Comments on CAPES
exercise Inclusion/ diversité
The exam subject I
am speaking of can be found here:
This is an
exercise I gave to students in 2019. I am presenting here a long series of
comments (far more information than any candidate at the CAPES would ever use),
based on the assignments I received. Both the information about British history,
and the comments on method, will help you with many other subjects you might
find on the exam.
There are many
different ways of writing a good synthetic commentary on these documents.
In the first
semester, we have concentrated on revising British history and society. Most of
you still need to read this book: http://www.ophrys.fr/fr/catalogue-detail/2119/le-royaume-uni-au-xxie-siecle-mutations-d-un-modele.html
We have not spent
a lot of time on the structure and method of the specific CAPES exercise. You
will be doing a lot more of this in the second semester.
This exercise is
fairly typical of a CAPES paper. The
documents are not easy ones: the contexts, the objectives and the links between
them you may find hard to identify and explain. But candidates who have a good
shot at it, show some knowledge and some reasoning power in good English do get
quite good marks.
As I mentioned,
there are a large number of ways of doing this exercise. This is why I am not
giving you a “corrigé”, but a series of questions you should be asking yourself
and common mistakes.
Theme. It seems to
me to be pretty clear that the theme of this collection of documents is “diversité
The jury report
from 2018 reminded candidates that it is not enough to mention the theme only
in the introduction and the conclusion. It should be mentioned three or four
times during the work, which will be easy if the theme is well-integrated. In
the present dossier, this should not cause huge problems. Hall is very clear
that the way heritage has been understood has excluded Black people. Brown is
suggesting that pride in (alleged) national characteristics built up over
centuries is essential for including people in a national identity despite
their differences. The Blue Plaque campaign is saying, “let us celebrate great
Britons from the pas” and opens up the question of the representativity of our “heroes”.
What kind of key
question might structure a comparison of these documents? There are many
possibilities, but it is important not to choose a question which is too vague
or abstract (or is meaningless!) The 2017 jury report explains in so many words
“précisons que le jury ne dispose pas d’une problématique type qu’il s’attend à
retrouver dans toutes les bonnes copies”.
The report also
complained “trop de problématiques ne tenaient pas compte de la spécificité des
documents”. So, for example if you tried a key question “How far is Britain
multicultural?”, this is not good because it is much too general. These three
documents all try to intervene in how we consider our society and what we can
or should be proud of.
For the key
question, I would be tempted with something along the lines of “How can the
past used to bring the people of Britain together?” (If you are careful not to
get sugary!) Someone tried to structure around “How is Britain’s past portrayed
as fractured or homogeneous?” which was not bad. Someone else tried « How
is the modern struggle of defining what it means to be British expressed in
this dossier? », which was fine.
I would recommend
choosing a key question which is not too complicated. A real danger is choosing
one which is too abstract or meaningless.
Do not be
intimidated by this long series of comments on the exercise: if you got only
part of these elements that would be more than enough.
Take time to read
the Jury Reports from the CAPES. These will intimidate you, but also include
useful information. You will find them on the SAES website.
Click through Concours, CAPES, CAPES externe, Rapports.
The questions you
always need to ask yourself for each document, before you begin to write your commentary,
are the following.
TO WHOM? (are they
trying to communicate)
WHEN? (What is
important about the fact that it was at this time and not another?)
WHAT? (is the
essential content of the document? Also, what do they NOT say which we might
expect them to say?)
WHY? (are they
saying all this: what is their objective?)
HOW? (do they try
to reach their objective? Irony? Mockery? Rhetorical devices?)
AFTER? (If the document promises, or predicts or warns, did these elements come
HOW TYPICAL IS THE
DOCUMENT? (Is it an innovative declaration of a new movement, or one more
cliché from that time period, or what?)
DID IT MAKE? (Where does the document fit in to longer historical processes?)
In any exercise
for the CAPES you are unlikely to find something to say on each of the above questions
for each document, but the list gives you an idea of where you should be
looking, and may help avoid the temptation to write an abstract essay about
people feeling British, instead of looking at what these three examples of
expression or discussion of identity are trying to achieve.
You should ask
yourself each of these questions about each of the documents. For some of the
questions there is little or nothing to say in connection to one or more of the
documents, but you should check.
Taking these in
turn, then, and looking at the elements which students often tended to omit. (I
do not deal with all the questions, but with those which seem to me to be most
fruitful for this particular exercise).
