By guest contributor Shen Hongyi (18S06K)
Additional reporting by Soh Ying Qi (18A01C)
Photos courtesy of Shen Hongyi
This article is the second part in Raffles Press’ series, Please Mind the Platform Gap: The Road Less Taken, about non-traditional A-level subjects offered in RI. For our previous feature on H2 KI, please click here. For our feature on taking a third language in JC, click here.
This article does not necessarily reflect the views of RI’s academic management and should not be used as a substitute for formal academic counselling.
Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité—for most people, this simple line is probably the first thing that comes to mind when they think of French. Between the superb cuisine, strange idioms and elusive gendered nouns, France’s cultural nuances remain ever fascinating, providing more and more reasons to offer H2 French at the A-Levels.
The popularity of H2 French varies from year to year; the nationwide class of 2017 boasts more than 30 candidates, while the class of 2018 across Singapore is just 9 students strong, with 5 of them from RI. Neither batch is typical; it really depends on the cohort. Lessons are twice a week in the evenings from 5.30pm to 7.30pm, and are taught at the Bishan MOE Language Centre (MOELC).
As some may be glad to hear, there are no prerequisites to offer French—prospective students are not required to take the French O-levels in Year 4, but attending some of the sample classes offered by MOELC in January may give you a better understanding of what French at H2 level entails, and provide a gauge of your own ability. The last sample class for this year’s intake included an informal placement test, comprising an expository essay about tourism; however, there is no reason to worry, for those who do not pass the test can still opt to take French at H1 level. Current French students can look forward to a briefing on A-Level French after their end-of-year exams, and teachers will be more than happy to answer any of your queries.
Perhaps the only “prerequisite” to take French is your aptitude in the language, as H2 French encompasses a large jump in content from Year 4; think GP in French. Many tend to think that since French is a foreign language, it is simply an easier and watered-down version of GP—but you might be in for quite a shock! The truth is, since French is a H2 subject, expect the content and assessment to be heavier. We discuss many social, political contemporary issues, and learn to appreciate French culture. Themes covered so far under this year’s J1 syllabus include (but are not limited to):
- Introduction (French language, geography, outre-mer regions and other Francophone cultures etc.)
- Political issues in France (2017 elections, political system, welfare system etc.)
- Social issues in France (poverty, unemployment, delinquency etc.)
- Family (evolution of family, its impacts etc.)
- Urban and rural life (comparison of both lifestyles, neo-ruralism, gentrification etc.)
- Education (education system, causes of stress, school drop-outs etc.)
Tutors have much liberty over lesson plans, and may directly consult students regarding what they would like to learn under a particular theme. Not all themes covered in class are strictly part of the official A-Level syllabus, but all are nonetheless interesting and insightful.
Lessons typically consist of the tutor showing us news articles, videos or slides relating to the day’s topic—all in French, of course. This is where small class sizes become advantageous: lessons are very interactive, with students taking turns to answer questions and everyone getting a chance to speak. The forgiving nature of the environment is also beneficial to students who are unsure of their responses; after all, making mistakes is part of the learning process.
Question: Why, statistically, do more people go to the countryside in summer than in winter?
Classmate: Because people are more radical in summer?
(Correct answer: The countryside climate is more comfortable and practical during summer, especially considering its relative lack of amenities.)
Alas, so are assessments, as any student knows. Though the assessment schedule and format may differ between tutors, J1s this year have CTs at the end of every academic term, meaning that French has triple the number of CTs that other subjects do, in addition to an end-of-year exam. All exams comprise the full suite of papers: composition (la rédaction), listening comprehension (la compréhension orale), and reading comprehension (la compréhension écrite), as well as an oral examination (la présentation oral) at the end of the year. Fortunately, all papers are modelled after the A-Level paper, so students will have many opportunities to hone their exam skills before the all-important national paper. For learners eager to delve outside the syllabus and hone their research skills, H2 French also comprises a coursework component, which comprises a dissertation on anything French-related that interests you and makes up 25% of the final A-Level grade.
Still, French isn’t all tests and exams—we also save some time for fun! This year’s J1 batch has embarked on two field trips: one to the Alliance Française médiathèque (library) to learn about the various resources at our disposal, and another to Lycée Français (Singapore’s French international school) for Francophonie Festival (the food was really good). As most current French students will know, J1 students also have to put up some form of entertainment during the annual MOELC French Day. This year, our contribution was a puppet show depicting Petit Prince’s misadventures in Francophone countries.
That aside, what can one really do with H2 French? While there is no H3 paper for the more academically inclined, the MOE Language Elective Scholarship (French) offers interested students the opportunity to embark on the Overseas Study cum Immersion Programme to France in late November and early December, as well as subsidised school fees and an annual allowance of $1000. Outstanding scholars may be offered undergraduate scholarships to fund their study of “specific academic or professional disciplines in established tertiary institutions in France”.
But perhaps the true value of learning a foreign language lies in gaining the ability to discover and appreciate the nuances of a particular culture. Besides offering a gateway to French universities in the future, H2 French gives students access to the country’s unique philosophy and way of life. While there are some apparent disadvantages which might put you off—evening classes and extra assessments included—you will hardly, if ever, think of those things during your journey if you really like the subject. Furthermore, even if your linguistic ability is floundering, interest and hard work will most likely be able to tide you through and help you enjoy your time learning French—in fact, the rigorous curriculum may even help you improve your language.
Ultimately, the prospective H2 French student is one who likes engaging new cultures and knowing new people; one who is truly passionate about the language, and excited about the possibility of pursuing it at a higher level. If French holds a special place in your heart, take the subject! If you are uncertain, give the sample classes a try to gauge your interest. Trust that all will turn out fine in the end, and use this article to assuage any remaining fears you may have about taking French at H2 level. Bon courage!
For more information about the 2020 H2 French syllabus, visit the SEAB website at https://www.seab.gov.sg/docs/default-source/national-examinations/syllabus/alevel/2020syllabus/9735_y20_sy.pdf
For more information about the Language Elective Scholarship (French), visit the MOE website at https://www.moe.gov.sg/admissions/scholarships/moe-preu/french
(Cover image source: http://www.history.com/news/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-eiffel-tower)