A level French

Exam Board: Pearson Edexcel

What is the A level about?

The Edexcel A level in French is an excellent qualification which takes pupils into the world of “interesting French”. Gone are the days of talking about your pets, your family and what they like to eat and what clothes they wear! Now is the time to learn about the culture and mode de vie of France and the French-speaking world. Pupils will be transformed from simple, functional communicators at GCSE into connoisseurs of French culture and literature, ready for their next step in their language-learning adventure.

What does the A level consist of?

The final examination (taken at the end of the Upper Sixth Form) consist of three papers:

  • Paper One (Listening, reading and translation - 2 hours - 40% of overall marks);
  • Paper Two (Written response to works and translation - 2 hours 40 minutes - 30% of overall marks);
  • Paper Three (Speaking - 21 to 23 minutes - 30% of overall marks).

These papers test the appropriate skills in the context of four themes:

  • Changes in French society;
  • Political and artistic culture in French-speaking countries;
  • Immigration and French multicultural society;
  • Occupation and the Resistance during the Second World War.

The works to be studied for Paper Two are:

  • La Haine (1995, Mathieu Kassovitz);
  • Les Mains sales, Jean-Paul Sartre.

Do I need to have studied the subject at GCSE?

In order to access this demanding course, pupils must have achieved at least a grade 7 in GCSE or IGCSE French.

Whom does the subject suit?

French A Level is for those who have loved GCSE or IGCSE. It is an opportunity to get to know France and those who speak this beautiful language in great depth. It is a challenging course, so pupils need to be sure it is for them. Obviously, studying a language in such detail will be hugely rewarding, opening up many doors for the future, so the subject particularly suits those who see themselves as global citizens. Pupils contemplating taking a language for A level must realise that they will have to work hard outside lessons too. Proficiency in a language will not come just from attending the lessons and completing prep: pupils will have to “live” the language, by reading and watching French in their free time.

What skills should I have?

Pupils will need to be good communicators already. There is a high degree of having to “think on your feet”, so quick thinkers should definitely consider taking the subject. It has been said that A level French is rather like General Studies in another language, so pupils must think for themselves, form their own opinions and not be afraid to share them. Pupils will also have to have a keen eye for detail and be willing to learn from their mistakes.

What might the subject lead to?

Studying French can lead you anywhere. For pupils who already have an idea of their future career, a language can only help them secure their dream job and allow them to do it in a wider range of places across the world. It is obvious that careers in translating and travel are clear destinations for linguists, but some of the most impressive linguists go on to hugely stimulating jobs in the intelligence and secret services. Universities always look kindly on applicants who have studied a modern language: they consider it a distinct advantage over other candidates in the application process.

What trips are involved?

There are regular cultural trips to watch French films or plays in London or Oxford as the opportunities present themselves. We have good contacts when it comes to work experience placements during the summer holidays: a month spent working in a seasonal post in a French-speaking country can do wonders for practising the language and will always be an advantage for any pupil getting involved. There may also be the opportunity for pupils to accompany the Third Form on their Battlefields Tour where Sixth Formers will be given responsibility for organising some of the activities. The trade-off being that they will have the chance to spend time in France, speaking the language and absorbing the culture while the younger pupils do their own activities.

What else should I consider before choosing?

Consider whether you want to change your life: having another language under your belt will transform your outlook on life for the better.

What books should I read?

Pupils will benefit from reading anything they like in French. It should be borne in mind, however, that reading for pleasure in French can be challenging to start with. Short story dual readers (where the facing pages tell the same story, but one side is in English, the other in French) are generally a good place to start. In addition, reading French literature in translation will broaden pupils’ horizons and help them to understand a different culture and point of view. Here are some suggestions:

  • Candide, Voltaire
  • Thérèse Raquin, Emile Zola
  • Germinal, Emile Zola
  • Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
  • L’Etranger, Albert Camus
  • Un Sac de billes, Joseph Joffo

Who will teach me?

IGCSE French is taught by Miss Harris and Mr Williams (Head of Languages).

Mr Williams (Head of Languages – BA Manchester) has over twenty years’ experience teaching modern and classical languages in leading independent schools. He has lived in France and works as a First World War battlefield guide in his spare time. He is also a Mastermind grand finalist.

Miss Harris (Teacher of French - MA Edinburgh) has a passion for teaching French, having previously lived and taught in Belgium. She says she loves the “lightbulb moment” when pupils understand how to translate a sentence or pronounce a new word. Outside school she plays netball competitively, having represented her region in basketball when she lived in Belgium.