Alevel French problemsWatch
A burned-out student
So I received a generous offer from Oxford that requires three As. Two of my subjects are a solid A but French has been severely lacking since the start of Yr 13. I have the knowledge to do well but I just really struggle with accuracy, especially in my essays. I always feel like I'm lacking because my French teacher at high school barely taught me anything, even though I somehow ended up with a 9. Any ideas on how to get better accuracy in written work(essays and translation).
A burned-out student
Try and make the basics as accurate as you can: check your verb conjugations (these must be 100% accurate, so make sure you learn them. Now. This is the most important thing you need to do.); check your agreements of adjectives and past participles; make sure you've got your use of gender for any one noun at least consistent throughout your essay; use du, de la, des and de correctly. When you are checking your work, concentrate on one thing at a time, otherwise you are more likely to miss things
For grammar practice I always recommend this book which has really good explanations and a huge amount of exercises. The answer section is particularly good as it has further explanations and links back to the main text so that, if you've made a mistake, you can work out where you went wrong.
Use more advanced pronouns correctly. These include the personal pronouns y and en; relative pronouns like ce qui / ce que; dont; demonstrative pronouns celui/celle/ceux/celles.
Use negative structures with your verbs - not just ne...pas , but particularly using rien, jamais, personne, aucun
as these are trickier.
Use the more difficult adjectives and adverbs like meilleur / mieux; mauvais / mal.
Try and use inversions correctly - either ask rhetoric questions, or use conjunctions like à peine which trigger an inversion.
More sophisticated, university-level grammar includes good use of:
- personal pronouns, particularly en and y
- relative pronouns, particularly dont, ce dont, preposition + lequel, laquelle, lesquels, lesquelles
- reported speech (and use of the conditional and conditional perfect in reported speech)
- use of the subjunctive in subordinate clauses
- use of the subjunctive after relative pronouns
- appropriate use and avoidance of the passive voice, depending on context
- use of inversions for stylistic reasons in sentences
- use of inversions in questions
Use impersonal expressions - in particular 'il s'agit de' and 'il faut' - In doing so you sound more French and 'il faut' can be turned into a subjunctive by making it 'il faut que'
Don't obfuscate: the best French is simple, and too many people when asked to write a response simply look for posh sounding expressions because they believe it enhances the quality of their work - it doesn't, and makes it sound too over the top and un-French
The subjunctive: try to not go overboard with the subjunctive. If used too often it makes you sound pompous. However, if you are in dire need of a subjunctive (try to use at least 2 per essay to get higher grammar marks) you can make a subjunctive by making je pense que and je crois que negative - for example, je pense que ce n'est pas bon could be made into je ne pense pas que ce soit bon.
Read! Definitely read articles, not just for the vocab but they are also an excellent way to improve the quality of your written French. You will eventually recognise the repeated use of certain structures (eg the present participle), which you will then be able to apply in your essays.
Using past participles - The French LOVE past participles which they use to 'strengthen' (I can't think of a better term) their nouns. For example you could say 'les decisions de la Cour Supreme' although I would prefer to say 'Les decisions PRISES PAR la Cour Supreme'. Both sentences work, but using participles in this way will gain you grammar points and also sounds more French. Also starting your sentences with past participles can add to the overall Frenchness of your language: eg "Construite au dix-neuvième siècle, la Tour Eiffel est devenue emblématique non seulement de la ville de Paris, mais de la France tout entière".
Using present participles - This is a relatively easy way to gain grammar points if done effectively. As with the subjunctive, don't overdo it.