This morning was our weekly class with Eugene, Julia and Nina.
Before we parted, we talked about the situation in their country, Ukraine and how hard it is for them to adapt here. Their French level is really advanced but they feel like it is not enough to live and work in France.
“Don’t say it with your project is to go back”. That’s what I advised them to tell when in a job interview.
I can see the sadness in their eyes and their smiles. Their heart is with the missing ones. They remind me of the Syrian people I met back in the beginning of the war in their country. Heartbroken to see that the whole world would keep turning like nothing changed.
While wars still go on.
Home, career, future: it is not by choice that you leave everything behind you. And at least when you do have an everything behind you. What about all those, I told them, who have nothing left but hope when they go through seas, deserts and unfriendly places, looking for a better life?
It breaks your heart when you realize that some people have a destiny you may never be at risk and even able to face yourself.
Now waiting for the bus, another day of strike in France, I turn the last pages of French journalist Florence Aubenas’ book, Le Quai de Ouistreham. Her undercover investigation about the precarity of cleaning jobs is of public interest. More than 10 years after this book was published, the yellow jackets protests started in France.
It breaks your self-esteem when you are stuck and silenced in a meaningless life.
The bus has eventually made it. This is another summer day safe in France. The sun is bright and the sky is blue. Everything seems under control except that we face another heat wave.
No one knows if this is the calm before the storm.
A few months ago, I met someone who was living in France for 10 years and since he didn’t need French for work – he worked in the wine business industry -, he didn’t practice it and / or didn’t find it necessary to learn it.
A few days ago, the same situation happened: a man called and said that his wife, who moved to Dijon a few years ago now, just found it necessary to learn more the language because she faces difficulties to get a job. He wanted to know how I could help.
I decided that I am not the right teacher for this profile of learner. Do you know why?
I don’t know how to deal with them. Sincerely.
Because the first question one needs to ask himself as soon as he arrives in a new country and by the way, as soon as he decides to move in another country* HAS to be:
*of course, I am not talking about a situation of emergency when people are forced to leave their home and migrate (they have all my respect 🙏)
A language is a key that will allow you to open the door of a new country / city / community and BECOME A PART OF IT.
Without the language, you stay at the door.
So for your own good, please take a moment and write down things you like and hobbies you have, anything you want as long as they can fit the four skills and then keep doing them but in French:
listening / talking
reading / writing
Do you like sports? Follow instagram accounts of famous local sport teams (in France: football, cycling, etc.).
Do you like make-up vloggers? Look for French Youtubers
Can you sew? Join a sewing group, etc.
Also, the very first thing you need to do as soon as you arrive in France is to go get a library card! 😍Most of the time, it’s cheap or even FREE such as in Dijon.
You will be able to borrow plenty of books, DVDs, etc. in French, know more about local events, meet new people, have more confidence and one day, without even realizing it: you will be fluent! Of course, it’s a process: even natives make grammar mistakes, etc. it’s normal.
To me, being fluent in French is not about knowing the language perfectly (who can do that?), it’s more about feeling comfortable because YOU BELONG HERE.
Do you know what I answered to the man asking for help on behalf of his wife?
I asked if they have children (yes) and why she didn’t call me herself (she speaks French a littlebut didn’t feel confident).
I said that I could obviously make them pay for French lessons but it would be wrong because it’s not the problem here.
When you help your children with their homework in French, when you go to the library or attend local events as a family or when you challenge yourself with actions such as calling someone you don’t know to ask for information, it makes you BE IN CHARGE.
So you feel more and more confident.
💪And you don’t have time to look back because you are too busy looking forward and widening your comfort zone.
Big French companies praise “grandes écoles” a lot. These specific institutions provide very high education level and they are separate from, but parallel and often connected to the main framework of the French public university system.
(2) students in their early twenties going to a “grande école”
Oups… Watch your words!
What is a “grande école”?
The name appeared during the Renaissance to refer to… Buildings where you could attend university classes. “Grandes écoles” indeed are big constructions, aren’t they? So it makes sense to focus on the container before the content.
Of course, the first post graduate schools in France were Royal Schools: engineers and military academies (17th-18th). It is just at the end of Early modern european period that “grandes écoles” were also meant for engineering and business education.
Today, there is no official list of “grandes écoles” in France. In 1992, the Ministry of Education described them as having:
dedicated to business and management education : according to the BCE, French institution in charge of the competitive exam, there are 21 business schools but we will focus here on the Top 10.
By the way, did you know that 5 French “grandes écoles” are in the Financial Times Global MBA Ranking 2020? 4 of them are in our top 10 below: HEC Paris, EM Lyon Business School, Edhec Business School & Essec Business School.