WHO? is expressing
It was important
to say that Stuart Hall was (he died in 2014) a Black intellectual.
Jamaican-British, he became influential at a time when there were even fewer
well-known Black intellectuals in Britain than there are today. This is
important not just because he talks of ethnic groups being marginalized, but
because the last paragraph, for example, cannot be understood if we do not take
into account Hall’s ethnicity. He speaks of “our folks” who “were British” but
cannot be English. He is speaking of Black people from the colonies (whether
Jamaica or not). At the time of the British Empire all citizens of the Empire
were called “British”. But in more recent times, those Black people from the
colonies who came to live in England came to realize that they would never be
treated just like everyone else.
He was Chancellor
of the Exchequer. No points for that, since it is marked on the exam paper. Who
is he, in a longer historical perspective? He was Tony Blair’s number two, and
would succeed him as Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party in 2007. From
the point of view of a view of Britishness, and from the point of view of
politics in general, the Labour Party was in transformation. The “old” Left
values of supporting trade unions, internationalism and nationalization were
being partly put aside in favour of a new “third way” Labour party giving more
space to individualism and to the market. In this context, Brown’s speech is
proposing a form of left-wing patriotism rather different from previous forms
Document C: Who is
expressing themselves? – public authorities and public organizations such as
the London county council (the regional government then) and English Heritage,
an organization which tries to defend “English Cultural Heritage”. Much of the
work of this organization is concerned with preserving castles, stately homes
and such symbols of past riches and splendour of the elite.
TO WHOM? are they
trying to communicate?
Most students said
nothing at all about this!
speech is given at an Arts Council conference. The Arts Council is a national
organization, mostly government-funded, whose aim is to encourage artistic
endeavour. Therefore, Stuart Hall is talking to people who will be organizing
art galleries or music festivals or other such cultural events for cultural and
educational objectives. They are naturally interested in ideas about what
British heritage is, since part of their job is to preserve it and spread
knowledge about it.
Gordon Brown is
talking to the British Council, an international organization which supports
the presence of British culture (and the teaching of the English Language)
across the world.
Document C. The
people being addressed are the passers-by, who did not come there for
historical or cultural information, but are in receipt of it anyway. This is a
programme which believes in populating everyday public space with cultural
heroes and heroines.
WHEN? (What is
important about the fact that it was at this time and not another).
This question was
ignored by many students. However, particularly in the case of Brown, it is
very important to understand the objective of his intervention
speech might well have been very similar if he had given it ten years earlier
or ten years later. Nevertheless, it is important that by the time he gives
this speech he is a well-known figure and an established authority both in
cultural studies and on racism.
speech is given at a time of thorough transformation of the values defended by
the leadership of the Labour Party. It is almost a full year before the next
election, so is not influenced by directly electoral concerns. As one student
pointed out, this speech took place two years before Gordon Brown suggested
that a national day to celebrate Britishness should be established (at present
there are separate days for the English, the Welsh, the Scottish and the Irish
– Saint George’s day, Saint David’s day, Saint Andrew’s day
and Saint Patrick’s day.)
The coming to
office of Tony Blair happened in the context of the transformation of the
Labour Party. Blair even rebranded the party “New Labour”. This change of name
was intended to both help win elections, and signal a change in the values
defended by the Labour Party. No longer were, for example, the defence of trade
unions and of policies of nationalization to be important in the party’s
programme. In the question of British identity and dealing with racism and
relations between different ethnic communities, there were also to be changes.
terrorist attacks on the USA, and jihadist terror attacks elsewhere, for
example in Spain in 2004, emphasis around the world had been placed on the
danger of such attacks. The London attacks of 2005, which killed 56 people and
injured hundreds were yet to take place, and yet already a change in emphasis
around community relations was taking place in New Labour circles.
In the 1960s and
1970s the Labour movement and Labour party had gradually come around to a
position of fighting racist discrimination, and the modest laws (Race Relations
Acts) of 1965 and 1976 against racism were enacted by Labour governments. In
the 1980s, Labour local governments around the country were putting
multiculturalism into practice by helping to fund community centres based round
different ethnicities, and celebration of different cultures in schools was
becoming common. Even today it is not unusual to see a school celebrating
Diwali, Eid or Hannukah as well as Christmas. So, we can say that Brown’s
speech comes at a moment when the Labour leadership is changing its discourse
about immigration and the multicultural society.
