Have something to say?
When it comes to expressing your thoughts in French, there’s nothing better than the essay.
It is, after all, the favorite form of such famed French thinkers as Montaigne, Chateaubriand, Houellebecq and Simone de Beauvoir.
But writing an essay in French is not the same as those typical 5-paragraph essays you’ve probably written in English.
In fact, there’s a whole other logic that has to be used to ensure that your essay meets French format standards and structure. It’s not merely writing your ideas in another language.
And that’s because the French use Cartesian logic, developed by René Descartes, which requires a writer to begin with what is known and then lead the reader through to the logical conclusion: a paragraph that contains the thesis.
Sound intriguing? The French essay will soon have no secrets from you!
We’ve outlined the four most common types of essays in French, ranked from easiest to most difficult, to help you get to know this concept better. Even if you’re not headed to a French high school or university, it’s still pretty interesting to learn about another culture’s basic essay!
Must-have French Phrases for Writing Essays
Before we get to the four types of essays, here are a few French phrases that will be especially helpful as you delve into essay-writing in French:
Introductory phrases, which help you present new ideas.
- tout d’abord– firstly
- premièrement– firstly
Connecting phrases, which help you connect ideas and sections.
- et – and
- de plus – in addition
- également – also
- ensuite – next
- deuxièmement– secondly
- or – so
- ainsi que – as well as
- lorsque– when, while
Contrasting phrases, which help you juxtapose two ideas.
- en revanche– on the other hand
- pourtant – however
- néanmoins– meanwhile, however
Concluding phrases, which help you to introduce your conclusion.
- enfin– finally
- finalement– finally
- pour conclure – to conclude
- en conclusion – in conclusion
4 Types of French Essays and How to Write Them
1. Text Summary (Synthèse de texte)
The text summary or synthèse de texte is one of the easiest French writing exercises to get a handle on. It essentially involves reading a text and then summarizing it in an established number of words, while repeating no phrases that are in the original text. No analysis is called for.
A synthèse de texte should follow the same format as the text that is being synthesized. The arguments should be presented in the same way, and no major element of the original text should be left out of the synthèse.
Here is a great guide to writing a successful synthèse de texte, written for French speakers.
The text summary is a great exercise for exploring the following French language elements:
- Synonyms, as you will need to find other words to describe what is said in the original text.
- Nominalization, which involves turning verbs into nouns and generally cuts down on word count.
- Vocabulary, as the knowledge of more exact terms will allow you to avoid periphrases and cut down on word count.
While beginners may wish to work with only one text, advanced learners can synthesize as many as three texts in one text summary. The concours exam for entry into the École Supérieure de Commerce de Paris calls for a 300-word synthesis of three texts, ranging from 750 to 1500 words, with a tolerance of more or less 10 percent.
Since a text summary is simple in its essence, it’s a great writing exercise that can accompany you through your entire learning process.
2. Text Commentary (Commentaire de texte)
A text commentary or commentaire de texteis the first writing exercise where the student is asked to present analysis of the materials at hand, not just a summary.
That said, a commentaire de texte is not a reaction piece. It involves a very delicate balance of summary and opinion, the latter of which must be presented as impersonally as possible. This can be done either by using the third person (on) or the general first person plural (nous). The singular first person (je) should never be used in a commentaire de texte.
A commentaire de texte should be written in three parts:
- An introduction, where the text is presented.
- An argument, where the text is analyzed.
- A conclusion, where the analysis is summarized and elevated.
Here is a handy guide to writing a successful commentaire de texte, written for French speakers.
Unlike with the synthesis, you will not be able to address all elements of a text in a commentary. You should not summarize the text in a commentary, at least not for the sake of summarizing. Every element of the text that you speak about in your commentary must be analyzed.
To successfully analyze a text, you will need to brush up on your figurative language. Here are some great resources to get you started:
- This guide, intended for high school students preparing for the BAC—the exam all French high school students take, which they’re required to pass to go to university—is great for learning how to integrate figurative language into your commentaries.
3. Dialectic Dissertation (Thèse, Antithèse, Synthèse)
The French answer to the 5-paragraph essay is known as the dissertation. Like the American 5-paragraph essay, it has an introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion. The stream of logic, however, is distinct.
