Several higher education establishments are now dealing with the drop in the level of French of their students.
“I accepted the position of intern at a law firm”, “I would be very grateful to you”… Yesterday, sporadic, French mistakes are now a legion of copies, homework and cover letters. as recently revealed Le Figaro, the decline in the level of French students is affecting even the best today. The scale of the phenomenon is such that several higher education establishments have addressed the problem, making language refresher courses mandatory, long reserved for foreign students.
“I had to ask myself all the time”
Since 2011, in order to validate their degree, students enrolled in the Montpellier Business School baccalaureate program are required to obtain the now well-known Voltaire certificate. On its website, the business school states that “a high level of spelling has become a differentiating skill to highlight on a curriculum, just like the TOEIC for the English level.” From there, in the first year, students prepare for this exam in ten steps to be carried out in the interface of the Voltaire Project, and attend the weekly classes of Charlotte Reboud, responsible for the module. “I make the students work the different rules studied in the form of games, dictations. I make them write emails. I make sure the basic conjugations are well mastered. This ensures that everyone reaches the end of the ten levels”, explains the professor.
What do key stakeholders think? For Johanna*, 23, a former student of International Business Administration, mastering the language created complexes. “I didn’t understand anything about past participle agreement. I had to ask myself all the time. Writing an email took me hours. All this so that in the end I am wrong. I keep getting it wrong, but at least it’s resolved,” she tells her. Hugo, from the same promotion, agrees. “By the end of the program, I had made tremendous progress.” From grammar to spelling and syntax, it’s difficult for Charlotte Reboud to review all the rules of French. With the decrease in the number of hours devoted to her learning in national education programs, as well as the development of short messages, she observes: “It is normal for the standard to go down. We changed the language, shortened the words and lost the habit of writing correctly.
From 30 to 12 failures
Private institutions aren’t the only ones reviewing your copy. At CY Cergy Paris University, students wishing to enter the first year of a Letters license are required to take a spelling and writing test on a current subject. Equalizing the results according to Nina Catach’s typology of errors leads to their distribution in three levels. For at least one semester, all students, grouped by level, must attend the “language improvement” course taught by linguist Rokhsareh Heshmati.
“In eleven sessions of one and a half hours, it was impossible to review everything”, recognizes the teacher. Mainly because everyone has their flaws. “Every two weeks I go back to past participle agreement. But it is also necessary to work on the lexicon, the subject-verb agreement and the forms in -é, -er, -ez, -et. Grammatical and lexical homophones are also seen in each lesson. On average, a student who makes 30 mistakes on the entrance exam ends the first semester with 12 mistakes. The latter, as future teachers, language science researchers or publishing professionals, are therefore encouraged by Rokhsareh Heshmati to continue this teaching in the second semester.
Towards a common system for universities?
It was in 2013 that the University of Paris Nanterre required all its first-year students to follow an online course called “Mastering French Writing”. From then on, 7,000 young people had to perform a certain number of exercises and review summary sheets at home, with a view to a final exam. For 500 of them, identified as in great difficulty, support sessions were organized on campus. Next year, in order to stop the steady decline in the level of French students, the establishment will have to review its system.
In this case, since last year, Paris Nanterre has been leading the action dedicated to the development of an Écri+ self-training and certification platform, currently in the test phase. Your objective? Train and certify mastery of the French language. Eighteen higher education institutions, including the University of Paris 1 – Panthéon Sorbonne, the University of Toulouse – Jean Jaurès and the University of Rennes 2, are already partners.
*The first name has been changed.