Document C. The
blue plaques are not all from the same date. Nevertheless, the number of them
has risen enormously over the last thirty years or so, and recent selections
have reflected some of the successes of anti-racist and women’s movements in
that a slightly greater diversity is slowly being introduced into the plaques.
WHAT? (is the
essential content of the document. Also, what do they NOT say which we might
expect them to say?)
Some homeworks were too vague about
Hall’s arguments, simply saying that he was against the idea that British
Heritage was homogeneous and unproblematic. Hall uses a small number of clear
arguments, and it is best to summarize them. They include the following (but
you may not write in lists):
1 The achievements of liberty are not
due to a British heritage. They were the subject of fierce fighting between
2 There have always been many ways of
being British, and a lot of them have been subject to discrimination and
3 The British Empire, built on
slavery, was not an external, accidental phenomenon, it was woven into British
4 Black people will only really feel
at home if ideas of British heritage are rethought to include them.
Pride in being
British has traditionally been seen as a Conservative priority in Britain.
Brown’s speech is an attempt to move away from traditional left antiracist
discourse and towards a type of left patriotism. The emphasis is no longer on
how to stop prejudice and racism, but on how to strengthen the feeling of
belonging of different groups. It is fascinating that Brown should quote a
conservative philosopher, Roger Scruton. This speech shows then a move away
from traditional radical left views of country (ideas such as “the working
class has no country”, “workers of the world unite” in the famous phrase of
Karl Marx). Instead, Brown is looking for pride in national character and
national tradition, although he does not want “British values” to be understood
in a narrow traditionalist sense”.
British Heritage as an overwhelming positive object, using the expression
“Golden Thread” to speak of the continuity of value he believes is shown in
The views he is
putting forward are a novel mix characteristic of New Labour. One can easily
imagine Stuart Hall opposing them. When Brown speaks of four reform acts, Hall
might point out that each of them was hard fought for, not produced as an
automatic development of British values. The slow introductions of the Acts of
1832 and 1867 in particular were accompanied by huge popular riots, while the
long 35 years between the first and second Acts were the time of Chartism, a
huge radical working-class movement which terrified the elite. And of course,
the reform which gave women the right to vote only came after at least fifty
years of radical mobilization. Hall would no doubt consider that Brown did not
have the right to claim these reforms as somehow “natural” to the British
character. This is what Hall means when he writes that social achievements
“were struggled for by some of the English and bitterly resisted by others”.
Brown’s speech is
not given in a directly political context. It is given to the British Council,
and agency tasked by government to promote British culture around the world.
This is a context where it is not expected that the minister will promise
particular actions or defend particular policies, but will rather expound a
more general philosophy.
WHY? (are they
saying all this: what is their objective?)
This is probably
the most important of the questions. It is essential to be able to express
concisely but accurately the objective and main content of the three elements
in the dossier. This takes time and thought. It is essential to speak about the
objective in so many words. Even a clumsy attempt at explaining the objective
is better than ignoring the objective.
So, it is rather
risky to begin talking about the allusions and reference straight away, because
what we are most interested in is why those references and allusions have been
chosen by somebody (Hall, Brown and English Heritage, for example) in order to
reach their objective. Hall wants people to leave the hall thinking that a lot
of heritage talk is missing out large chunks of historical truth and that this
has to be fixed if Black people are going to have a stronger feeling of
belonging in the UK. Brown wants people to leave the hall thinking that
national pride and talk of national character and tradition should not be left
to the right wing but can be taken on by the left, in its modernist, New Labour
Stuart Hall is
expressing a radical opposition to a traditional view of British tradition
which he calls “the Heritage” (notice the capital letter).
Gordon Brown (at a
particular political juncture) is declaring that he does believe in key
national values and even in a national character, and tries to define what it
The third document
you will have found more difficult, because of course there is nothing stated.
The plaques are not accompanied by an explanation of why they are being put up
– what the objective is. The English heritage website has a section about blue
plaques which you can look at, but even there the objective is not clearly
presented – it is considered to be a “common sense” objective. This means you
have to yourself imagine what the objective and effect of these plaques might be.
The Blue Plaque
programme is not entering directly into a political debate about the nature of
British identity or British tradition. It is illustrating a practical and
popular attempt to place national or local pride in a public space. It shows national
pride in practice rather than discussing it in theory.