There are actually two kinds of dissertation, each of which has its own rules.
The first form of dissertation is the dialectic dissertation, better known as thèse, antithèse, synthèse. In this form, there are actually only two body paragraphs. After the introduction, a thesis is posited. Following the thesis, its opposite, the antithesis, is explored (and hopefully, debunked). The final paragraph, what we know as the conclusion, is the synthesis, which addresses the strengths of the thesis, the strengths and weaknesses of the antithesis, and concludes with the reasons why the original thesis is correct.
For example, imagine that the question was, “Are computers useful to the development of the human brain?” You could begin with a section showing the ways in which computers are useful for the progression of our common intelligence—doing long calculations, creating in-depth models, etc.
Then you would delve into the problems that computers pose to human intelligence, citing examples of the ways in which spelling proficiency has decreased since the invention of spell check, for example. Finally you would synthesize this information and conclude that the “pro” outweighs the “con.”
The key to success with this format is developing an outline before writing. The thesis must be established, with examples, and the antithesis must be supported as well. When all of the information has been organized in the outline, the writing can begin, supported by the tools you have learned from your mastery of the synthesis and commentary.
Here are a few tools to help you get writing:
4. Progressive Dissertation (Plan progressif)
The progressive dissertation is a slightly less common, but no less useful, than the first form.
The progressive form basically consists of examining an idea via multiple points of view—a sort of deepening of the understanding of the notion, starting with a superficial perspective and ending with a deep and profound analysis.
If the dialectic dissertation is like a scale, weighing pros and cons of an idea, the progressive dissertation is like peeling an onion, uncovering more and more layers as you get to the deeper crux of the idea.
Concretely, this means that you will generally follow this layout:
- A first, elementary exploration of the idea.
- A second, more philosophical exploration of the idea.
- A third, more transcendent exploration of the idea.
This format for the dissertation is more commonly used for essays that are written in response to a philosophical question, for example, “What is a person?” or “What is justice?”
Let’s say the question were, “What is war?” In the first part, you would explore dictionary definitions—a basic idea of war, i.e. an armed conflict between two parties, usually nations. You could give examples that back up this definition, and you could narrow down the definition of the subject as much as needed. For example, you might want to make mention that not all conflicts are wars, or you might want to explore whether the “War on Terror” is a war.
In the second part, you would explore a more philosophical look at the topic, using a definition that you provide. You first explain how you plan to analyze the subject, and then you do so. In French, this is known as poser une problématique (establishing a thesis question), and it usually is done by first writing out a question and then exploring it using examples: “Is war a reflection of the base predilection of humans for violence?”
In the third part, you will take a step back and explore this question from a distance, taking the time to construct a natural conclusion and answer for the question.
This form may not be as useful in as many cases as the first type of essay, but it’s a good form to learn, particularly for those interested in philosophy.
Here are a few resources to help you with your progressive dissertation:
As you progress in French and become more and more comfortable with writing, try your hand at each of these types of writing exercises, and even with other forms of the dissertation. You’ll soon be a pro at everything from a synthèse de texte to a dissertation!
And One More Thing…
Of course, French is a lot more than writing essays.
To cover all your other language bases, there’s always FluentU.
FluentU lets you learn French from real-world content like music videos, commercials, news broadcasts, cartoons and inspiring talks.
Since this video content is stuff that native French speakers actually watch on the regular, you’ll get the opportunity to learn real French—the way it’s spoken in modern life.
One quick look will give you an idea of the diverse content found on FluentU:
Love the thought of learning French with native materials but afraid you won’t understand what’s being said? FluentU brings authentic French videos within reach of any learner. Interactive captions will guide you along the way, so you’ll never miss a word.
Tap on any word to see a definition, in-context usage examples, audio pronunciation, helpful images and more. For example, if you tap on the word “suit,” then this is what appears on your screen:
Don’t stop there, though. Use FluentU’s learn mode to actively practice all the vocabulary in any video with vocabulary lists, flashcards, quizzes and fun activities like “fill in the blank.”
As you continue advancing in your French studies, FluentU keeps track of all the grammar and vocabulary that you’ve been learning. It uses your viewed videos and mastered language lessons to recommend more useful videos and give you a 100% personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.
