French Language Blog

La Rentrée – Back to School Posted by on Aug 27, 2020 in Culture, Language

Salut mes potes! Hi my friends!

All around the world is la rentrée, the ‘return’ or the beginning of the school year, for les élèves, les collégiens, les lycéens, et les étudiants. Les enseignants, les professeurs, les instituteurs, et les maîtres are all diligently preparing, especially since this year will look so different.

Why did I use four different vocabulary words to describe a student and a teacher? Keep reading to find out and to learn some more about the French school system.

Le vocabulaire:

les élèves – primary school students

les collégiens – middle school students

les lycéens – high school students

les étudiants – university students

les instituteurs – teachers (primary school)

les maîtres – teachers (primary school, informal)

les enseignants – teachers (secondary school)

les professeurs (les profs*) – professors (university)

*le professeur is always masculine. The abbreviated word prof could be masculine or feminine, le/la prof.

Other useful vocabulary: 

la fac (faculté) – university (or as the British would say, uni)

le directeur/la directrice – principal, director (general)

le proviseur – principal (high school)

le principal – principal (middle school)

passer un examen – to take an exam (un faux ami!)

le bureau – teacher’s desk

le pupitre – student’s desk

Le système scolaire français, the French school system, is also very different from that of the US. School typically begins at 8 am and ends at 5 pm, except on Wednesdays when school ends at noon. Extra-curricular activities and sports are not an option like they are in the US, except on Wednesdays and during lunch time.

Students get an hour for lunch each day, and it is not unusual for them to travel home or eat outside in town during this time. If enjoying lunch at school, you can expect a much healthier and “home-cooked” meal at la cantine, the cafeteria. (For pictures of school lunches around the world, click here.)

In the visual below you will see l’école maternelle (primary school), l’école élémentaire (elementary school), le collège (middle school), le lycée (high school), et les études supérieures (higher education).

One of the biggest differences is as opposed to counting up for grades as we do in the US (1st, 2nd, 3rd…) in France they count down (11e, 10e, 9e…). Terminale is the ‘terminal’ year of high school, which we call either senior year or 12th grade in the US.

Here is the calendrier scolaire issued by la ministère de l’éducation nationale. You will notice that the country is divided into three zones, and those zones have slightly different dates for some of their breaks in order to not overwhelm the ski slops or other popular vacation destinations.

Each break from school is two weeks long, la Toussaint (All Saints Day) from mid-October to November, Noël (Christmas), hiver (winter) and printemps (spring). Summer (été) is two months long.

Bonne rentrée à tous!

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About the Author: Bridgette

Just your average Irish-American Italo-Francophone. Client Engagement for Transparent Language.