DID IT MAKE? (Where does the document fit in to longer historical processes)
speech is not purely theoretical in nature. It was while Gordon Brown was Prime
Minister that new conditions were imposed for those who wished to acquire UK
nationality. They were from now to be obliged to take a (multiple choice) test
to show they had a fair level of knowledge of “British Culture” (no matter how
hard that may be to define). This was an important change and an important
political symbol, since the introduction of the test might be taken to mean
that the government agreed with those (generally on the right or even in racist
organizations) that the problem was not so much discrimination against
immigrants as the lack of desire to integrate on the part of immigrants…
will show continued weakening of government commitment to multiculturalism.
Gordon Brown’s idea of a day to celebrate Britishness, however, will be
The selection of plaques is wide. Popular
writers, military and political “heroes”, great scientists of the past. The
selection has always a political element, and the organization which places the
Blue Plaques has recently been concerned that there were not enough women on
the plaques. One can easily imagine that
non-white Britons are also little present, despite the one example given in
document C of Claudia Jones, left-wing activist and “Mother” of the Notting
Hill Carnival. It is perhaps to be noted that this plaque has been placed by
some smaller community-based organization “the Nubian Jak Community Trust” and
not by more prestigious actors such as English Heritage or the London County
mistakes and omissions, but which ones are dangerous? I would say for this
exercise, it would be dangerous not to understand that documents A and B were
clearly in opposition to each other. Stuart Hall would not have applauded
Brown’s speech, and Gordon Brown would not have written an approving preface to
Students tend to
like “happy endings” and so will often minimize disagreements in the dossiers.
Try not to do this: if two documents give completely different views, remember
to say so. Most of history is not made up of consensus, but of contradiction.
The 2017 jury
report emphasize that candidates are expected to be able to show a critical
distance. Candidates have to be careful “à ne pas prendre au pied de la lettre
les arguments présentés par les textes”. There are two important aspects to
this (if we take the example of the document by Gordon Brown).
The first is to
remember to use hedging expressions. Do not give the impression that you
automatically agree with (for example) Brown. So do not write:
explains the essential characteristics of the British people. or
* Gordon Brown
underlines the fact that British people have three essential qualities.
mean that you agree with Brown. Write instead:
considers that British people have three essential qualities.
claims to present the essential characteristics of the British people.
On the other hand,
Gordon Brown is an experienced politician who has thought about these subjects
for a long time. So, although it is quite appropriate to suggest that his
comments could be criticized, and in particular that one could imagine Stuart
Hall disagreeing with him, you should not give the impression that you think
that Brown (or indeed Hall) is foolish or idiotic!
you should not write in your introduction *“To be British is to be in
accordance with British values”. If you write this, you are saying that Gordon
Brown is right, and that “British values” are a real thing. Now, he may be
right, but you are not allowed to begin by assuming he is.
If you had done
this exercise in exam conditions, you may well have found that some of the
references you did not know. In that case, make sure you show that you know
some of them. It is not required to explain every reference, or write a
biography of every person mentioned on the plaque. Very often, one sentence
will be enough to show you know what is important about the reference in
this case. “The Act of Settlement which made sure the monarch would never
again be a Catholic” for example.
Hill Carnival is one of
the biggest Caribbean carnivals in the world; it is held in London every
August. A renowned scholar wrote a very useful short analysis of the carnival,
which you can find here:
The Act of
After the Civil
war of the mid-seventeenth century and the restoration of the monarchy with
reduced powers in 1760, parliament continued to show that it, and not the
monarch, was the decisive source of power. It did this in a number of laws,
including the Act of Settlement, which declared that a Catholic could not
inherit the throne of England, or of Ireland. (Catholicism at the time was seen
as a traditionalist political positioning, tending more to ever increasing
power for the monarch and incompatible with parliamentary sovereignty).
The Act of
This law made
Ireland part of the United Kingdom. Previously Ireland had the same monarch as
Britain but was not the same state. Ireland had a separate parliament before
After the Anglo-Irish
war, which broke out just after the First World War, a compromise was found
which meant that a line was drawn around six counties in the North, which
contained most of the Irish protestants and which also contained the two
richest industrial cities (both these facts were due to a specific programme of
colonizing the North over the centuries by English and Scottish settlers,
including many who had a strong anti-catholic traditions). This ended the war,
but, it seems reasonable to suggest, did not end the problem, in that the 1960s
to 90s saw a low level civil war which killed thousands and injured far more,
and even today, the question of the border between the two Irelands has
immensely complicated the process of the UK’s leaving the European Union.