Not only business schools aim at training the best students in business and management but they also offer lifelong learning to business owners and executives (see MBAs at ESSEC).
other institutions : selective and challenging institutions such as engineering schools, Sciences Po Paris, Paris-Dauphine, etc. were also influenced by “grandes écoles”.
⛔ Lets’ take a break here to talk about the hidden face of “grandes écoles”
Since they are selective and challenging – how ironic in the nation of equality … – “grandes écoles” are definitely not open to any French student! (Take a look at the drawing below).
So we can’t help but wondering if they are exclusive to people who can afford them? To people gifted with the perfect background leading them to the top jobs in the top companies?
Of course, “grandes écoles” are expensive and even before making it, students who can pay for private lessons definitely have a head start on the others!
Criticisms do exist about “grandes écoles” (check this abstract about “Les Grandes écoles, système dépassé ou produit d’avenir ?” – more in the French version) but as far as I am concerned as a French citizen and a language teacher willing to treat all languages and cultures equally, let’s admit that French “grandes écoles” definitely have a typical way of thinking, organizing, managing and running business.
They have their own visionon how to deal with the economy and so will the human connections be impacted. And by exporting themselves out of France, they also spread – and impose ? – that vision.
Otherwise, why would ESSEC go in Africa after investing in Asia?Why would many other French “grandes écoles” hurry to invest in Morocco, Senegal or Ivory Coast (see this article in French)? By the way, let’s not forget that the age of colonialism remains a very sensitive subject in France (check here and here)…
How would French people react if academic institutions from asian or african countries would open schools in France?
And by the way, who run the “grandes écoles”? Who decides the contents? The strategy? The vision for future? How do they change – if they change -? Are the students or other publics involved in the process?
Global warming and environmental impact, consequences of Covid-19, overconsumption: we already face some of the big changes we feared the most.
Do the “grandes écoles” – and not only the French ones ! – really fit to help us prepare for what comes after? Aren’t these the final hurdle which lead all of us to the present point: short term economic vision with profitability at all costs (including frequent unacceptable working conditions), damage of natural resources, etc., so many reasons “why we should bulldoze the business school”, reported The Guardian in 2018?
I hereby ask questions because I have no answer and also because it is up to you, if you still wish to attend a French “grande école”, to find answers
6 good points about “grandes écoles”
Now that we talked about the story behind “grandes écoles”, let’s talk about how students benefit from them!
Apart from the cost, any French ambitious student would be more than happy to study in a “grande école” and here is why:
selective therefore prestigious, the “grandes écoles” are the must-do especially if you dream to work in hotel trade, luxury industry, restauranting, culture, art, design, pharmaceuticals, etc.
Look below how selective a “grande école” is and imagine how you will be considered as a non-French being able to make it!
high quality teaching staff and resources to help students: excellent working and living conditions on campuses (see example at EDHEC Lille). Students get used to networking so it helps for the future!
but at the same time, students are encouraged to take projects up: get involved in charities (see examples at TBS), start a business, anything to be able to learn from action! It is also easy to take a gap year in order to go more into your personal project, whatever it might be, in depth.
by the way, the “grandes écoles” make it really simple for French students to go abroad starting by providing them with challenging methods to learn foreign languages.
Classes in “grandes écoles” can be in English and French or only in English with French courses provided to international students. Basically, each “grande école” is different and so are the degrees!
⚠Bear in mind that if you wish to get more skilled in a specific master’s degree for example, French will probably be required at to some point
See example in Skema’s FAQ:“Do I need to speak French to apply? No. SKEMA’s MSc and BBA programmes are designed for international students – they are taught and marked entirely in English. French is not required at all. To help you settle into your new lives in France, the school offers foreign students free French classes. For mastères spécialisés programmes, you need to speak French to apply.”
Anyway, if you come to study here in France with French students, you will soon be expected to reach A2 and then B2 at last, especially if you wish to work for a French company and / or settle down here.
As far as the “grandes écoles” campuses out of France are concerned, it is impossible to know if French language is privileged in class and for which degree. You will have to check with each school beforehand.
Remember that if you graduate a dual-degree from a French “grande école”, you really can’t miss the opportunity to highlight your level in French whatever it may be due to the courses provided by the “grande école” or your personal commitment!
*You can apply to Masters in Management in these 5 Business Schools on the same website JoinschoolinFrance.com
Lets’ also add Burgundy School of Business (BSB) ranked 15 and located here in Dijon but also in Lyon and Paris. Many programmes are delivered 100% in English with French classes available to international students.
