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The Complete IB Language B Guide

Updated: Feb 29


Signposts of different languages

The first section of this blog post covers two extremely important points to consider when learning an IB language, while the second section covers specific tips to nail each component of the IB language courses.


Hi there, I (Shawki Al Assadi) completed my IB in 2015 and got a 7 in French B Ab Initio SL (with a final mark of 95% - a grade 7 being between 82%-100% for 2015). I considered this to be one of my most enjoyable subjects because of how I approached it and I think it was this way of thinking which allowed me to achieve a confident 7. I am also confident that my approach to learning could be applied not to just French but other languages as well (in fact, I am currently using it to learn Arabic). Getting straight to the point, I think there are two major points that ought to be internalised as an IB learner of a language who intends to succeed.


1. Doing well in an IB language subject simply means learning the language well!

A rather intuitive point, however, with most subjects there are things that the IB focuses on such that you are essentially only learning the parts of the subject requested by the IB curriculum. For instance in physics, both HL and SL, don’t expect to master more than a small fraction of what there is to learn in the entire field. Yet with IB languages the point is to become competent with the language; hence your aim is to expose yourself to, and learn, as much of the language as you can. This is important as you are not restricted to using only ‘IB sources’ to learn a language.


Therefore, I believe you should aim to try to learn everything you can - none of this learning goes to waste! The only exception to this idea (that I can think of) would be learning words that you would never use/understand in your native tongue and learning literary tenses like the ‘Imperfect Subjunctive’ in French as this level of the language is not useful in daily life nor examined. In simple terms, a strong curiosity for knowledge of new vocabulary and structures is key and that motivation can come from mastering step 2 (see below).


2. If learning a language is boring, you’re doing it wrong!

You probably know people who say they have been learning a subject at school for some 4 or more and yet still can’t really do much with the language. I think that this is because at school the focus is often on learning details ABOUT the language rather than making a more direct effort to use and engage with the language (and if you look at most polyglots online they will make this same point when explaining the failure of lots of language students).


For example, many people will tell you they spent lots of time learning about grammar, yet they don’t know the grammar rules for their native tongue! Though I consider grammar to be quite an important basis for a language, the progress is not evident and it requires a lot of deliberate work, which makes the whole process boring. Hence, after gaining a basic appreciation of the grammar and basic vocab (e.g. position of adjectives, basic tenses and conjugations), I tried reading children books and listening to very simple and slow speaking videos made for beginners. I assure you that, although frustrating at first due to the constant need to refer to a dictionary (or Google translate), it was a more enjoyable method of learning and gaining an intuition on sentence structure, grammar and, of course, learning new words. It was slow progress at first but by the beginning of the second year, I could procrastinate with the language! This meant I could (with minor difficulty) watch enjoyable French videos, often on Youtube, and read French books on the train to school. This is what made French fun and I can honestly say that I considered only a very small portion of my time doing activities in French as ‘work’, henceforth because most of it was just replacing my normal means of relaxing (reading and watching random videos) into their similar French equivalents.


In a couple of words, my advice is to have fun and, once you reach a decent level, procrastinate with the language! This will motivate you continue learning every day and hence you will be able to learn enough words to read and understand the language. The main difficulty is maintaining the motivation at the beginning but always reminds yourself of the end goal (being fluent with the language / getting a 7).


Paper 1: Comprehension [My mark: 38/40]

I would say this is the easiest component and you could easily do well in this section simply by engaging in typical class activities which, for me, mainly involved reading quite simple texts. The simple tip here is to read and using the two aforementioned points, reading should become more fun than work.


It is quite demotivating at the start when you need to translate every second word but the work done in class for the first few months of the IB should provide you with a decent vocabulary to start reading simple books with only some difficulty.


I then moved on to reading on the train to and from school (that was about 2 hours of free time for me), starting from books deliberately designed for beginners to ordinary books. I read on my iPad and had an online dictionary which I used. I recorded the words I didn't know straight into my list with the translation. Note that I didn't plan on memorising all the words I recoded in a day but I would refer to these words once the next morning in attempt to memorise at least a couple of these words.


I repeated the above steps every school day (during the weekend, I would not do as much written French). In the end, this process became a routine which occupied my spare time which would have otherwise been wasted and it didn't feel like work because I read enjoyable things! For example, by the beginning of the 2nd year of IB, I started reading Harry Potter and L'etranger in French which were difficult texts but fun and manageable. The point is to read things that you like and, if you can, do it during your spare time so that you can really feel that all this learning is more relaxing than hard work (unless you hate reading, in which case consider this a more relaxed way of working).


As for past papers, I didn't do too much of them because they were not too different than ordinary reading. However, you must do enough to accustom yourself to how the questions are asked and remember how to answer certain types of questions. For instance, where they ask you to give a true or false justification followed by reasoning, you should be aware that the reasoning should always be copied directly from the text and only the relevant sentence included (if you copy too much and it is irrelevant around the correct justification, they may not count that as it suggests you have guessed).


Paper 2: Writing [My Mark: 23/25]

I will be concise here as, quite honestly, I didn't do much writing. Most of the reading I described above was what improved my writing. I tended to only write when asked to by my teacher / for exams and my reaction to the correction I would was almost always the same.

