Mantra to Win

My journey with French Spell Bee 2019

Bonjour ! I am Simran Swaika and here’s the account of my journey with Le Frehindi and The French Spell Bee which began in 2018. It had been on my mind since class 7th, when I first learned about it, but I didn’t participate until class 11th. It was the first French competition with a clearly defined structure, which made it much easier for me to understand and prepare for. French Spell is analogous to a puzzle in which the more you practice, the closer you get to winning. As Michael Jordan said ‘’The key is not the will to win everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.” But before we learn how to crack this enigma it is crucial to understand what International French Spell Bee is.

The competition is structured so that a child learns over 400 French words and expressions handpicked from various French texts, including those of the DELF A1 and A2 levels as defined by the CIEP (Centrale Internationale d’études pédagogiques).

For school students, there are three levels. The first level is for children in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. The intermediate level is built for students in grades 7 and 8. The third stage -advanced – is for high school students from grades 9th to 12th.

There are three stages to the competition. The offline/online OMR sheet-based round is the first step. Ensure that you are familiar with all the words in the booklet at this stage. I would also  like to give some very relevant advice to the readers. Consider the guidebook to be your bible.Follow it, believe in it, and imbibe it.The biggest advantage that the participants have is that nothing, ‘rien‘ comes out of this booklet.

Simran Swaika at the live round, IIC,Delhi

Students who meet a certain cut off point in the first round progress to the second round, which is an online test. The top scorers from the second round qualify to the final round, which is a live competition in Delhi. The overall winner from each stage receives a trip to France or the choice of receiving a Mac-book Air.

The first runner-up enjoys a free trip to Pondicherry, while the second runner-up earns a free vacation to the Frehindi village in the Himalayas. The mentors of the children who win prizes become eligible for a lucky draw and stand a chance to win a trip to France, Pondicherry, or Frehindi village, as well as a gold medal and a certificate.

I believe that taking part in this competition will enable you to not only hone your French skills but also to discover a community of like minded people. It will widen your horizons and best equip you for the world we are a part of.

The overall experience 

It’s difficult to sum up my entire experience in a single word, but I’d like to say that my time with Le Frehindi was wholesome. From the  beginning till the end. The live event at India International Centre, Delhi was a learning experience that I shall never forget.The intensity which surrounded the room was enough for anyone to get goosebumps. A rendezvous with students of versatile diversity  belonging to different states and countries bonded by the love for language french. It is not a platform which assesses you solely on your memory and intellect power but a stage which demands you to be observant and patient.I couldn’t believe it when I won the tiebreaker round and was announced the 2019 International French Spell Bee Winner.

My travel to France was my first overseas experience. Travel not only teaches us about the world, but it also teaches us about our place in it. It was a seven-day journey. I resided with a native French family for the first four days in the city of Nantes. I instantly became friends with the host family’s daughter. I lived the bread and butter life for the next week. The French family was amazing. One of their neighbours was a south Asian, and as soon as she found out about me, she treated me to an Asian feast at the French table. Attending French lessons, playing sports with them, and performing French songs and dances was some of the most beautiful moments I spent in France.

Nantes is in the countryside, so we walked to school every day, and in the evenings I went for stroll with the girl I was staying with. We played French games, watched Harry Potter in French, and picked strawberries from the tree together. I never felt as if I were visiting France for the first time. Picnics and student exchange programmes were all organised in those four days, making it seem like a week. Nantes‘s farewell note is still fresh in my mind. I’m still in contact with my French friends and hope to meet them soon.  I also had the opportunity to ride the TGV, French trams, buses, ships, trains, and even the 18th century Parisian metro. The journey was unforgettable. The last three days of my trip were spent in Paris. It was similar to a rêve (dream). 

In terms of Paris-the city of lights, I had the opportunity to visit all of the historic sights and streets that I had read about in my French textbooks since sixth grade. The feeling of visiting the Eiffel Tower was surreal. On the last day, I bought some souvenirs for my friends and family and hoped the trip could go on forever.

The preparation 

Preparing for the Spell Bee won’t be very easy but I assure you that you can bag the trophy if you want to and if you stick to some of the tips I am sharing with you. The most critical issue that most students face is how they should prepare for it. My French instructor worked tirelessly for three to four months to ensure that I won the competition. I am highly grateful to Ms.Swati Mehra my French teacher and my guide for providing me with all support and confidence ,without which it would not have been possible.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe,” Abraham Lincon said. This is precisely what I want to say. The first step is to decide your goal, which may be as simple as qualifying for the first round for some or as complex as making it to the third round for others. Making it to France was a personal goal for me. 