Experience French immersion online!
How to Use the 200 Words a Day! Courses
- Language Tutorial
|Tutorial Page 1 of 4|
Loading your CD-Rom
Tutorial Page 2 of 4
Words Similar in English & French
Writing your own Notes
Kinesthetic Learning - Reinforcement as you Learn
Making Mistakes during Kinesthetic Learning
How to Test Yourself
What Happens if you are Stuck during a Test?
Tutorial Page 3 of 4
How to Review your Progress
Lesson Summary & Words Learned
How to get Help
Tutorial Page 4 of 4Settings - Lesson/Test Sequences
Settings - Excelearning Breathing
Settings - Rapid Mode
Settings - Background Music
Settings - Auto Run
Settings - Summary
Your Worst Words
Rapid Mode and AutoRun
Grab our free e-zine on Excelerated language learning from Exceltra.
200 Words a Day Language eZine
Get a free Word of the Day for your Website
Language Tutorial Page 1 of 4
Topics on this Page
Loading your CD-Rom
This Language Tutorial explains how to use the 200 Words a Day! excelerated learning foreign language courses and explains some of the different Learning Systems that are built into them.
The thing to remember is to have a play around with the various settings and see which ones you like, and which suit your learning style.
For this tutorial, we take most examples, icons and pics from the 'Learn French 200 Words a Day!' Courses.
The main principles are identical for the Learn Spanish, Learn German, Learn Welsh courses.
From the Main Menu you can progress by simply pushing the 'Enter' key on your keyboard. . .
... but as you gain familiarity with your 200 Words a Day! Language software course, there are numerous 'Excelerated Learning' Tools and Settings to use, to further boost your learning and re-Study.
The Tutorial has 4 pages, and covers the main features of the 200 Words a Day! software packages.
Check out the menu on the right hand side of the page for the topics covered on the respective Tutorial pages.
There is also on-screen help available on your program accessible by right-clicking the mouse.
Enjoy your 200 Words a Day Foreign Language Courses!
|Just in case you were wondering, Excelerated Learning is a twist on the phrase Accelerated Learning .|
I once had an email from an indignant web surfer about what she thought was a spelling mistake.
Exceltra is our company's trade name which is a generic derivative of 'excel' and 'extra' and then we've taken it a further step to another phrase 'Excelerated Learning' which conveys the nuances of accelerated excellent learning or excellent accelerated learning.
Loading your 200 Words a Day! Language Learning CD-Rom onto your Personal Computer
It's easy and automatic...
- First of all you need a Personal Computer (PC) with Windows installed. It works on Windows 95 onwards. So that is Windows 98, 2000, NT, XP.
- If you have a Mac…. you may be able to run it if you have a Windows Emulator package. We have not tested this, but if you do - please let us know the results.
- Grab a cup of your favorite beverage. Relax.
- Shut down all other programs that you may be running on your PC.
- Put your French, German, Spanish or Welsh 200 Words a Day! Language Learning CD-Rom into the CD-Rom drive on your PC.
Now fold your arms. Touch nothing.
- The CD-Rom will load on to your hard disk automatically.
- The time this takes depends on the speed of your PC, but it is usually between 6 and 10 minutes.
- Unfold your arms only to sip your tea / coffee / beer / coke / water / sake /guinness / fruit smoothie etc.
- The program on self-installing will make a directory on your hard drive in Program Files called Exceltra French
- Exceltra Spanish,
- Exceltra German,
- Exceltra Welsh
- During installation the program will look to see if you have a program called Apple Quicktime on your PC.
- If you have Apple Quicktime it will remind you not to delete this, because the 200 Words a Day! software uses it for background sound.
- If you do not have Apple Quicktime, it will install it for you automatically. It will ask you a number of questions to which you just need press 'Enter' or 'Return' on your keyboard. When it asks for your serial number press 'Enter' or 'Return' on your keyboard.
Once it is installed on your Hard DriveFrom your Windows Start Menu the click sequence is:
Program Files - Exceltra French - 200 Words a Day! French.
On your 200 Words a Day! language CD-Rom you can also find a pdf file (portable document file) from which you can read the instructions, that you can access from the Windows Start Menu on your PC.