1) If they were ‘silly mistakes’ (i.e. the sort of mistakes you could make in your own native language) I would forgive myself for those.


2) Simple mistakes in conjugation or other basic elements of the language meant I revised those elements thoroughly.


3) If the teacher is unable to understand what I am saying then in a section then I would completely rewrite that section and resend it.

I would also recommend memorising some interesting expressions that you can include in most texts - make them impressive by using the subjunctive tense or some querky feature of the language; i.e. in french - avant qu’il ne soit trop tard - which essentially means before it is too late.

It is also important to memorise the features of the text types. I would recommend focusing on learning all of text types so that you can make your choice in the exam based on the content of the question rather than the text type. The essential features of each text type (i.e. date, heading, etc.) can be found in the past paper mark schemes for paper 2.


My year 12 half yearly and yearly French paper 2 responses (6-7/7 and 17-18/18) can be found online at http://www.ibsolved.com/ib-grade7-notes-and-assessments/french-b-ab-initio-sl-paper-2-responses. They will demonstrate the expected level of linguistic accuracy, sophistication of language and style of phrases necessary to score highly in French B Ab Initio SL French.


Oral: [My mark: 25/25]

In my opinion, this is the hardest section to score high marks if you are a typical student. This is due to the fact that in a class of many students, it will typically be difficult to get enough speaking and listening time to attain a proficient level. I can remember how horrible I was at speaking in the first year, especially during my yearly oral exam for French, and it was largely because I had to construct the sentences in a way that made sense in my head ... then speak ... then repeating this process like a robot. Put simply, speaking wasn't a spontaneous process at this stage for me. Hence, I only managed simple sentences and spoke very slowly, and scored a low oral mark.


However, about 5 months later, I managed to score 24/25 in my half yearly oral exam in year 12. The change that I made was similar to what I did with my reading; I started listening to all sorts of quite enjoyable things. For example: podcasts on this channel were helpful to begin with http://www.francaisauthentique.com/ alongside random Youtube videos with subtitles. Sometimes I would just listen to music videos with lyrics in French and try to understand all of the words and sentences using context and a dictionary. I eventually progressed to listening to the news on France24 and, because the vocabulary was a lot more difficult, I would often read the article before listening to the related video and try to see how much I could understand. All of this was purely focused on comprehension, and I did a lot of this listening during my summer holiday break (8 weeks).


After I was able to comprehend spoken French to an acceptable level, (this was my problem with me during my first year; I had difficulty understanding my teacher's long questions and statements), I tried to practice speaking. Often I had to resort to speaking to myself but I eventually found someone with whom I could speak using a website which showcases people who are fluent in French and would like to learn English [there are many, simply start searching on Google!]. Hence, using Skype, I would communicate once a week with a native French speaker for about an hour. After roughly 12 sessions, I felt that I was ready for my year 12 half year oral exam (this took place about 6 months before the final oral), and I managed to score the high mark I did simply by exposing myself to this oral French material (as opposed to grammar rules or text book drills).


I appreciate that this part can take a lot of dedication rather than something like reading during your free time, BUT the progress is quite quick (a few months) and after that you can just have fun and listen to more enjoyable French content online while procrastinating and you will feel like you’re working!


Note that finding a perfect final oral is advisable as it will provide a standard to shoot for your own IO. Luckily for any French students, we have an up to date 30/30 Individual Oral Script written for the November 2020 session, perfect for any student looking to maximise their marks in the IO!


Written assignment: [My mark: 18/18]

I will also keep this short since not much work should be required IF you have done a lot of reading and are competent with writing. This is because this task simply requires you to write about a cultural difference between your culture and a French culture (e.g. France, Quebec, perhaps some regions of Africa - I chose France). The hardest part of this task is finding the difference you will write about and the relevant resources needed to demonstrate this difference. Some examples include: different ways of eating, different means of greeting each other and perspectives towards authority figures.


This research step is what will take up the majority of your time; the actual writing should only take a couple of hours (including editing) since the way you structure your paper is to directly answer the questions or fulfil the conditions of the statement which is clearly provided in the syllabus. These statements are the following three: Description, Comparaison, Refléxion; the Refléxion has three subtitles (question): “Quel aspect du sujet avez-vous trouvé surprenant?”; “Selon vous, pourquoi ces similarités/différences culturelles existent-elles?” and “Mettez-vous à la place d’une personne francophone. Qu’est-ce que cette personne pourrait noter diffèrent à ce sujet dans votre culture?”. Simply fulfil these quite explicit comands to these questions in a concise manner (less than 350 words), using information from your sources. The size of each paragraph depends on your topic but, judging by the marks, the description should be kept small and the large bulk of your writing should be in the reflexion, equally divided between all three questions.


Conclusion

I am sure that there are things I have missed in this blog post but, in summary, just remember that the key to get a 7 in any IB language is to be motivated to learn and pursue that language throughout the entire two years. My process to receiving a language mark of 95/100 was quite unstructured but what helped me succeed, I believe, was that I could easily maintain motivation to learn and to improve my French proficiency daily.


And that’s it! From here, you should be well-equipped to succeed in your IB Language B. However, if you are looking for some more personal assistance, click below to reach out to us and we can guide you through the process of mastering your IB Language B!



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