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The Complete French B Ab Initio SL Oral Guide

Updated: Feb 29

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In my opinion, the oral was the most apprehensive exam I encountered during my time in the IB. This was namely because I felt that it would be impossible to sit in front of my French teacher and simply speak to her in a foreign language. However, there are several tips to take into account when preparing for, and taking the French oral exam.

On my previous blog post, The Complete IB Language B Guide, I go into detail about ways to prepare with a focus on general techniques for all aspects of the course, including the oral, but here I will provide more specific detail with regard to the French oral.

There are three very important things to have ready in my opinion, including:

1) Learning vocabulary specific to describing pictures

Knowing these are key as these phrases will be used in almost every phrase, these phrases are typically ways to describe location so that your teacher knows what aspect of the picture you are talking to.

Key phrases include:

Il y a = There is

à côté de = next to

en face de= opposite to

Devant = Before (physical positioning)

Avant = After

sous = under

sur = over

A gauche de = left of the…

A droit de= right of the…

Dedans le/la/les = within the

Au-dessus de = above

Au-dessous = below

Tout près de = very close to

Au-dèla de = beyond the

Jusqu’à = as far as/to (for physical distances, e.g. I can see to the moon = Je peux voir jusqu’à la lune)

Au première plan = In the fore ground

Au Dernière plan = in the backround

J’ai du mal à voir = I have difficulty seeing…

Ce qui m’est frappé au début, c’était… = what struck me at first sight was…

A good way to know which expression to prioritise is first trying to describe random images in your native language for 2 minutes and note the expressions you end up using. You will probably make a lot of comments on where things are located, hence the focus on French prepositions above. However, those ideas would be very simplistic, thus it is encouraged that you find ways to make yourself speak about more complicated things. For instance, a trick I used was, after spending the first minute and a half or so simply describing the image, I gave one or two remarks on what I found surprising in the image, for example, there are no parents in the picture with the children. This simple comment starting with a complex structure like Une chose qui m’est frappé sur l’image… allowed me to use a complex sentences and then I could elaborate by providing several possible reasons to rationalise my observation.

Hot tip! Check our our blog post on The Top 10 Expressions and Phrases for IB French, to find some unique, complex and interesting expressions you can incorporate into your own Oral to maximise your marks!

2) Learning ways to start sentences if you aren't certain of the answer

Especially important for the second part of the oral where you are to answer interview-like questions since these questions can get quite layered, nevertheless you want to always show fluidity. Hence, try have some typical sentence starters that you can resort to in order to minimise awkward silences.

For example:

Ca dépend de votre point de vue, personnellement… : That depends on your point of view, personally…

Bien que ce soit un sujet compliqué, je dirais… : although this is a complicated topic, I would say…

Si, par là, vous voulez dire (rephrase the question) : If by that you mean…

J'suis pas tout à fait certain mais je pense que... : I’m not certain but I think that (note the informal use of J’suis pas instead of je ne suis pas, this helps show fluidity in speaking as well )

If all else fails, just resort to the French ’oehhhhh’ or’ bahhhh’ which is the French version of the English thinking phrase ’ummmm ’

3) Knowing your Connecteurs Logique

Knowing these can convert two simple sentences into a relatively complex French sentence. For instance, 'I like my pets. I think pets are hard to take care of’ is a lot less complex a sentence than combining the two using the English connector of however : I like my pets, however, they can be hard to take care of.

This is why these connectors are vital for all parts of the oral.


Un cause : car (as), en effet (in fact), parce que (because), puisque (since).

L'opposition : mais (but), or (yet), pourtant (yet), cependant (however), meme si (even though).

L'addition : en outre (furthermore), de plus (in addition).

During the Oral!

The main piece of advice to be given here is to relax since most of the hard preparation should have been done before hand. Try to drink water before the exam and recall two or three phrases that you want to definitely use to impression your teacher during your 10 minute oral (I’d suggest at least one sentence using a subjunctive). For the most part, you should let these expressions come naturally as this leads to greater fluency in speaking.

When analysing your picture, I suggest you write down about 6 key observations of the picture and then 1 or 2 potential remarks you could make to make after finishing the description of the image so that you can use more complicated structures (e.g. say that you were surprised to not find many happy people in the image and then give some possible reasons as to why this is).

Bonne Chance! From here, you should be well-equipped to work towards a successful IO. But if you're still scratching your head, wondering if there are any examples you can follow to achieve a high mark, make sure to check out our 30/30 French B Individual Oral Script. Or even better, click below to work with one of our expert IB French tutors who can guide you personally through the process to achieving your very best in the French B Oral!

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