Nobody studies French Literature in High School

I recently found out that College Board is going to cancel the AP exam in French Literature as of 2009. Also gone are Latin Literature and Italian Language & Culture. German Literature has been gone for 10 years, so that leaves us with Chinese Language & Culture, French Language, German Language, Japanese Language & Culture, Latin: Vergil, Spanish Language and Spanish Literature. Seriously, more people study Latin literature than German literature or even Italian??

I have never been a big fan of standardized testing – especially not ones that claim taking one test can possibly equal an entire university course – but the fact that they are canceling these exams means that fewer students are interested in taking language classes. I never had the opportunity to take AP French at my high school (I think we only had AP English), but I wish I could have. I felt very behind when I began university because my high school French wasn’t advanced enough.

Here’s the list of required reading for the French Literature exam. (You can also download a sample test here.)

Novels

  • Marguerite Duras: Moderato cantabile
  • Maupassant: Pierre et Jean
  • Voltaire: Candide

Plays

  • Molière: L’Ecole des femmes
  • Corneille: Le Cid
  • Aimé Césaire: Une tempête

Poetry

  • Apollinaire: “Le Pont Mirabeau,” “Les Colchiques,” “Mai,” “Automne”
  • Baudelaire: “Correspondances,” “Hymne à la Beauté,” “L’Invitation au voyage,” “Chant d’automne,” “Spleen” (“Quand le ciel. . .”), “Recueillement” (From Les Fleurs du mal)
  • Du Bellay: “Heureux qui comme Ulysse a fait un beau voyage,” “Si notre vie est moins qu’une journée,”
  • Labé: Sonnets: “On voit mourir toute chose animée,” “Je vis, je meurs: je me brule et me noye,”
  • La Fontaine: “Les Animaux malades de la peste,” “Le Chêne et le Roseau,” “La Mort et le Bûcheron,” “Le Loup et l’Agneau”

I can honestly say I haven’t read and/or have forgotten many of these. But then again, the French program I did in college focused on linguistics instead of literature so I was only required to take one French literature course. I’ve always hated reading fiction in English, but when it’s in another language, it’s not so bad because at least I’m learning new words.

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  • L

    I read one or two of those in my college French courses, and lots of other similar texts, and they were hard even when I was a sophomore. I agree it’s sad they’re canceling the test, but I really don’t see how anyone in high school can speak French well enough to read those books and understand them. I got a 3 on the AP French test in high school, which didn’t give me any credit, but allowed me to start in 200 level classes, but even so, my memory of Molière is “Ah man, I don’t understand any of this….I have to read how many pages for tomorrow?”

  • L

    I read one or two of those in my college French courses, and lots of other similar texts, and they were hard even when I was a sophomore. I agree it’s sad they’re canceling the test, but I really don’t see how anyone in high school can speak French well enough to read those books and understand them. I got a 3 on the AP French test in high school, which didn’t give me any credit, but allowed me to start in 200 level classes, but even so, my memory of Molière is “Ah man, I don’t understand any of this….I have to read how many pages for tomorrow?”

  • Justin

    I really regret not moving in to the senior year French class in high school. It was a tough choice between that and photography. Because of my decision, I still have photography as a major hobby of mine… ah and heck I live in France so I guess I did not miss out. But I would have liked the advanced classes. We never studied French literature in high school. It was all focused on the language, oh and once in a while we would watch a Disney film in French. I do have some French books here, but I am still stuck reading the Français Facile books… but I am up to LEVEL 2!!! hehe :-)

  • Justin

    I really regret not moving in to the senior year French class in high school. It was a tough choice between that and photography. Because of my decision, I still have photography as a major hobby of mine… ah and heck I live in France so I guess I did not miss out. But I would have liked the advanced classes. We never studied French literature in high school. It was all focused on the language, oh and once in a while we would watch a Disney film in French. I do have some French books here, but I am still stuck reading the Français Facile books… but I am up to LEVEL 2!!! hehe :-)

  • Alisa

    Another reason that many students aren’t taking these classes perhaps is that they’re not always necessary. My french teacher told us straight up that taking the AP test (we didn’t have a class) wasn’t worth it, because we’d be able to test out of levels anyway if we were good enough. And he was right. I didn’t take any AP French but tested into junior level french classes and got the back credits for the other ones, so I ended up with the exact same thing than if I’d paid a bunch of money to take the AP test.

  • Alisa

    Another reason that many students aren’t taking these classes perhaps is that they’re not always necessary. My french teacher told us straight up that taking the AP test (we didn’t have a class) wasn’t worth it, because we’d be able to test out of levels anyway if we were good enough. And he was right. I didn’t take any AP French but tested into junior level french classes and got the back credits for the other ones, so I ended up with the exact same thing than if I’d paid a bunch of money to take the AP test.

  • Andromeda

    I read “Candide” for AP English, and am now starting it in French, it’s a good workout. Baudelaire I did in college French lit and just loved it, and how he kind of started the whole goth movement, ugly is beautiful and all that. And then there was the trial because it was obscene . . . Another thing about reading in French is you have to learn the history that goes along with it. You learn a lot more than just words!

  • Andromeda

    I read “Candide” for AP English, and am now starting it in French, it’s a good workout. Baudelaire I did in college French lit and just loved it, and how he kind of started the whole goth movement, ugly is beautiful and all that. And then there was the trial because it was obscene . . . Another thing about reading in French is you have to learn the history that goes along with it. You learn a lot more than just words!

  • Milie

    Oh this French program is really like the litterature program we have in high school in France…classic books are still classic, wherever you study them!

  • Milie

    Oh this French program is really like the litterature program we have in high school in France…classic books are still classic, wherever you study them!

  • Here, There, Elsewhere… and more

    I love your posts, they’re always so interesting –
    I studied both French Language and French Literature however went on at University level to study Political and Econmic Sciences + Modern Languages (French and Spanish)…
    Now, had I not been introduced to the classics at an earlier stage (O and then A Level in the UK) I’m not certain that I’d have taken the slightest interest in them later…
    I’m so glad I did though; not only did I truly enjoy the majority of what I read, but, I now find, I can now, as a mother, help my own girls (at local French Collège and Lycée in Annecy) with their homework..!
    BTW, Thanks for the link, may I write a post about you and link you to it?
    Thanks in advance :)

  • Here, There, Elsewhere… and

    I love your posts, they’re always so interesting – I studied both French Language and French Literature however went on at University level to study Political and Econmic Sciences + Modern Languages (French and Spanish)… Now, had I not been introduced to the classics at an earlier stage (O and then A Level in the UK) I’m not certain that I’d have taken the slightest interest in them later…I’m so glad I did though; not only did I truly enjoy the majority of what I read, but, I now find, I can now, as a mother, help my own girls (at local French Collège and Lycée in Annecy) with their homework..!BTW, Thanks for the link, may I write a post about you and link you to it? Thanks in advance :)

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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