How do you get into a “grande école”?
1) Selection based on a competitive exam after a preparatory class (1-3 years) – for French people and French-speaking people
*If, and only if, they were selected beforehand from their performance at school!
Since the 18th, this special class prepares students for the “concours d’admission aux grandes écoles”. Students can choose between Literature, Science and, since 1920, Economics and Commerce called “EC” or “HEC” but students call it “prépa épices” (spicy prep? ).
At this stage, things start getting serious…
Life in “prépa” is very stressful so it is an excellent opportunity to learn dealing with the pressure, find a good work method and also focus on working really hard to read a lot of classics. Indeed, maybe you know how important it is to be able to debate and build reasoning in French education system…
There, students get prepared for the yearly competitive exam leading to the “programme Grande École” of 21 French business schools (and 3 other schools). All of them deliver masters’ degrees.
If failed, they can try again twice, it depends if they are satisfied or not with their results at the written and oral parts* of the exam. Also, students from French-speaking countries like Morocco or Senegal go for the same competitive exam as native students.
*oral part of the exam was cancelled in 2020 due to Covid-19 pandemic… A drama for lots of students who relied on it to expect a better result!
⚠ By the way, native or not, you definitely need to be perfectly fluent in French to be able to attend a “classe prépa”. Remember that even most French people can’t make it!
Students in “prépa” are not alone. They have access to useful information and advice thanks to media like Mister Prépa, founded by Benjamin Hautin, former student in “prépa” and a team of students
To apply for a “classe prépa”, visit websites below and follow instructions
(⚠ deadlines may have changed when you will read this article!)
then you will have to follow instructions on Parcoursup.fr (French version only…) from end of January to mid-March
after that, don’t forget to apply for the competitive exam before the end of your “classe prépa”! Follow instructions on Concours-bce.com (French version only…).
2) Selection based on grade – for French people and non-French people
French students who did not attend a “classe prépa” nor have the competitive exam but graduated a bachelor’s degree at university for example can apply to a “grande école”. This is called “admission sur titre”.
Places are limited so they need to prepare their records! Specific honors may be required so as 2 or 3 reference letters and you definitely need to prove your motivation during the interview with the jury.
Non-French students face the same process but each “grande école” is free to require more, for example B2 level in French.
Check requirements for the Master in Management at Skema and Neoma
3) Access thanks to an academic partner in your country – for non-French people
The easiest way to spend a semester or a year (or more!) in France and maybe get a degree from a “grande école” seems to apply for exchange programs your university may have with French “grandes écoles”.
First, many French people didn’t read Le Petit Prince — or other classics by the way — even if they praise it and would fight tooth and nail for it!
Most of the time, they just studied some extracts at school. Only two categories of people would read the entire books:
the motivated ones
those interested by literary studies.
Second, you have to know that even natives may have difficulties to understand Le Petit Prince because it is complex since it is about imagination and poetry!
Thus it is absolutely normal if you face the same difficulties. One has to be really advanced in the language to understand the implicit, etc.
Also, thinking about it, French literature is not set in stone: there are so much treasures to discover and promote…
For example, did you know that Simone de Saint-Exupéry, Antoine’ sister, was also a writer? She was older than him and when he started to be famous, he didn’t want another writer in the family (!). Despite that, she was a dedicated sister since she protected her brother’s work until the end of her life in 1978.
Their descendants, reporting they didn’t know why she didn’t do it herself, published her uncompleted but interesting childhood memories book, Cinq enfants dans un parc, to commemorate the centenary of the birth of her brother in 2000.
I really want to pay tribute here to unknown or lesser-known authors like Simone de Saint-Exupéry who was not just “Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s sister”, but a person, a woman and a writer in her own right.
People like her make me reflect a lot on what is — or not — considered as major books and authors “you have to know”…
Anyway, there are so much great books to read out there so make your own way!
This being said, you will find below some reading advice if it can help:
1) Read books in French that you have already read in your language
Since you know the story, it will help you (and you can find bilingual versions if you want to take it slowly).
2) Read French versions of “must-read” books from all over the world
➨ Classics published in bilingual versions: check out this page
➨ Short texts:for exemple an engaged essay, Indignez-vous ! by Stéphane Hessel (30 pages), an outstanding French diplomat, resistant, writer and activist who addressed a beautiful message to the French people in 2010 (3 years before his death) about what they fought for in the past and shouldn’t forget. You also have La préférence nationale and other short stories, first book by Fatou Diome who shared her experience of immigration in France with a unique and brilliant style.