This place and
date refer to the Magna Carta, a constitutional document limiting the absolute
power of the King, which was drawn up under pressure from the barons of the
time. It was not much respected in the following century, but became important
as a symbol and as a text. The principle that people may not be arrested
without reason, for example, is expressed in the document. Constitutions from
different countries have often used sentences or paragraphs from the Magna
Carta, even as recently as the 1960s in the case of newly independent British
The Reform Acts of
1832, 1867, 1884 are obviously referred to. The fourth one mentioned could be
the Act of 1918, which gave the right to vote to the remaining men who did not
yet have it, and also to women over 30. Or it could be a reference to the 1928
Act which gave women the right to vote on the same basis as men had – that is,
being over 21 years of age.
Roger Scruton is
an English conservative philosopher. His most notable works included The Meaning of Conservatism (1980) and How to Be a Conservative (2014)
P L Travers
born in Australia but spent most of her working life in Britain. Author of the
Mary Poppins books, beginning in the 1930s, about a nanny with magical powers.
The last book was written in the 1980s. The 1964 Disney film adaptation, which
recently saw a sequel made, is better known than the books.
Author of the (passably
racist) novels which the Bond films were based on. Gave rise to one of the most
successful series of films in the world, and one of the best-sellers of British
William Bligh was
a ship captain from the 18th century. He became well-known when a
mutiny (not so unusual in the 18th century) due to his alleged
cruelty expelled him from his ship. He survived and was able to take revenge of
some of the mutineers, some of whom were hanged. Later in his career he was a
governor of New South Wales in Australia, and there are statues of him in
Sydney. He was deposed by a rebellion. In Britain, however, he is most
well-known because of a version (not excessively historically accurate) of the
mutiny story which is told in a classic film “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935 with
Clark Gable and a later remake in 1962, with Marlon Brando).
organized the predecessor of the Notting Hill Carnival. This was organized as
one response to racist attacks on Black people in Notting Hill. The idea that
Caribbean culture should be visible on the streets of London was, in the late
1950s an important step forward, although it took many years before the
authorities respected the carnival.
Sir Winston Churchill
Is too well-known
for you to explain who he is.
important scientist from the 17th/18th century. Made
fundamental advances in optics and in mechanics, most notably the understanding
that the same force, gravity, which makes objects fall to earth also makes
satellites and planets orbit.
Flying bombs were
a weapon used at the end of the First World War which were able to fly
automatically without a pilot to their targets. After the “Battle of Britain”
in the early stages of the war had been won by the Royal Air force (largely due
to superior radar), it was very difficult for German forces to bomb London by
standard mistakes in argument. (If you recognize your mistake, do not worry- many other people made
First of all, a
positive point: almost no one starting writing about “lexical fields”. This is
good because as a general rule, in a *civilisation* commentary, this idea is
used to introduce banal comments at best.
one of the three documents
If you analyse
only two of the three documents, you will lose a lot of points. One of the
documents is often considerably more difficult to link to the theme than
others. This is not an accident; it is a test. It is far better to make a
clumsy attempt at analysing the third document than to miss it out, since
missing it out is interpreted as a refusal of the exam. It is not necessary for
you to have exactly the same amount of space spent on each document, but there
should be a reasonable balance: every document needs several paragraphs.
You never gain any
marks from paraphrasing it. So, if you write “Hall describes English people as
being “incapable of incorporating ‘Irishness’ into ‘Britishness’” you have
gained no marks, since you have simply repeated what Hall said and have not
shown any knowledge. A paragraph like the following would have gained you a
“Hall claims that
the British have been ‘incapable of incorporating ‘Irishness’ into
‘Britishness’. He may be referring to the fact that Catholics (the majority of
the Irish) did not have the right to vote in elections until well into the
nineteenth century, and anti-Irish racism was very common in England throughout
the twentieth century.”
