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A Guide to the Leaving Cert French Oral Exam (2008)

This year the examination will take place during one of two weeks:
7-11 April or 14-18 April 2008.

Exam Structure and Strategy

This exam takes the form of an informal conversation between the examiner and you. It normally lasts from 12-15 minutes. The examiner usually addresses the students as a group and explains the format of the test. This is done through French and English.

On entering the examiner’s office you will be asked to sign the roll opposite your name and examination number. This is then read into the tape and the test begins. All candidates are recorded.

There is no set pattern to the questions asked. The first few are simple basic requests designed to put you at ease. The examiner decides, based on an indication of ability given by your teacher, the range and type of questions to be asked.

You can be guaranteed questions using present, past and future tenses. You have the option of choosing to bring a document (in French), a photograph or a project in with you. If you do so you will be asked some questions about it.

Your performance is assessed under four headings:

  • Pronunciation (20%)
  • Vocabulary (20%)
  • Structure (30%)
  • Communication (30%)

Exam Tips
1. Always greet the examiner warmly: "Bonjour Monsieur / Madame", it helps to break the ice and put you at ease before you begin.
2. Remember all questions will be phrased in the "Vous" form.
3. Avoid monosyllabic answers (Oui / Non) as these lead directly to another question or topic.
4. Listen carefully to the tense the examiner uses, the answer will usually be given in the same tense.
5. Take a few seconds to formulate your reply and give the fullest answer possible.
6. If you make a mistake don’t be afraid to correct it – "
j’ai allé(e)" instead of "je suis allé(e)", or mon in place of ma for famille.
7. If you don’t understand a question, or if you don’t hear it correctly say so: "Je ne comprends pas Monsieur / Madame" or "Voulez-vous répeter s’il vous plait?" The examiner will repeat or rephrase it for you.
8. You could be asked a question about a topic in which you have no interest or which find too difficult. If this happens just say "Ca ne m’intéresse pas" or "La politique ne m’intéresse pas Monsieur /Madame".

The examiner usually indicates the end of the exam by saying : "Bon, merci Paul /  Paula, c’est fini / c’est terminé / vous avez bien parlé”.


Preparation

It is important to prepare key topics before the exam. Below is a list of links to the topics that are relevant to the oral exam.

You will find a lot of vocabulary and colloquial expressions relevant to personal topics: this will enable you to talk or write about your own life, your hopes and aspirations, your problems and worries, etc. But you will also find very useful vocabulary for discussing more abstract topics and general problems in our society. Difficult as these may be, they are an important part of your exam preparation.

Topics

Family

School and Careers

Abstract Topics


Sample Exam Dialogue

The following sample takes you through a dialogue on exam day, where E represents the Examiner and S represents the Student. Guidelines are given as to how best to handle the conversation.

 
Avoid monosyllabic answers. Use full sentences.
S
E
S
E
Bonjour Monsieur!
Bonjour. Vous êtes bien Paul Murphy?
Oui, je m'appelle Paul Murphy.
Signez ici, s'il vous plaît.
Bring the conversation in the direction you want it to go.

Take your time and group your ideas!

Make your conversation natural by using such phrases as D'ailleur, en fait…

E
S

E
S


E

S

Bien, merci. Alors, quel âge avez-vous Paul?
J'ai 18 ans. Je suis né en 1984 ici à Dublin. J'habite près de l'école.

Comment venez-vous à l'école tous les jours?
Je fais du vélo car je suis sportif et c'est une bonne façon d'être en forme.

Qu'est-ce que vous pratiquez comme sport ici?
En fait, on a de la chance d'avoir un très bon choix. Il y a les terrains pour le foot gaélique et le court de basket et on peut courir dans la campagne qui nous entoure.

Take the lead in bringing the conversation towards topics you can discuss in greater depth





If you don't understand the question, don't guess. Ask the examiner to repeat it.



Turn the interview into a discussion. If you disagree just say so.

Don't be afraid to say that you made a mistake and correct it.

E


S




E
S


E

S



E
S

Vous sortez tous les weekend Paul?

Malheureusement non, Monsieur! Je voudrais bien mais à cause des examens il faut que je consacre la plupart de mon temps libre à mes études. J'aime bien aller au pub prendre un pot avec les copains. On bavarde, on se blague et l'ambiance est super mais, à mon avis les jeunes irlandais boivent un peu trop et souvent il y a des bagarres à cause de l'alcool. C'est dommâge quoi?