Click on Programs - Exceltra French - How to Use this Course.
You will need some form of pdf reader to read this file, such as Adobe Acrobat.
To get set up and logged in follow the on-screen instructions. You'll be asked for your name, and if you want to add a password.
To see the next screen during your course, you can simply press the Enter key.
Language Tutorial - Main Menu & Lessons
A Quick Look at How it all WorksThe Main Menu is like the central point from where you navigate to other parts of the course.
Here is a screen-shot of the Main Menu.
Notice along the bottom are a selection of icons that will take you to different parts of the course. You can click on them to go to the desired section.
The icons are:
Lesson: From here you choose your French Lessons, and you can see how many words are in each French lesson, and how many of the words you have learnt.
Dictionary: This lists all the words in the course that you have. You can select a word here, and it will bring up the word's definition and pictures, Memory Triggers.
Build a Lesson: This allows you to build your own lessons from the words in the Dictionary.
Test: You can select a Lesson on which to test yourself here.
Review Progress: Here you can:
- check your learning rate in 'Words-a-Day';
- you can see what your scores were for each of the Tests you have taken.
- see how much time you spent on each Lesson
- see how much time you spent on each Test
Help: This is a glossary of the course help. (You can also get on-screen help at any time during your foreign language tutorial by right-clicking the mouse on the screen).
Exit: Here you exit the programs and go to the Main Menu from where you can select the different courses. Various courses 'plug-in' to each other, and you would select them by clicking on the Exit icon, where you would be presented with another Menu.
Schedule: This Menu tells you what Lesson you should be up to in sequence, and what Test you should be doing. It will also tell you that you will need to repeat a Lesson at certain optimum intervals after you have done the Lesson.
In other words, a day after doing a Lesson you should review the Lesson again, and repeat the Test.
Likewise do this again after a week, a month, 3 months, a year. But don't worry - the program will tell you when these times are.
To take yourself from screen to screen you can just press 'Enter', or click on the 'Next' icon - the right-facing arrow.
If you keep pressing 'Enter', the program will take you through the Lessons, Tests & Reviews in a logical sequence.
So to restate that in simple language.
You do not have to be too computer savvy to work your way through the course. In most cases, when you are stuck, you can push 'Enter' and it will take you to the next logical step.
Next icon: is an arrow in the colors of the flag of the particular country's language.
So for the French lessons the arrow is a red, white and blue one as used in this Language Tutorial;
For German Lessons it is Red, Black and Yellow, Spanish, is red, yellow, red and for Welsh it is green and white.
or. . .. . . if you prefer, start from the Main Menu where you can select Lessons from the Lesson Menu by clicking on the Professor icon.
If you click on the Professor icon it will take you to the French Lesson menu which allows you to . . .
Choose a French Lesson . . .
…and easily navigate through the French lessons available…and this is what the Lesson Menu looks like . . .
Each French Lesson is grouped by category. Choose a lesson from the list. On the right are two columns.
- 'Words Learned' shows you how many of the words in the Lesson you have learned.
- 'Total Words' is the number of words in the Lesson.
Left-clicking your mouse in the:
- 'Words Learned' column shows a list of words in the Lesson.
- 'Total Words' column shows the all words as thumbnail pictures on one page.
Learning or Lesson Pages in the French Lesson
…where each page teaches a French word or phrase one at a time…
…and the page will look like this:
On each language tutorial or Lesson page you are taught one word (or phrase).
In the above picture the word being learned is shutter. The French word for shutter is le volet, which sounds like VOLEY. So we have a picture of a man bouncing his VOLLEY ball against the shutter.
And of course, with a man as the main character in the picture, we have a Gender Trigger © indelibly printed in to our brain simultaneously, with no extra effort.
First the English word appears, then the French word which is voiced by a native French speaker. Then comes the spoken and written Memory Trigger ©.
Repeat the word, phrase or sentence aloud after hearing it.
Each word also has a Memory Trigger, a way of remembering the word. This is a:
- cartoon or picture, of the word put into a crazy, zany scene . . .
- a block of text describing the pic, and a
- voice recording of the English word, French word and the Memory Trigger that helps you remember the word.
Repeat icon: To see and hear it again press the repeat icon which is the semi-circular arrow on the bottom right-hand corner of the Lesson page.