It is not
generally a great problem if the corrector can see which way your opinion lies,
but this is not the aim of the exercise. Dismissing the arguments of any one of
the documents is not a good idea. So, sentences such as “What he depicts is
unrealistic.” (referring to Gordon Brown) are risky. And you should not write “one
of the two documents is accurate”, even if this is your opinion.
the objective of the document
I mentioned this
above but want to underline it again. Several students worked very hard indeed
at this homework assignment and got a disappointing mark because of this. Unlike
in the literary commentary, the discourses you are studying here are not the
only centre of the exercise. At the centre of the exercise is what they show
about a series of (in this case historical) processes, and how they try to
intervene in these processes.
This is one of the
reasons why you should put the *objective* of each document very prominently in
your answers. Of course, it is much easier to summarize what the writers or
speakers are saying than to explain why they are saying it, but there are far
more points available for explaining why. From the very beginning, speak
of the objective.
document is a speech by Stuart Hall, the British-Jamaican sociologist and
analyst, arguing for a radical new view of British heritage.” “The second
document is a speech by Gordon Brown, later to be Labour Prime Minister of the
UK, presenting a new government view of aspects of British identity.” “The
third document is a collection of photos of ‘blue plaques’, markers placed in
the streets by public authorities with an educational and celebratory objective”.
Try to be
concrete. If you speak on “multiculturalism” but you do not give any specific
example of what activities would be encouraged by multiculturalism, your
argument will not appear very solid. You need to be clear on the difference
between “a multicultural society” which is simply a society with quite a few cultures,
and “multiculturalism”, which is a particular idea about the best way of making
a multicultural society work by encouraging the expression of minority
cultures. Multiculturalism is different from assimilationism. Those who do not
wish to choose so sharply might say they are in favour of integration.
was on the rise as an idea in Britain from 1975 to say 2000. It is still a
crucial element of British society, but has come under attack, and recent
governments from Gordon Brown and David Cameron on, have suggested they do not
want to be associated with the idea. Cameron in particular will put forward the
idea of “community cohesion”.
Remember what is happening:
you are studying three documents, which have been chosen out of thousands of
possibilities. The collection of documents is not a manifesto or a speech in
itself. Occasionally, inappropriate attempts were made by students to bring a
coherence which does not need to be present. It is fine for the documents to
contradict each other, partly or wholly. Contradictory phenomena and discourses
are what history is made of, and the question of what Britishness is good for
people (and indeed which people) is not one you are supposed to solve on the
day of the exam. One example: one student (in an otherwise very good piece of
work) wrote “This set of documents acknowledges that British identity needs to
be constantly revised to include more diversity”. This is not right. The set of
documents cannot acknowledge something, because it is a collection of disparate
I think this is
part of a desire I often see in student’s work to look for a “happy ending”, to
find that, although the documents disagree, they will come together and work it
out in the end. This is to be avoided. Similarly, students often understate the
tension, conflict and contradiction involved in the documents and indeed in the
People found the
third document the most difficult to integrate into their analysis. The plaques
represented illustrate the Blue Plaque campaign, and some opinion about the
reasons for the campaign and the effects of the campaign are what will allow
you to integrate this document. I had shared with you articles on this subject.
plaques you see in the illustration are a random sample, and not a representative
sample, you may *not* use a statistical approach (“30% are women” “15% are not white”
etc). If I gave you a collection of all the plaques in one town, you would be
justified in doing this, but not with a representative sample. Otherwise, it is
as if I look out of my window and see five people, two of them with dogs, and
then I write “40% of French people have dog”: it is bad mathematics.
(Remember the asterisk * means that what is immediately after it is incorrect.
will not confuse “the English” and “the British”, even if in everyday French
“les Anglais” or “le premier ministre anglais” are common expressions.
What if there
is just one of them?:
“Pas tous les
britanniques sont d’accord.” cannot be expressed by *Not every British agrees.
You need to say, “Not every British person agrees”.
Notice that this
kind of adjective-used-as-a-noun has particular grammatical characteristics.
For example, it cannot be used in s “Saxon genitive” structure. You cannot
write *”because of the British’s fear of losing their cultural identity”. You
must write “the fear of the British of losing...” or, better, “the fear which
the British have of losing...”
There is a
particular way of using “connaître” in French with a non-human subject. Notre
pays connaît une grave crise. L’économie a connu un nouveau bouleversement.
This cannot be done with the verb “to know” in English.
We have to write
“Our country is going through a grave crisis”. “The economy has seen fresh
with only infinitives
sentences with infinitives are not unusual. “Comment réussir à maintenir une
identité britannique?” is fine. You may not do this in English. So do not write
*How to maintain a British identity?
