French classes at the CUEF?

Anyone remember this? Photo: litherland

In August Grenoble Life editor James Dalrymple found himself with time to burn and decided to enrol in French classes at the CUEF. Here’s what he has to say.

Between finishing my job as a teacher in a private institute and beginning life in l’éducation nationale , I found myself the grateful recipient of more than one year’s untaken annual holiday. To get a taste of university life ahead of my new job on campus, and avoid spending all day in my dressing gown, I enrolled in a semi-intensive French class called Passerelle pour l’université française at the CUEF, one of the many rather inelegant departmental acronyms found there.

Centre Universitaire d’Etudes Françaises (CUEF) is part of Stendhal University and offers a variety of courses of different durations and tailored to different levels. According to the website the Passerelles’adresse aux étudiants désireux de s’inscrire dans une université française, which might lead you to the conclusion that it is less a language class than a series of lectures. In fact it is a fairly varied and pleasant FLE-style course comprising four hours of class time a day for two weeks, focused on improving a facility for formal expression and speaking.

Working on a rich range of materials including articles, video and audio reports, the course enables a broadening of vocab and a tightening of written style that suited me just fine. Longer summer courses exist, but the timing of the Passerelle was better for me. I should also add that this was not a class that prioritised free oral expression, although we had opportunity to debate the themes which arose in the materials (such as: the history of social housing in France, the future of urbanisation, surrogate motherhood).

The course was also a reminder of some of French education’s more idiosyncratic aspects: the insistence on summarizing and reducing articles from the press to their bare essentials, long after students had shown an understanding of the text. Agree with the efficacy of such an activity or not, it is a common exercise in French classrooms and worth familiarising yourself with if you are planning to study here. Personally, as someone who had learnt most of their shaky French à l’orale, I made masses of progress in terms of written structure, vocab and grammar.

The two weeks included access to a multimedia lab which was essentially just a computer room manned by a teacher-technician who could sometimes advise on specific online exercises to meet your needs. Furthermore, the fee included a guided visit to Musée Dauphinois which currently hosts an interesting temporary exhibition on Grenoble-born luminary Jacques de Vaucanson (1709–1782), one of the fathers of early robots: mechanical automatons that owed their design to greater understanding of the human anatomy.

Normally the course is aimed at B1 and B2 students, but I was pleasantly surprised to be told that I was pushing completion of C1 by the end of the course (and I was given a handy certificate to this effect; always useful in France), so there was a bit of a spread of levels in the group. This didn’t seem to matter too much, though, and it was great to be in one of those multi-national (albeit predominantly German) learning contexts where the common language is the one being studied.

If you have had good or bad experiences at the CUEF, please share them with us below. For further information on the CUEF and other French language courses in Grenoble, check this out.

3 thoughts on “French classes at the CUEF?”

  1. Unfortunately my experience at CUEF was nowhere near so positive. I took a 4 week, 4 hours per day intensive course after having just arrived in France in the month of April. I was slotted into an intermediate group with students who had been following the course since September, and were thus much more ‘inculcated’ into the CUEF teaching system, as well as having had more exposure to French language and culture having been living it for at least 6 months more than me.
    With the exception of one Albanian woman, one American student, and my British self, the group was made up of Chinese and Korean masters programme students, whose needs were very different to my own, and whose level was well above my own.
    The course was aimed at getting the foreign students up to an acceptable level of academic French, and there was a strong emphasis on pronunciation practice for the Chinese/Korean learner.
    I tried to change groups to a lower level, but I was not allowed! The teacher insisted I could keep up. She did not accept see how I was struggling.
    But, what I found more disappointing, and most frustrating, was the teacher’s inability to teach. She stood at the front of the classroom and talked at us for 4 hours every day. Once she posed a question and proceeded to answer it herself. This took 31 minutes!
    The students who were working their way through the levels and had had other teachers agreed that they had had much more dynamic teachers up to then, so the only positive thing I can say about CUEF is that there are some better teachers there, and I hope you are lucky enough to get one of them if you choose to study there.

  2. Hi Helen,

    Thanks so much for your input. It goes to show that getting a good teacher can be a bit of a lottery. My only other experience studying French in Grenoble was at l’Alliance Française, which – while not exactly of a high professional standard – was clearly better than what you describe at the CUEF. I’m sorry you had such a bad experience, there’s nothing worse than too much TTT (teacher talking time), as every language teacher should know!

    More comments from other students of the CUEF or elsewhere very much welcome!


  3. I recently took a month-long intensive class at the CUEF identical to the one Helen described. Although my feelings were on the whole much more positive, I can concur with some of the criticisms she has made.

    As an experienced English teacher, I was sometimes dismayed by the amount of TTT (Teacher Talk Time), although the higher-level group I was in was lucky to have two different teachers over the course of the month, with different teaching styles (one more ‘scolaire’, the other more laid back).

    I was also occasionally irritated at being brusquely interrupted mid-sentence for some (often pedantic) grammar correction, when as a teacher I prefer to wait until the person has finished speaking before giving them language feedback, to help them build confidence.

    In general though I thought the courses were quite efficient. The time in the language lab (often doing dictée) was sometimes tedious but ultimately rewarding.

    Moreover I had a nice group, even though the level was not homogenous (myself and a few others were C1, mixed with mostly B2 students). Although there was a majority group of Chinese students, we were a nice mix (English, American, Danish, Italian, Brazilian, Iraqi, Algerian) and everyone brought something different culturally to the group. I didn’t have Helen’s experience of a class that was geared towards one cultural group.

    I guess, as Helen says, it is a bit “luck of the draw” what teacher you are given. But I would still recommend the CUEF for a rigorous approach to learning French.

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