Studying French Language at Cal

Learning another language provides us with new tools for creating and interpreting meaning. With these tools we can better understand not only other cultures but also our own. On a more personal level, learning another language provides an additional means of self-expression and, ultimately, of self-understanding.

Studying French at Berkeley is particularly challenging and rewarding. Our goals in the French Language Program include facilitating students’ ability to communicate effectively in both spoken and written French and teaching students to read French texts critically and with aesthetic appreciation. In the course of learning French, students are taught how to reflect on the meaning of linguistic and cultural similarities and differences, and they acquire new insights into the complexities of human communication and human culture.

First Year French

At Berkeley, we provide a structured approach that develops students’ ability to speak, listen, read and write in French. Only French is spoken in class from the very first day in French 1. Students quickly acquire a range of possibilities for expressing what they want to say. Students are provided a wide variety of formats for expression, ranging from more traditional classroom discussion and small group work to the creative use of computer and video technology. Thus,along with learning vocabulary and language structures, students read and discuss French texts, write compositions, perform skits, view videotaped broadcasts, do group projects, view and discuss French films, learn about aspects of culture in the French-speaking world, write e-mail messages to students in France, or produce their own multimedia World Wide Web pages in French.

Second Year French

In their second year of language study at Berkeley (French 3 and 4), students further develop their French skills on multiple levels. They refine their grammar usage through the study of complex structures, and they expand their spoken French skills through discussion and analysis of literary texts, cultural topics, current events, and personal experiences. Students are provided ample opportunity for expression through general classroom and small-group discussions and oral reports. They learn to read and view films from both an aesthetic and analytical point of view, and read complete texts from a variety of important French literary authors (French writers Beauvoir, Sartre, Colette, and well-known francophone writers, as well as film makers François Truffaut, Claire Denis, for example). Students will also read occasional texts on popular culture, art history, or history. Writing is practiced in several formats, including creative writing, journals, and analytical essays.

In addition to a review of all skills (speaking, listening, reading, writing, and culture), Berkeley’s language program is unique in placing early emphasis on issues of rhetoric, organization, and style in students’ spoken and written communication. Many of our second-year students have excelled in English reading and composition courses as a result of the training they received in Berkeley’s French Department. Thus many of the communicative skills our students acquire in French transfer directly into other courses, helping them to succeed in those areas.

The Department also offers conversation courses (French 13 and 14) to hone speaking skills and expand students’ knowledge of culture in the Francophone world. The phonetics course (French 35) offers systematic attention to pronunciation and exposes students to multiple speech varieties of French.

Class size is nineteen to twenty students per section in the language program to allow individual attention and maximum opportunity for practice. In conversation courses class size is fifteen students. All courses are taught by a highly trained corps of instructors who specialize in the teaching of French as a second language.