Tips for the GCSE speaking test
Learn the most basic vocabulary and then other examples of things
The GCSE speaking test will generally test your vocab in two ways:
For example, there'll be parts of a role play where you are told specifically to "ask for some bread", or "say you have a brother". And to get the marks for these specific parts of the role play, you need to know the words for bread and brother. Then there'll be other cases where you have to "tell your friend what your favourite food is" or "tell your friend which form of transport you prefer". The speaking test won't be trying to catch you out by asking for less common vocabulary. You're much more likely to be tested on the words for brother, sister, mum, dad than on aunt, mother-in-law, stepsister etc. However, you might be required to name "another member of the family". Similarly, you're more likely to be tested on the words bread and milk specifically than pineapple or cherry. However, you might be asked to name "your favourite fruit".
To get you started, here is some essential GCSE French vocab that you should really try and learn before anything else.
Learn a few basic "function phrases"
Make sure you know the following:
j'ai ... I have ...
j'ai ... ans I'm ... (years old)
on a ... we have ...
je suis ... I'm ...
il est ... he's ...
elle est ... she's ...
c'est combien? how much is it?
c'est ... it's ...
c'est ... euros it's ... Euros
à quelle heure? (at) what time?
quel âge? how old?
et toi? and how about you?
et... (ton frère, ta soeur etc)? and how about... (your brother, your sister etc)?
je veux... I want...
je / il / elle préfère I / he / she prefer(s)
s'il vous plaît please
il y a... there's..., there are...
Learn small numbers
Some number or other is bound to crop up at some point in the role plays: for asking for "two apples", for saying the price of something, for saying your age. Make sure you know how to say:
When you say an age, don't forget the word ans.
Avoid obvious pronunciation blunders
First, some good news: a convenient feature of the GCSE speaking test is that, despite being a speaking test, you're allowed to have surprisingly bad pronunciation and still get full marks (the general requirement is that you are "understandable to a sympathetic native speaker"). However, there are one or two pronunciation blunders that the examiners really don't like:
Note: an exception is the word fils (=son), where the final -s (but not the l) is pronounced!
Finally, if you have an iPhone or iPad, then the Utter French pronunciation app provides high-quality recordings of native pronunciation of virtually all items of core GCSE vocab, along with expert advice on how to pronounce the words.
Asking questions: do it the easy way
Occasionally (and probably at least once in the exam), you'll be told to ask a question. For example: "ask your friend what school subject they like". There are two easy ways to ask a question in French, both of which will get you full marks in the GCSE speaking exam:
Don't be put off by fancy verbiage
Especially in the role plays, there'll usually be one or two key words that are going to get you the marks. And they're usually fairly simple words. Occasionally, the wording of the question can make things look harder than they really are. If you're asked to say that "your brother has fallen ill", remember that the basic message is that your brother is ill, and the examiners are essentially looking for something with the words frère and malade (and ideally, a grammatical sentence: mon frère est malade). If you're asked to "greet the shopkeeper", remember that just means say "bonjour!"...
What do I do if I don't know a word?
In general, you have a couple of options:
The brand name option will generally (probably) work if that brand is known in France/some French-speaking country. You'll just have to take pot luck.
Sometimes, you might be asked for a general word, but saying something more specific is also OK. For example, if you're asked to say that your broher is ill, but you've forgotten the word for ill, then try and invent some more specific thing that might be wrong with him. For example, if you know mal à la tête (headache), you could say mon frère a mal à la tête.
In other cases, it's really best to just say some other word and not worry about it: it'll only effect part of your mark for that role play. For example, let's say you have a role play where you have to (a) ask for some bread, (b) ask how much it costs, and (c) say "thank you". If you don't know the word for bread, then you won't get the marks for part (a). But you also won't lose any marks on the other parts of the role play. So just ask for some milk or ham (or Cornflakes) instead, and worry about trying to get the marks for parts (b) and (c).
When is it worth "guessing" the French word?
There are lots of French words that are the same as English or very similar. But in general, these words tend to be the "posh" words in English. In particular:
Guessing that the French word is similar to English can be a good strategy if used carefuly. The problem is that most of these "guessable" words aren't simple words— in other words, they're not the kind of words that you'll be asked for directly in the GCSE speaking test. But indirectly they might help you. So:
So if you're stuck for a word, see if you can think of a "posh" word that means the same thing or a similar thing. For example, if you're asked for somebody's job but can't think of that word, you might think of the word profession (same word in French). If you can't think of the word for keep, try and think of conserve (French verb conserver); check might make you think of verify (French vérifier). If you can't think of the word for choice, then the word selection might help you (French sélection). If you need to ask for a slice or helping of pizza, what you really want is a portion etc.
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