This is not so
easy to translate into English, since you have to make choices. How can people
maintain a British identity? How can the British maintain their identity?
Most of you know
that “actual” is not a translation of “actuel”. But this fact does not solve
the problem of how to translate “actuel” when it occurs, whether it be in a
document you need to translate or in the thought that first comes into your
head in French.
can it be translated by a single adjective
ministre actuel: the current Prime Minister
La crise actuelle:
the present crisis/the current crisis.
What would you do
with a sentence like “Cette question est
d’une grande actualité”? Best is to go for a paraphrase. “This question is very
much in the news.”
As for the general
more or less political sense; “mon frère ne s’intéresse vraiment pas à
l’actualité”, you can translate by “My brother is really not interested in
current affairs”. A “current affairs” programme on the television is one which
deals with questions which are in the news this week or this month.
argument, the party members’ choice. So far, so good. Many students use this
structure too much: that is to say in situations where it is not allowed (*the
1997’s election, *the economy’s crisis). There are no excellent explanations
online, so look it up in the Grammaire
Explicative de la Langue Anglaise,
which you keep by your bedside.
Remember that we use
“an” before a vowel SOUND. This does not always correspond to a written vowel. So,
these are incorrect:
*An US president
*A HP agreement
Critic/criticism/criticize/critique: what is the difference between these words?
I will leave you
to look this one up in a dictionary. It is often a source of error. This page
will help https://www.espressoenglish.net/difference-between-criticize-criticism-critique-critic-and-critical/
Some students got
mixed up between these verbs, and the corresponding nouns also cause problems
at times. This page will help: https://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/grammar/learnit/learnitv242.shtml
This is a useful
expression. In English, this will have to be “a divisive question”. Although
the verb “to cleave” does exist, it is little used metaphorically and the -ing
form is never used in this kind of expression.
If you are not
actually talking about a casino (“the chips are down”), “enjeux” cannot
generally be translated by “stakes”.
“Voici les enjeux
de la grève.” translates fairly well as “This is what is at stake in this
This word is
over-used by students. It suggests that a person is universally known. Elvis
Presley was famous; Stuart Hall is not. If I ask my mother who Stuart Hall is,
she has no idea. Now, it is true that Stuart Hall is an important sociologist,
who made a big difference to his field of study. He is a well-known
sociologist, or perhaps an influential sociologist.
In some forms of
writing in French, it is common to put surnames all in capitals (in block
capitals as we say in English). Stuart HALL, Gordon BROWN. We do not do this in
Note that the
written form before someone’s surname is always “Mr”. Mr Brown, Mr Kilgallen etc. The only time we
write “mister” out in full; is when we are writing a dialogue with that very
informal use of “mister” as a form of address.
“Can you help me,
mister? I need some money for my fare.”
“Tu pourrais pas
m’aider, mec? J’ai besoin d’argent pour acheter un billet.”
In French it is not unusual to recount historical
events in the present tense. “Les deux parlements votent l’Union
anglo-écossaise en 1707”. This is extremely rare in English and you should stay
with the preterite. “The two parlements enacted the Union between England and
Scotland in 1707”.
La guerre débute en 1914 et durera quatre ans.
The war began in 1914 and was to last for four years.
reports in particular, it is quite common to use lists, marked out with bullet
“There are three
Chinese market, particularly in the South of the country
South American market
We do not use
lists in English in university work, and you should not do so in your exam.
In business reports in English, and in some modern journalism, it is not unusual to see a paragraph with only one sentence in it. However, you should not do this in university work. At least three sentences in any paragraph.
It can sometimes
be difficult to choose between “this” and “that”. Remember one rule – the
element we have just introduced is generally “this”. “The government has just
established a new committee to develop policy on unicorns. This committee will
meet for the first time in January”. To come back to the present exercise. “The
third document shows a collection of the well-known ‘blue plaques’ of London.
These plaques (not *those plaques) serve to link people from the past with
buildings of the present.
used contractions. Don’t use contractions! I mean, do not use contractions! Do
not use contractions in your writing unless you are transcribing a dialogue.
You need an extremely good reason not to use contractions in speaking, and you
need an extremely good reason to use contractions in writing. University
writing has no contractions at all. If you see contractions in my comments on
your work, this is different. Comments are in a much more informal style than
the work you give in.