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Information Literacy


What Should French Studies Majors Know?

By the time of their graduation all majors in French Studies should understand how scholars of French studies conduct research and how they then communicate the results of their work to colleagues. One way of describing this process is “information literacy” – i.e., the ability to conceptualize what literary and cultural information is needed to communicate one's findings, combined with the skills necessary to locate, evaluate, and use this information effectively and ethically. Among the skills that French Studies majors should acquire are:

Listening and speaking (in French)

  • Students comprehend spoken language directed to native speakers with rare requests for paraphrase or explanation.
  • Students are able to express themselves consistently on a variety of concrete and abstract themes; errors are rare and never impede comprehension; students’ vocabulary is both broad and precise.
  • Students demonstrate a command of audience-appropriate language register; student’s language use is precise and idiomatic.

Reading (in French)

  • Students understand most factual information in non-technical prose as well as on topics related to special interests. Misinterpretation occurs rarely.
  • Students are able to read most literary genres in the original, technical material in a field of interest, and standard newspaper items.
  • Students are able to appreciate distinctions in structure, verb tenses, and vocabulary (including common idioms) between French and their native language.

Writing (in French)

  • Students demonstrate a broad range of structures and rules, and their errors do not impede comprehension.
  • Students organize main ideas into paragraphs and extended discourse, and use styles appropriately.
  • Students demonstrate an ability to write on a variety of topics making extensive and appropriate use of formal features of writing.


  • Students demonstrate understanding of the culture’s practices.
  • Students can identify key historical figures, events, and geographical aspects associated with areas where French is spoken and can explain their influence on French culture (art, literature, media, etc.).
  • Students actively utilize local opportunities to practice linguistic skills in French with native speakers and other students, or spend time working or studying in an area where French is officially spoken.

Software literacy

Students must know how to write in French on a PC or Mac using the computer’s...

  • input method for accented characters in Windows or Mac
  • French dictionary, grammar, and spellchecker
  • media players for playing DVDs, audio-video files and recording audio

Students should be familiar with a least one correction program (such as Antidote ) and Smith’s course management system (Moodle)

Information Literacy

  • Students identify the kind of information – biographical, historical, literary, and cultural – they need, and know where to find it. In other words, they should be familiar with various electronic resources (see below), particularly the MLA Bibliography, and some reference books. They should also be aware that web search engines are often inadequate for scholarly research.
  • Students are able to evaluate the reliability of a source: who wrote it? When? Who published it? For what purpose?
  • Students know how and when to acknowledge and cite their sources in MLA format according to the guidelines included in the booklet Writing Papers: A Handbook for Students at Smith College.
  • They know how to use basic reference sources such as French dictionaries and encyclopedias such as:


Call Number in Neilson
Dictionnaire de l'Académie française online through ARTFL
Dictionnaire de la langue française (Littré) ref PC 2625 .L63 1971
Le nouveau Littré ref PC 2625 .N68 2005
Le vocabulaire de la francophonie (Littré) ref PC 2625 .V63 2006
Le Grand Robert ref PC 2625 .R55 2001
Dictionaries of synonyms such as (but not limited to): Larousse grand dictionnaire des synonymes et contraires ref PC 2591 .S963 2004
  • Students should be familiar with and able to locate both primary and secondary sources available in print and electronically; and they should be skilled in the uses of standard databases such as:
Resources SCL Website Locations
Books & More  

Five College Library Catalog

WorldCat Catalog of books, web resources, and other material worldwide.

ARTFL Research on the Treasury of the French Language

Gallica Searchable e-texts from the Bibliothèque nationale de France

1. Quick Search on the libraries' homepage

2. French Studies subject page: French / Books & Media

3. French Studies subject page: French / Literary Texts

2. French Studies subject page: French / Books & Media

Articles & Essays  

MLA Bibliography 1926+

JSTOR (largely back issues)

Persée Searchable database of academic articles in French.

1. French Studies subject page: French / Articles

2. Databases by Title A-Z

3. Libraries homepage Quick Search (type MLA Bibliography, JSTOR, etc.)

In Which Classes Should Students Learn These Skills, and How Will They be Assessed?

The French Studies curriculum focuses on communicative competence in today’s world, knowledge of contemporary cultures, investigation of concepts that over time have shaped French and francophone identities, and the discovery of new perspectives that come from deeper engagement with a particular aspect of French Studies.

  • Communications are at the heart of second language study; through sequential development of the skills of listening, speaking, reading, writing from beginning through intermediate to advanced levels, students gain proficiency in conveying ideas in French and explore cultural contexts in which the language works. In all classes, students will be given assignments that reflect the skills appropriate to the level of the course. In 220, students attend library workshps on the correct use of print and online dictionaries.
  • Contemporary Cultures (French Studies courses of the 230 through the 250 level) enhance students’ understanding and self-expression in French through engagement with manifestations of today’s world such as modern literature, popular and visual cultures, and media studies. In addition, these intermediate-level courses develop analytical thinking about practices and products of French and francophone cultures. Many of these courses may entail literary and cultural research, including visits to the library and meetings with Reference librarians.
  • Concepts (French Studies courses of the 260, 270, 280 level) explore some of the currents of thought that over time have shaped French forms of art and expression, situate contemporary cultures in broader contexts, and connect with other fields of study. The introduction of comparative historical viewpoints characterizes these courses, which also refine and broaden capacities of understanding and conveying knowledge. Most of these courses entail literary and cultural research, including visits to the library and meetings with Reference librarians.
  • Perspectives (French Studies courses of the 300 and 400 level) introduce new viewpoints and capacities; they also allow students to benefit from the scholarly interests of the faculty (at Smith and within the Five College community) or to establish contact with the professional world. They increase the breadth and/or depth of humanistic inquiry through meaningful research or independent work requriring use of the sources and skills outlined above.

Ethical Issues

Using someone else's words, ideas, or arguments without acknowledgment is plagiarism. This is a serious violation of the College's Honor Code. Students should learn to distinguish between "received knowledge" and original work, between ideas that have often been repeated and ideas that are new. They must always identify and acknowledge their sources for everything except "received knowledge," such as dates and facts found in many encyclopedias and dictionaries.

Revised February, 2013