Studying English in “Lettres Supérieures” should, in many ways, prove a completely new experience to most students.
The unique characteristic of this 1st year is that there is no set syllabus, per say. The objectives defined in the curriculum for this academic year are broad enough to offer each student a diverse perspective on the discipline of English language studies.
Although administratively there is a difference between those who take English as a 1st foreign language (Langue A) and those who choose it as a 2nd foreign language (Langue B), all students are strongly encouraged to attend the 2 weekly sessions of English.
Obviously students are first of all encouraged to build on the 4 skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) they are already familiar with thanks to their five or seven years of study at secondary school.
The first semester (September to January) is always geared towards reinforcement, leading to a greater or more acute mastery of the fundamental skills. The approach and teaching methodology are all inclusive, seeking to include all students regardless of their initial level, thus enabling everyone to benefit from the year’s course.
The focus on language ensures that students can:
come to a greater and truly detailed understanding of written and oral documents.
communicate clearly and precisely thanks to a greater mastery of all language tools: grammar, linguistic, phonology, vocabulary, etc.
count on a clear and efficient personal method to perform the various language tasks they are likely to encounter.
Students will be presented with a wide variety of exercises, documents, and resources to foster their knowledge and to develop the above objectives. They include:
language/linguistic analysis of texts taken from a wide variety of sources: newspaper articles, speech transcripts, novels, shorts stories etc…
translation exercises, from English to French and also, whenever suitable, from French to English.
introduction to literary texts and literary analysis at large with a particular emphasis on the short story.
analysis and interpretation of non-literary texts with a particular focus on primary-source documents to introduce students to some key cultural, historical, political or sociological features of the English-speaking world.
The second semester (February to June) builds on the skills developed during the first half of the year and ensures that students can master critical skills in the close reading and analysis of both literary and non-literary texts. Based on the needs of students and on their progress during the 1st semester, literature and civilization classes alternate every fortnight.
In the course of the 2nd semester students are invited to:
read one or two complete novels by a British and/or an American author and at least one play by Shakespeare. The literary analysis that enfolds combines both analysis and commentary of specific passages, and the study of the central themes of the literary piece.
give oral presentations on a weekly basis. Those presentations deal with literature, current news and key features of British and American civilization.
stage-produce or act out some of the key scenes taken from the novel or the play we are studying. This group work allows everyone to participate.
reflect on the art of translation, while continuing with the work started in the course of the 1st semester.
embark on a deeper linguistic analysis of English as a language.
Thus, at the end of the year students become more independent, not only thanks to a greater knowledge and understanding but also thanks to their new ability to study and work independently. They are in a position to face the new challenges offered by a second year in “CPGE” (khâgne) or L2 at university.
A practical overview of a typical beginning of term:
Session 1- Early September: A Practical Introduction to Translation Work:
As this was our 1st translation session, students were simply asked to bring their newly-bought English-English dictionaries. No other preparation work was required.
The following dictionaries had been recommended:
Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (O.U.P.), Webster’s New World College Dictionary (Merriam-Webster), Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (Longman).
The class began with a brief introduction allowing students to consider the “notion of translation”. After a quick class discussion allowing students to understand the goal of the exercise and to consider ways to reach such a goal thanks to a cursory overview of the methodology best suited, students were given a one-page text, taken from Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events – The Bad Beginning”, to read and analyze following the advice presented.
After this 1st stage, students were invited to prepare the translation of the 1st paragraph of the text.
After completion of their own translation, the students were given the current translation of the text, as can be found in the French version of the book, “Les Orphelins Beaudelaire”.
Students were then invited to compare the 2 translations, their own and the “official” one for class discussion. This exercise enabled students to view the translation critically and initiated a more personal reflection leading them to catch a glimpse of what, by the end of the year, should become the “art of translation”.
The second half of the translation was given to students as homework for our next Tuesday session.
Session 2 – Later in September: Civilization in Context – Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech (28/08/1963)
Students were given the complete transcript of MLK’s speech 10 days beforehand.
Link to the speech: http://www.archives.gov/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf
They had been asked to read the speech and prepare a written synthesis of the speech. They had been warned about the danger of potential paraphrase.
The class began with the projection of the speech as recorded by American networks back in 1963.
Following the viewing of the video, students were asked to react and express themselves on the delivery of the speech, the context, the attitude of the crowds, the intonation, the emotion, body language, non-verbal language, etc.
After a rather intense class discussion 5 students were asked to provide the class with their synthesis while the rest of the class was asked to take notes so as to be in a position to respond to, and comment on their fellow-students’ work.
One at the time, each synthesis was reviewed, analysed, commented on so as to ensure students understood the approach and methodology.
Students were then provided with a suggested synthesis that was then reviewed.
At the end of the session students received a 14-page file on Race Relations in the USA Today and asked to study it closely for the following week. The question put to them was: “Contrast the situation of African-Americans today and at the time of MLK” or “Has MLK’s dream come true?”