Initially, I felt rather out of my depth in my English classes because, unlike my previous school, we actually annotate our books, which are given to us as personal copies. I know, it's utterly shocking that my old school - which seemed hell-bent on saving as much money as possible (despite its academy sponsor spending over a £1 million on a centre in France for some unfathomable reason!) - couldn't even give us copies of the books we were studying so we could make notes next to the key quotes. Before I started annotating my first English lit novel, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, part of me mourned the idea of having to 'ruin' the clean pages inside yet, almost one year on, I take pride in flicking through all of the books and plays that I've read by seeing the highlighted quotes and annotations which express the very depths of my imagination going wild with literary joy... In other words, if a book that you're studying at A-level is not annotated, you better sort it out!!!
In conclusion (definitely the best expression to use if concluding an essay instead of 'all in all' - a tip picked up from one of my two English teachers!), English Literature is definitely a challenge in the sense that you need to adapt to reading a variety of works. However, if you have an open mind and are genuinely thirsty for expandng your bookmad mind with even more dramas, poems and novels, don't be afraid to step out into the unknown!
For anyone who is currently studying A-level French, I am sure that you are fully aware of the fact that GCSE French was, to be quite blunt, an absolute joke. Hmm, maybe not the sort of joke that would have left you roaring with laughter (or rire aux éclats) whilst trying to make sense of the illogical GCSE listening exam, but seriously, GCSE French was ridiculously easy compared to A-level. How people even dare to suggest that modern foreign languages at GCSE level are difficult have probably escaped the shock which greets us upon commencing our A-level studies in any language, let alone French!
When I talk about the 'shock' that initially was A-level French, I'm indeed referring to the greater amount of freedom - or liberté - that one has with regard to expressing themselves in French. Let's face it, each controlled assessment completed during our GCSEs contained standard phrases, possibly half of which we barely understood; indeed, I'll admit that I didn't fully understand what ainsi que meant when I used in one of my CAs until several months ago. Although all Year 11s like to consider themselves to be oh-so-mature because they are sitting their 'major' exams - the all-important GCSEs, which are presented by schools as determining 'life' or 'death' (or, in my case, whether I was worthy enough of being treated with a bar of Reese's peanut butter cups after collecting my results) - any GCSE French students were spoon-fed. Like babies, we were nurtured with the precious A* expressions and piles of vocabulary lists from which we were forced to revise from, unless we wanted the Exam Gods to chuck us into a locked room within Hell or somewhere equally as sinister.
Moreover, I suppose that my shock was also not supported by the fact that everyone in my French class actually participated in conversations in French. While literally 80% of my classmates in my GCSE French classes couldn't express themselves beyond saying that 'je joue au football', my new French peers could confidently speak aloud in front of an entire class. Having missed out on this 'nurturing' at my previous school, I really couldn't help but feel insecure about my own French-speaking abilities - I mean, how would I be able to attain an ability on a par with the rest of my class, the majority of whom had enjoyed the advantage of being supported in such an aspirational envrionment for five years prior to sixth form? Thus, I did feel for the first few weeks that I would never get the hang of French at this advanced level, which I suppose wasn't helped by the fact that I was used to getting high-ish marks whilst studying the GCSE.
Nonetheless, my advice for prospective French students is this: ne abandonnez pas! As I've since realised, the first few weeks feel like you are drowning (albeit not literally!) in a massive pool overflowing with tons of new and somewhat intimidating vocabulary (se banaliser freaked the hell out of me at first) yet, as you adjust and appreciate that pretty much everybody else is experiencing this difficulty at the same time, you slowly pull yourself out of the ocean and onto a dry, secure and safe beach. No way am I at all suggesting that A-level French is as relaxing as lying on a beach - unless you're sitting the General Studies exam, no A-level should even be considered 'easy' (otherwise, how can you truly feel proud of all the work you devote to studying it?) - because you simply have to keep practising it yet, like any other A-level subject, you get used it.
One way in which j'ai pris de l'assurance (I have gained confidence - I really ought to stop mentioning this mind-boggling translations but, once you've adjusted to A-level French, it really is difficult to resist showing off your vocabulary!) is by visiting French websites almost on a daily basis, even if only for several minutes at a time. My favourites are Le Figaro which uses words that you should be able to recognise or at least get the gist of and Elle France (particularly any articles associated with celebrities interest me!). If you have Netflix, try to watch television shows with French subtitles - this tends to be available for Netflix's own programmes (such as 13 Reasons Why), but hopefully more shows and films will appear with the option to watch them in French. Personally, I'm not too keen on 'francophone' music - in fact, I much prefer Spanish music because it is generally more upbeat and similar to the club music which I like - but it may be of interest you. However, I do like Stromae, whose EDM tracks feature very thought-provoking music videos, though I'm sorry to admit that none of Daft Punk's nor David Guetta's music are in French!
Another piece of advice is that practice makes perfect. At the end of the day, nobody is going to care if you spend half an hour or longer relistening to a 2 minute-long audio extract on gay families because, if it helps you to become more focused and confident in the actual exam, you have to do what works best for yourself. And I'm not exaggerating about spending hours of my time listening to baffling listening exercises which, once I see the transcript, I understand - some people are naturally stronger at reading or listening exercises, so don't worry much about it!
Lastly, I feel like I have become a more confident speaker in general thanks to studying French because it has pushed me beyond my confident zone as I have grown accustomed to speaking in almost every lesson - a quality which is definitely priceless! Also, topics like family and crime overlap with units that I'm studying in Sociology - therefore, French is like revision for Sociology, except that I'm doing so in another language!
Anyway, I think that I'll finish this post here because I honestly don't want to make your head explode with gaining so much information about A-levels (and, to be honest, my fingers deserve a rest from the keyboard!). To clarify things, I will be continuing my English and French studies into Year 13 because, well, it's a no-brainer - I've actually decided to study the two subjects as a joints-honour degree at university, so there is no way that I would drop either of them! As subjects which look at the meaning of language (English) and how to use language (French), I feel that they are the perfect combination for me, hence why I'll be clinging onto them like a dog holds onto a bone!
Next time, I'll discuss my experiences with Sociology and Media (the latter of which should make for some interesting reading). So, you ask, does this mark my return to the Blogosphere? As someone who doesn't like to leave anything half-done (unless it involves finishing that bar of fruit and nut chocolate lying under my bed which I so don't want!), I suppose so!