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Studying French through the Open University


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I'm just coming to the end of a year of study with the OU and thought I'd post my experience here for anyone else who may be considering this route.

For just over 2 years now I have been improving my French and I started off by going to an evening conversation class and supplementing this with some private study using grammar books, etc.  Prior to this, I had only completed O level French many, many years ago and used a little tourist French.

About a year into the conversation class I decided that I wanted to progress more rapidly and in a more structured way and the best thing I could find at the time was the OU so I signed up for a language studies degree in French and English (they don't offer French on its own).  I have now almost completed this and have 2 final essays for the English side of things to submit, but the French course is completed.  I went in at the intermediate level.

The course materials (talking now just about French) were a curate's egg.  The quality of their presentation and the depth in which the areas of grammar and culture were studied were, I thought, excellent.  The downside was that many of the subject areas appeared irrelevant and could have been better chosen.  For instance, in order to introduce the topic of talking about daily routines, times and so on, the OU used the example of the way of life in a monastery.  Another example for a different area was that of boarding school.  Hmmm.

My biggest complaint about the course is the lack of oral content and, in particular, conversation.  Assessment for the course is in 2 parts - 4 tutor marked assignments (TMAs) spread over the course, and then the final examinable marked assignment (EMA) at the end.  Of the TMAs only one of these is oral and this is talking about a particular topic for 4 minutes which you record and then submit as the assignment.  In other words, you write an essay and read it out.  The EMA is a slightly different format - the student prepares a 2 minute presentation of each of 3 different topics.  At the time of their EMA slot (which takes place in a virtual, online classroom) the student is told which topic they will present on.  They read their presentation and then the examiner asks them questions about it for 4 minutes.  This is the only time in the entire course when a student's ability to converse in French is tested.

I've decided not to continue with the OU for further studies as my primary objective is to become fluent in French.  I'm not concerned about pursuing any studies in English right now, particularly as much of what I've done this year whilst interesting has had a strong element of academic navel gazing about it and I don't have the temperament for this kind of thing (especially when I'm paying for it!).  My plan for future studies is to try the online courses offered by the Institut Francais and supplement with some private classes.  I will probably continue with the conversation class, too, although I find it frustrating at times.

The next stage in French with the OU would include more oral work but not as much as I can have via the Institut Francais, so it's the latter for me as I want to focus on this.  Also, the next stage up is incredibly expensive - by the time a week's residential school in France is added in, the cost comes to over £3,000 and I'm not convinced that it represents value for money for me as I don't need to obtain a degree - I'm doing this for pleasure and my own purposes.  My current estimates are that I can get to the same level using the IF and private lessons for about one third of that price.

In summary, the OU course is fine if you need/want to get a degree.  But if you want to learn to write and speak a language fluently and that's all you want, it isn't the cheapest and certainly not the most focussed way available.

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Getting a lover would probably be cheaper though perhaps not so much use if you wanna query the price of melons.

You are right about the OU materials, they are excellent but their courses are pricey and, as you say, some of the topics are off the map.

Quite like the idea of the monastery though, as compare to, say, the work discipline of a miner (if there are any left) or a fonctionnaire!
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Some years ago, I started the OU Diploma in French - this is a three year course. The assessment is both written and oral. I passed year one and got to the end of year two only to find I had passed the oral but failed the written by one B****y mark! I intended to resit, but events happened and I never went back to it.

However, I have all the materials and when I have more time, I intend to work through them again!
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  • 6 months later...
I did L120 and L221 (I think!) some years ago. The summer school was the only chance to meet lots of other students. We all agreed that the course materials lacked humour (we made our own when we had to invent a holiday resort: my group chose San Seriff and another Amityville). The low point came when we were supposed to sympathise with a married woman whose husband let her do all the housework and childcare. We all just commented "Stupid cow! Why doesn't she just walk out?"

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You can study French up to a point, and then you have a choice.

One route is a  real academic study of the language and culture, which I think would be best done in a French institution.

I have done quite a bit of translation of French literature and I can say that it has little to do with the everyday French most people need.

The other route for just becoming fluent at listening and speaking is to do just that as much a possible and throw study to the winds.

Listen and imitate.

French radio and TV and even better films are an excellent source and a lot of French TV is available subtitled in French (although the subtitles are often  a bit simplified that in itself is an interesting challenge to spot the difference).

You also need to put yourself in a situation where only French will do.

Join an association where there are no English speakers for example.

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