Bien sûr. Alors avez-vous trouvé un boulot l'été dernier?
Pardon, je n'ai pas bien compris. Vous pouvez répéter, s'il vous plaît?

Vous avez travaillé pendant les grandes vacances?
Oh oui! J'ai travaillé dans le garage de mon voisin avec son fils qui est mon meilleur copain. On s'entend enormément. D'ailleurs j'aime être indépendant et cela m'a permis de sortir beaucoup avec la bande et même faire des économies!

Et est-ce que le travail était difficile?
Pas vraiment, Monsieur. Tout au contraire! Toujours un tas de choses différentes et variées pour nous occuper. J'ai profité de l'expérience mais la vie d'un garagiste ou d'un mécanicien ne m'attire pas. Je compte toujours aller au collège. Pardon je voulais dire à l'université.

Be ready for such grammar-based questions as 'if' followed by the conditional.

E
S


E
S

Vous avez apporté un document?
Oui, j'ai une photo de ma famille en vacances au Canada il y a deux ans. J'aime le voyage.

Si vous gagniez la loterie nationale que feriez-vous Paul?
Sans hésiter je voyagerais aux quatre coins du monde avant de commencer mes études supérieures! Comme j’ai déjà dit monsieur j’adore voyager, voir le monde et rencontrer des gens étrangers.

Examiners' Comments

It is always very useful to heed the observations of examiners, as they provide an insight to the marking scheme and priorities. Below is a summary of the main points.

Pronunciation
Accurate pronunciation and a good accent are essential if you are to obtain a high grade. If the examiner has difficulty in understanding your poor pronunciation, this will be reflected in the mark awarded for communication. Here are some of the most common pronunciation mistakes.

  • Consonants at the end of words such as: Ils, et, temps, pied, on, nous, petit.
  • The sound ch: chimie, architecture.
  • The difference between les gens / les jeunes.
  • The difference between -ier and -ière.
  • The sound qu- : qualifié, qui, quand..
  • The third person plural ending of the present tense: regardent, pensent, jouent, where the 'nt' is silent.
  • The pronunciation of words such as pression, ss must be heard as an s.
  • The h at the beginning of a word: en haut, un homme, un hôtel…
  • The t at the end of a noun. The t must be heard as an s: attention, communication…
  • The e at the end of an adjective or noun is not pronounced, it only stresses the last letter: petite, grise

Vocabulary
You should have all the topics which interest you well prepared. In this way you should be familiar with all the possible vocabulary that may arise in questions. Make a list of all the types of questions you may be asked. Your teacher will help you with these. Prepare the predictable questions such as what you intend to do after school and any time spent abroad - especially in France!

  • Examiners have reported basic problems with words connected with school life:  Niveau ordinaire, Niveau supérieur, Pause-déjeuner, École primaire, Instituteur / Institutrice, Enseigner / Enseignant, Renseignements, Cours, Emploi du temps. Words connected with career or third-level studies were often unavailable: Formation, Stage, Diplôme, Licence.
  • Most candidates did not realise that a collège is a junior cycle second-level school and is not pronounced "collage".
  • There was confusion between the words matière and métier.
  • A lot of students also forget that the meaning of the verb attendre in French is "to wait for" and not "to attend" which would be translated by aller (to attend school) or assister à (to attend classes).
  • Stuck for a word? Ask the examiner: "Je m'excuse, mais je ne me rappelle plus comment on dit / J'oublie le mot." Providing this facility is not abused, the examiner will help.

Structures
Top grades are awarded to those showing a very good grasp of grammar and the structures necessary for accurate and efficient oral communication. All candidates will be asked questions in the  present, passé composé and futur tenses so have them well rehearsed and be able to change from one to the other with ease. Only practice will make this possible and it's never too late to start:

"Qu'est-ce que vous faites le weekend?"
"Qu'est-ce que vous avez fait le weekend dernier?"
"Qu'est-ce que vous allez faire ce weekend?"

