French ab initio


Bonjour ! Parlez-vous français? Voulez-vous apprendre le français?

If the answers to the above questions are ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ respectively, then it’s time to sign up for French ab initio!

(If you can’t read the questions, don’t fret, because that’s the whole point of attending French class!) (ORRRR there’s always Google Translate)

So, what is ab initio?

When I first heard about the French ab initio at IB Night, it sounded like a mumble of words. By definition, ‘ab initio’ is a Latin term that means “from the beginning”. Literally, any language ab initio subject takes you back to Primary One grammar and sentence structure (with the only difference being that lessons are conducted in a foreign language). ACS(I) currently offers four ab initio language subjects – French, Spanish, Malay, and Mandarin (out of which, Spanish appears to be the most popular). Our syllabus takes things back to basics. Here’s a list of what you’ll learn if you take an ab initio subject:

  • Telling time
  • Giving directions
  • Hobbies
  • Daily schedule
  • Favourite foods/ drinks
  • Describing one’s appearance
  • Dealing with money
  • Asking questions
  • Describing your environment

The list is endless because the things that we learn are not completely limited to the IB syllabus. Madame Linda Hung (the French teacher) often introduces new ideas or phrases that may be relevant to our daily lives more than to our examinations.

You’ll probably end up learning how to say the following by the time Year 6 is over: I am going to school/ I am in school/ I don’t want to go to school/ Is there school?/ Do I have to go to school?/ I love school/ I went to school/ I will be going to school. (The combinations are unlimited, but you get the gist!)

Don’t forget, when you take an ab initio subject, you aren’t only learning the language for the sake of the IB exams – you’re learning a new language for life!

What’s the workload like?

As a French student, I’m afraid I can only speak for my own subject. However, I can tell you that learning a new language for two years requires continued effort. An ab initio subject is certainly not a ‘mugging’ subject. It’s impossible to pick up your notes one month before the exam and expect to ace it.

Continuous revision is certainly needed to excel in a new language. Although homework isn’t assigned at the end of every lesson, most of the French ab students try to consolidate their learning and review the notes taken down in class. However, more homework will be set as you progress. Our work often consists of situational writing (eg: detailing your daily schedule, describing the types of food you eat, giving directions to a certain destination, etc), comprehension exercises, and language exercises to practice new verb conjugations and sentence structures.

Nearing promos, intensive oral practice will commence to prepare you for the internal oral examination, which contributes to your Year 5 promotional examination result. Make sure that you practice at home by yourself or with a friend, ensuring that you use a good variety of vocabulary and proper diction for your actual exams!

So you may be wondering – How do you study French? Do you just… ‘get it’ and become fluent after awhile? “Studying” a language may sound odd, but it is necessary. The French textbook Taxi! that you will be purchasing for class will not help you through the course (it basically acts as a course guide)– you need to use other resources to get a better command of the French language.

DuoLingo is a brilliant app that allows me to practice the skills and vocabulary taught in class.

  • It also helps to have a French dictionary at home to help you learn additional words for each topic (I use Collins French School Dictionary & Grammar, but any dictionary from Kinokuniya should suffice!).
  • is a great website for studying and learning new verb conjugations. Everything is neatly presented and very comprehensive.
  • In case you’re wondering if you can simply type out an essay in English, plug it into Google Translate, and hit the ‘Translate into French’ button, the answer is no. Google Translate is inaccurate when it comes to sentence structure and grammar. Yes, it may work for simple sentences and single words, but everything else will be completely wrong!

In terms of studying techniques, I prefer to create a ‘study pack’ for each topic of the textbook. For each pack, I’ll include new verb conjugations studied, new vocabulary pertaining to that topic, as well as any other relevant sentence structures. To prepare for the Paper 2 exam, it is advisable to write practice essays based on each topic to get a general feel of the chapter. Don’t memorise these essays, because the likelihood of the question being identical to the essay you’ve practiced is close to zero. Instead, memorise the vocabulary involved in each topic so that you can score for the vocabulary criterion!


Like every other IB subject, French ab initio consists of an internal and external assessment component.

Internal Assessment:

  • Oral Exam (25%) – The individual oral tests your fluency and competency in the assessed language. The 10-minute exam consists of a presentation of a visual stimuli, a Q&A segment based n that visual stimuli, as well as a general conversation based on the topics learnt in class.

External Assessment:

  • Written Assignment (20%) – The written assignment is a 200-300 words piece of writing based on a topic of your choice. Internally set but externally assessed, it aims to promote intercultural understanding and tests the your ability to describe, compare, contrast, and reflect upon the French culture and your culture. The written assignment may be completed at home.
  • Paper 1 (30%) – This 1 hour 30 minute comprehension test assesses your ability to read, understand, and competently respond to a questions based on three different texts. The question types may include matching, true/false, multiple choice, table-filling, or short answer.
  • Paper 2 (25%) – This 1 hour written exam tests your ability to write coherently in French. The prompt will propose a scenario – such as “You are an international student ambassador representing your host country. A group of students from Germany will be visiting your school next week. Write them an email detailing the itinerary for their upcoming trip.” From this, you are expected to identify the format of the text (in this case, an email), the situation, as well as the tone of writing. You will be graded on the effectiveness of language used, the message of the text, and the register or tone of writing. This paper requires a strong command of vocabulary and understanding of past/present tenses.

Life as an ab initio Student

Learning a new language on top of your other five IB subjects is no easy feat. While your friends go home at 12:20 on a Week B Friday, you’re stuck in school until 2, trying to figure out the proper sentence structure to ask a question in French. Many of my friends mock me for my late dismissal time, taunting me with their well-deserved 7’s for Chinese B. But truth is, I don’t mind. Choosing French ab as my Group 2 subject has been one of the best decisions I’ve made so far.

The French cohort is relatively small, hovering around the number of 20 students per level. Our teacher, Mdm Linda Hung (who is brilliantly trilingual – she’s also a Chinese B teacher!) passionately shares with us her love for acquiring a new language, which is why French is a lesson that I look forward to every day. You’ll be exposed to the French language and culture – through an excursion to Alliance Française’s Francophonie Day, singing French songs during class, and eating crêpes with Nutella and honey (specially made by Madame!).

One thing I love about French ab is that I don’t have to worry about being judged for mispronouncing a new word, or for conjugating a verb incorrectly. Everyone is extremely supportive, encouraging, and patient (which is something uniquely wonderful about the AC culture). That’s the whole point about ab initio – we make mistakes in the process of learning a new language, but at the end of the day – it’s worth it.

Should I take ab initio?

Ultimately, it’s up to you. Don’t feel pressurized to take Chinese B because all your friends are doing it. In the long run, you will be the one benefitting from the decisions that you make. The positive outcomes are endless. In the future, you may get the opportunity to study at a French-speaking university or even take up a job offer in a Francophone country! Organisations these days are looking for applicants with an internationally diverse experience. Learning French ab is the perfect way to show off how valuable your skills will be in the working world.

My advice? If you have no interest in French ab, don’t take it. You MAY think it’s easy (looking at the syllabus), but don’t forget, you do have to reach a certain level of fluency by the time your IB exams come in November of your final year. Learning a new language requires a lot of passion, patience, and determination.

However, if you believe that you have the passion for learning French, go ahead! Although it is a highly challenging course, it is bound to be one of the most engaging and rewarding experiences you’ll ever have in your academic life.

So now… voulez-vous apprendre le français? 🙂

(Please say ‘Oui’)

Carissa Soon (6.13) is from the graduating batch of 2015.

You might also be interested in: Spanish ab initio

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