Sharpen your knife once you’re done deciding your goal. What I mean is that you should get back to basics.For the first round you are acquainted with all the words in the booklet and their meanings.You need not focus on the pronunciation in this round.Just be through with the spellings and meanings of the word. Generally the first round is a cakewalk for many of the students. Try to practice the mock tests 

 Return to the alphabets and re-learn them.One common error that most of the participants do is to spell the word in English. It is important to note that, while our brain’s first instinct would be to read ‘w‘ as ‘dub-lew ‘, participants are only expected to spell the words in French. After you have finished revising all of the alphabets, the next step is to learn how to pronounce ‘ les accents.‘  Make sure you understand the distinction between ‘accent grave‘ and ‘accent aigu‘. After this go for the  French punctuation marks. Learn them by heart and give them the time they necessitate.

Since the booklet is divided into parts, you must decide how you want to read it. Don’t try to learn them all at once because your memory has a cap. Divide it into parts and learn them a few at a time. Don’t make the common mistake of ignoring their definitions when attempting to memorise them. All of this can be learned better if you give it more time or learn it extensively.

I would also recommend that you incorporate these words into your everyday vocabulary at school or simply sneak them into conversations with your friends and family. Some sections comprise terms from French literature and culture so before learning them just search them up.It would make your learning more fun.  The booklet is more than just a list of words; it also enhances your awareness about the french language and culture.

I prepared for this competition in a methodical manner. I followed the steps outlined above, as well as a few extras. While reading one of the parts. I started by giving it a fast read, then I memorized the spellings, and finally, I listened to their pronunciation. For this, I typed the words into Google Translator and carefully listened to each word several times. Although it will appear to be a lot of work at times, believe me when I say it was a huge amount of fun going to France after all this. Another very important thing that will help you is to watch the previous years videos on Le Frehindi’s YouTube channel. It will give you a glimpse of the real competition and help you to understand things better.

In France , the dream
With my host family at Nantes, France

I burst into tears the moment I was announced as the International French Spell Winner. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. It was finally mine after months of hard work and persistence – an all-expenses-paid holiday to France. Trust me when I say that the amount of praise you get from your teachers and school is overwhelming. In the months that followed, Le Frehindi assisted me and handled the entire visa application process. I was overcome with emotion the moment we stepped off the plane at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport. France is a thousand times more stunning than it appears in photographs. I had the opportunity to travel through various regions of France in the world’s fastest train, the TGV.

I got to travel around France while exploring the language. But what I liked most was hanging out with my new friends while staying true to myself. After I arrived in Nantes, my French correspondent greeted me and escorted me to her home. It was a welcoming and relaxing environment. They had made every effort to ensure that I was not in any discomfort. By the evening, their next-door neighbors had arrived and greeted me with French desserts. The most important aspect of the trip was to broaden my understanding of the French language.

There are many differences between the written and spoken French that we learn in school. One day, my French correspondent and I had the chance to prepare a meal that was a cross-cultural mash-up. We went to a well-known French supermarket chain to purchase Indian spices and herbs for the same purpose. We settled on a menu for the evening and asked her neighbours to join us. Although she made pizza for everyone, I made ‘Aloo Paratha with Raita.’ We set up the tables in the garden and sat down to an Indo-French meal.

All of this would not have been possible if it hadn’t been for Le Frehindi. The part of the exchange that helped me the most to develop my French was attending my correspondent’s school every day for 5 days as if I were a French student. There were no exceptions for us. We had to get up early every morning and walk 1.5 kilometres to school. We went to algebra, biology, and even English classes according to the schedule.

We also went on a picnic to Machine d’iles, Nantes, one day. We were assigned various environmental-related tasks. It is an unforgettable experience. I met people from various countries who had moved to France. We shared our culture as students by teaching each other some of the well-known facts  about  our home country. On-site projects and picnics helped us better understand one another and shape intercontinental friendships that transcended global boundaries.

We were living in the heart of Paris, in the centre of the city. I had the chance to see La Concorde, Notre-Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, and the Jardin de Tuileries. To visit the city of lights, the country with over 300 different types of cheese, and, most importantly, the country where the world’s most romantic language is spoken, France has been a dream of mine since I began learning the language. Thanks to Le Frehindi for organising the French Spell Bee Competition and making my dream come true.

Looking through the photos from the trip reminds me of all the wonderful memories we made there. No other solo or family trip will provide you with an experience like this, where you leave with a fond appreciation for the country, its people, and its cuisine. The trip gave me everything: some friends to remember for a lifetime, unforgettable memories, a passion for cheese, and so on. 

I highly recommend each and every Indian student studying French to give this contest a try. It will open a plethora of opportunities for you in the future.

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Simran Swaika

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