form the basis of each assessment you take.
Knowing these topics like the back of your hand will stand you in good stead when it comes to discussing them with an examiner or answering essay questions on them. This means being able to use the relevant vocabulary and the avantages et inconvénients (advantages and disadvantages) associated with each topic fluently and with confidence.
Success in your French exams required that you be armed with the right French learning resources. Whether it's course-specific textbooks or knowing about certain websites, learning materials can make all the difference.
Master Your French Vocabulary
Learning a wide range of vocabulary is one of the most important things about learning to speak a second language well.
Unsurprisingly, your range of vocabulary is something that you are marked on in your GCSE exams – so it’s worth every bit of work you put into expanding it!
But where do you start?
When it comes to learning a set of new words, lots of people like to list each word and its English equivalent. While this is a good starting point for arranging your vocabulary, getting each word to stick in your mind takes much more than this.
Everybody’s learning styles are different, but there are lots of revision strategies that most learners find helpful.
Here are just a few of them:
- Post-it notes: Write each word on a post-it note and stick it somewhere in your house. If you’re seeing the word on a regular basis, even when you’re not thinking about revision, it is more likely to stay in your mind.
- Flashcards: On one side, write the French word, on the back, write its English equivalent – et voilà! You’ve just created a great way to test your vocab.
- Use your vocabulary: The most effective way to remember new vocabulary is to use it. Take the words you’re struggling with and write a paragraph that includes them or uses them in your next French conversation.
Practice Your Written Skills with GCSE French Past Papers
What better way to improve your exam technique than to use real GCSE exam papers which have already been taken?
Papers for GCSE French exams from years gone by can be found online along with their mark schemes – so there’s plenty of opportunities for you to learn about what examiners are looking for in your answers!
Although past papers aren’t much use for speaking exams, they’re great for practicing your reading and writing skills in particular.
Each paper will specify the amount of time that you would be given if you were sitting it for real – so why not take this into account and set up your own mock exam at home? This is a good way to get used to exam conditions and sticking to a set amount of time per question – which can be an unexpected difficulty for many candidates.
Improve Your Listening Comprehension
Listening comprehension is not just important for your listening paper – you’ll also need good French listening skills for your speaking exam, too.
Being able to understand a language is a fundamental part of learning how to speak it for yourself.
So, what can you do to practice your listening?
Aside from using the recordings from past papers on the exam boards’ websites, there are lots of things you can include in your routine to boost your listening skills as well as your French pronunciation.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- YouTube: There are lots of French YouTubers out there with interesting content for the GSCE age group.
- Watch French News: Not only will watching French news help with your understanding of native French speakers, but it will also keep you up-to-date with what’s going on across the channel!
- Listen to French Radio: French radio is another good way to stay up-to-date with the added advantage of being able to listen while on-the-go.
Getting Essential Practice for Your Oral Exam
French-speaking exams are all about testing your understanding, pronunciation, and level of fluency in French.
For a lot of GCSE students, the speaking exam is understandably the most daunting GCSE assessment of the four papers.
The best way to alleviate the anxiety around your speaking exams and speaking French example is to get as much practice as you possibly can.
Most schools provide a number of opportunities to help their French students improve their French speaking skills and gain confidence in the area. These may include French exchange programmes, native French in-class language assistants and extra-curricular French clubs. If you’re serious about learning how to speak French to a good level, taking advantage of these opportunities is vital.
However, there comes a time when you need to work on your speaking skills without the help of a teacher or French native – so what do you do if you have nobody to talk to?
It might sound silly at first but talking to yourself in French is a brilliant way to get used to speaking French in all kinds of situations and improve your French accent.
Talking to yourself is also good for solidifying any new vocabulary and becoming more fluent as your speech becomes more natural.
Once you've completed your GCSE in French, you may find that you enjoy it so much that you choose to pursue an A Level French qualification.