Your performance check-list for a top mark:

  • Few mistakes in gender
  • Agreements generally correct
  • Ability to use prepositions
  • Appropriate use of basic tenses
  • Use of subordinate clauses

Common mistakes
However, even among the best candidates, some common mistakes have been identified:

  • J'ai allé instead of je suis alléJe suis 18 ans instead of j'ai 18 ans.
  • The use of  pour, pendant and  depuis .  Pour should be used for the following verbs only:  partir, s'en aller, venir. Pendant used for duration of an action which is limited in time. Depuis is used for an action which is still going on.
  • Examiners also noted what some call the "echo response", e.g.,
    "Qu'est-ce que vous achetez? J'achetez…." Students often copy the verb given in the question instead of answering correctly,  J'achète.
  • Incorrect use of prepositions:
    e.g. (à) France » en France
    e.g. (en) Dublin » à Dublin
    e.g. (à le) cinéma » au cinéma
    e.g. (sur le) lundi » le lundi
    e.g. (dans le weekend / a le weekend) » le weekend
    e.g. (très) beaucoup » beaucoup
    e.g. (dans) l'été » en été
    e.g. (dans le) matin » le matin
  • Students often confuse gender, e.g., Saying  ma père and  mon mère is quite a common mistake, so be careful and make sure you get it right  mon père - ma mère, mon frère, ma soeur. Incorrect partitive article, e.g., beaucoup des (jeunes) is a very common mistake and you should always say  beaucoup de even if the noun that follows is plural.
  • Using prepositions with the following verbs: regarder à, écouter à, chercher pour, attendre pour.
  • General failure to use object pronouns.
  • Incorrect past participles.
  • Incorrect use of  Il y a, C'est, Il est.
  • Confusion between  Jouer à and Jouer de.

Communication

  • The mark awarded for communication is closely related to those of the three previous skills. Having good grammar does not necessarily mean you are a good communicator, but it helps!
  • Candidates who managed to keep the conversation going and to convey a lot of information despite some grammar problems scored a higher grade in communication than grammar. You do not have to be brilliant or exceptional to do well.
  • Remember a conversation means that you look at the person you are talking to, smile, and try to relax. It is a conversation not an interrogation, even though you may be led to think so. Answer the examiner's questions and in doing so, do not recite off some passage that you have learned off by heart.

Take your time and be yourself!


Links

Learning French

http://www.skoool.ie/skoool/senior.asp?id=2692
skoool.ie's interactive lessons are a great way to learn and revise your French.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/languages/french/lj/
An integrated approach to learning French with options to look / listen / translate.

http://www.bonjourdefrance.com/
Interactive magazine for practicing French online.

http://phonetique.free.fr/
Games to help students practise the sounds and rhythms of the French language, as well as how to pronounce the French alphabet.

http://www.frenchassistant.com/default.asp
Students can practise their French while working on their computer using pop-up "question" or "information" windows. Registration required, although a demo is available.

http://babelfish.altavista.com
Translates text from English to French and vice versa, although watch out as the translation is often quite literal.

http://wordreference.com/
English to French and French to English dictionary.

http://jeudeloie.free.fr/
Fun site for general vocabulary and grammar revision.

French Culture and France

http://photos.pagesjaunes.fr/
Photos of buildings and maps of towns in France.

http://www.cortland.edu/www/flteach/civ/cultur/cultur.htm   
Useful site for information on French civilisation.

http://www.laguinguette.com/
Easy to read articles on French current affairs.

French Television Channels

TF1
http://www.tf1.fr

France 2
http://www.france2.fr

France 3
http://www.france3.fr

Canal+
http://www.canalplus.fr

La Cinquième
http://www.lacinquieme.fr

M6
http://www.m6.fr

TV5 
http://www.tv5.org
Up-to-date news and music. This site is designed for those who love French culture or speak, use, learn and teach French.

Télé 7 Jours
http://www.tele7jours.com/
Online version of the French TV listings magazine.

French Radio Stations

Europe 1
http://www.europe1.fr

Funradio
http://www.funradio.fr

Radio France Internationale
http://www.radiofranceinternationale.fr

French Search Engines

Google
http://www.google.fr

Yahoo! France
http://www.yahoo.fr

Nomade
http://www.nomade.fr

Lokace
http://www.lokace.fr

French Newspapers

Le Monde
http://www.lemonde.fr

Le Figaro
http://www.lefigaro.fr

Libération
http://www.liberation.fr

Le Humanité
http://www.humanite.presse.fr

Sud Ouest
http://www.sudouest.fr

Nice-Matin
http://www.nicematin.fr

BBC
http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/french/news/
News Stories from France. The site also includes an option to listen to related radio reports.

Diplomatic News
http://www.diplomatie.fr/actu/
From the French Department of foreign affairs. The site includes a daily review of the French press.

French Magazines

Paris Match
http://www.parismatch.tm.fr

L’Express
http://www.lexpress.presse.fr/express/

Le Nouvel Observateur
http://permanent.nouvelobs.com/

L’actualité
http://www.lactualite.com

Le Point
http://www.lepoint.fr

Elle
http://www.elle.fr

Marie Claire
http://www.marieclaire.fr

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