Rote learning hits a cul-de-sac for Leaving Cert French

“Students will not have been able to ream off prepared answers”

Deirdre Walsh, Audrey McCauliffe and Amy Alcock at Abbey Community College, Ferrybank, Waterford.

Deirdre Walsh, Audrey McCauliffe and Amy Alcock at Abbey Community College, Ferrybank, Waterford.


The days of rote learning prepared topics and themes for the French exam are over, said teachers after yesterday’s higher level Leaving Cert paper.

Natasha Lynch, director of Essential French in Cork, said students who went into the exam with prepared answers to questions on topics such as bullying, unemployment, and the internet will have been disappointed by a higher level paper, which challenged them to use their initiative.

“Students will not have been able to ream off prepared answers,” she said. It was a topical paper with an unexpected and diverse set of questions covering everything from celebrity culture to internships, and from The Gathering in tourism to the horse meat scandal.

Máire Ní Chiarba, a French teacher at coláiste an Phiarsaigh, Glanmire, Co Cork, said the paper provided an opportunity for particularly strong students to shine while still leaving space for weaker candidates.

“It was really great for those who were aiming for an A while not being out of reach for the weaker students.

“There were no issues with the listening comprehension, and they were very happy with the exam.”

Corrine Gavenda, a French teacher at the Institute of Education, said the paper was approachable and fair, offering students a good choice of questions on a range of interesting, relevant and topical subjects. “There were no surprises in terms of layout or types of questions asked.”

However, some students may have been caught out by a question on the tenses during a reading comprehension on the topic of hitchhiking, said Ms Gavenda.

A literary passage in question two – always the more challenging question in this section – was an accessible text about a college graduate struggling in a low-paid internship.

Once again celebrity culture raised its head in the State exams, with students asked to discuss the influence of celebrities on young people.

Celebrities are proving to be popular theme with examiners and students: so far this year Lady Gaga, Des Bishop, Henry Shefflin and girl group Little Mix have appeared in one form or another on English, Irish, and business studies exams.

The ordinary level paper was fair and well pitched, said Ms Ní Chiarba, with topics including festivals, French culture and celebrities.

Carole Oiknine of the Institute of Education said it was “a fair paper that checked a wide range of vocabulary and was up to the required standard”.

Despite the growing popularity of other languages, particularly Spanish, French remains by far the most popular foreign language at Leaving Cert level, with over 26,000 students – more than half of this year’s Leaving Cert cohort – sitting the paper.

Yesterday’s written exam accounted for 55 per cent of marks at higher level.

The listening comprehension accounted for 20 per cent of marks, and the oral exam – which students sat after Easter – accounted for the remaining 25 per cent.

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