Interpreting French Writing

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In French class, we’ve practiced countless interpretive techniques, involving interpersonal communications, spoken responses, interpreting audio, and of course, writing.

In my opinion, writing in French is the easiest of all of these, simply because you can create workarounds to words you don’t know and still be successful in expressing what you desire. When you are presented with a written piece and asked to interpret it (like we had to do for our final), though, it’s a whole other story.

You essentially have to work with what you are given, as there’s no getting around the way the text is written, and what the text consists of. Often, it won’t be written in a way that you’d be used to (especially if it’s a native text).

There are still several techniques that can be used though to get the most out of understanding a piece of writing and improving your comprehension as a whole.

Use what you know.

Your knowledge of French to start with should help you identify key components to the text, and will often give you the main idea of the article. This will often be essential in determining the definitions of words as you go.

I suggest reading through the entire article first and picking out parts that you recognize, whether it be a familiar verb, noun, or wording. Then, as you read through again, you can use this information to decide upon words that, inevitably, you don’t know.

Furthermore, another step you’ll want to take is:

Use cognates to your advantage.

The French language has many words that look similar or identical to their English counterparts, and often mean the same thing. If you see a word that looks familiar, it’s likely a cognate (except in some circumstances).

This will help you begin some deep thinking when you:

Refer to the context.

In this case, if the article is referring to a specific topic, then certain words (or ideas) should fall under the related terminology, which can be valuable in making an educated guess. Furthermore, look at sentence structure. Using verbs, nouns, and other phrases that you know to fill in the blanks. Often, you don’t have to reach the exact meaning of a word, and only a general sense of what the author is saying is needed. Think: what works logically within this idea, and if you have several ideas, you can use the process of elimination.

And finally:

Think about the article as a whole.

When you do this, you’ll reach full comprehension of the piece. And, if there are still any missing pieces that you haven’t figured out, they might fall into place here. Overall, just consider what makes sense- and if you really aren’t sure (unless you’re in the middle of a final exam), use a dictionary or other source to clarify.

Especially when confronted with questions asking for the meaning of specific words, or those asking whether something is true or false based on what you read, interpreting a French piece can be daunting. But by identifying the most important ideas and information using context, they become easier as you get more accustomed to the piece and to French writing. I found these strategies to be really helpful with my exam, especially as a student with a limited knowledge of the language at this point. And such understanding becomes even more vital when faced with French in the real world.

Thank you for reading!


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