Also in the picture there are a number of things to enhance your learning, retention and recall. For example . . .
Characters match the Gender of the Word
Masculine characters for masculine words; females for feminine charactersAll nouns in French are either masculine (le) or feminine (la) .
Masculine nouns feature:
- male main characters in the cartoon,
- male voices - in English and French,
- are color coded blue.
Feminine nouns feature:
- female main characters in the cartoon,
- female voices - in English and French
- are color coded red.
We call these Gender Triggers ©.
For French nouns beginning with a vowel…For Masculine words the word for 'the' in French is le.
This abbreviates to l' before a noun starting with a vowel (a-e-i-o-u). e.g. l'article (m).
For Feminine words the word for 'the' is la.
This abbreviates to l' also before a noun starting with a vowel (a-e-i-o-u). e.g. l'orange (f).
|French Learners take particular note here… if you want to score well on your French Tests!|
|To ensure you learn the gender, nouns beginning with l', are followed by an (m) or (f), which you'll need to type in tests. |
... typing l'orange would get you 2 points out of 3.
Well actually you don't need the brackets around the (f) or (m), the program will accept just the letter f or m as appropriate.... so...
... typing l'orange f would get you 3 points out of 3.
Students of French 200 Words a Day courses should read that twice. . . or three times.
Gender Learning in other Languages
In Spanish the masculine word for 'the' is el, and the feminine is la.
In German the masculine word for 'the' is der, and the feminine is die.
Welsh language also uses masculine and feminine genders.
If you are genuinely interested in properly learning and speaking these European languages you must learn the genders. Because the adjectives change according to genders and, also with plurals.... and every time you refer to something you don't call a 'he a she' or a 'she a he'.
If you just want a handful of basic words for a short trip it is not that important to get too tangled up in learning the genders. You'll be understood.
German Neuter Gender is made Easy
. . . remember the Smoking Animal. . .
There is a further gender in German which is neuter, and the word for 'the' in the neuter gender is das.
There is often no rhyme nor reason as to why something is neuter. For example a little girl in German is a neuter word. ... as is a young woman! They're not feminine articles but take the neuter article!
We have invented a unique, and as yet unbeatable Gender Trigger © for the Neuter gender in German, and this is the smoking animal. So our pics with a neuter gender will incorporate an animal smoking a ciarette, cigar or pipe. Very simple and very powerful.
In the following example we use the German word for age which is das Alter, and is neuter. The smoking ape is asked his age at the ALTAR.
Famous people make it easier for you to remember the character, the word, the gender!
Where possible we use famous people to help you remember the words, the trigger, and whether the word is masculine or feminine.
It is easier for us to remember famous people!These might be celebrities, pop stars, actors and actresses, people from history, politicians etc, etc. Here's an example:
So the character is heavyweight boxing CHAMP Evander Holyfield who is providing us a Memory Trigger © and Gender Trigger © to help you remember the word champ.
Be careful on the pronunciation of this one - listen to the native speaker. It sounds more like 'shong'.
So with hundreds of celebrities and famous people from history etc you'll more easily remember Memory Triggers and the associated words and genders.
Over the different courses we have you'll encounter the likes of:
- Michael Jordan
- Abraham Lincoln
- Mick Jagger
- Ossie Osbourne
- George Bush
- George Best
- Elton John
- President Jimmy Carter
- Catherine Zeta Jones
- Sylvester Stallone
- Arnold Schwarznegger
- George Clooney
- Mama Cass
- Calista Flockhart
- Tom Cruise
- Penelope Cruise
- Florence Nightingale
- Benjamin Franklin
- and a few hundred others!
You can continue learning about the features of the 200 Words a Day! Language courses, and how to use them, in the continuation of this Language Tutorial on the next page.Next
Language Tutorial 1 | Tutorial 2 | Tutorial 3 | Tutorial 4
200 Words a Day! Tutorials
How to Use Exceltra's Learn Spanish. Learn French, Learn German, Learn Welsh easy-to-use software.
Excelerated Foreign Language Learning
Exceltra, Transcity Properties Ltd, 32 Alverton, Great Linford, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, MK14 5EF, United Kingdom. Copyright 2005-2009 ©