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What is it? It takes the study of French to a more sophisticated level. You'll hone all your GCSE speaking, listening, reading and writing skills, plus you'll study culture and society in France. In A2 you'll have the opportunity to read the cream of French literature. For example, the AQA examining board offers Le Colonel Chabert by Balzac and Boulevard Durand by Salacrou.

Why do it? For a start, so that when you visit France you can speak to the locals. It will mean that you won't feel like a fool when you buy your petit pain au chocolat for breakfast and ask the way to the nearest bureau de change. It will also broaden your career prospects and give you transferable skills that will enable you to learn any language more easily.

What skills do you need? It's advisable to have a good pass at GCSE level or an equivalent exposure to French. You'll also have to be able to get your head around more advanced grammar.

How much practical work is there? Lots, if you count all the practice needed to get your speaking and listening skills up to scratch. In the oral exam, some boards allow you to discuss any topic, but others, such as AQA, require you to pick a subject you have studied, such as family and relationships or leisure, at AS-level, or state and the individual in A2.

Ratio of coursework to exams: For the AS-level there is no coursework. For the A-level there is 15 per cent written coursework.

Is it hard? "It's not entirely pain-free," says Marina Kolens-Matley, chair of the examiners for languages at OCR. "The written skill tends to be considered difficult at the beginning because not a lot is expected of the student at GCSE. But the pain disappears with time."

Who takes it? Being less intimidated by a foreign language, girls are more likely to do the whole A-level; boys do the AS-level.

How cool is it? "It's an enviable understated shade of cool," according to Marina Kolens- Matley. "You've now got a generation of 16-to 18-year-olds who can be critical of British politicians trying to speak French on TV. The older generation just haven't got the skills."

Added value: The social benefits of speaking French are endless. You will be able to watch exceptionally trendy French art-house films without subtitles, order with confidence in the smartest restaurants and pronounce the name of your perfume or after-shave.

What subjects go with it? It goes with anything.

What degrees does it lead to? The possibilities are endless. You could do French with business, politics, or law; or take up European studies.

Will it set you up for a brilliant career? Absolutely. As the UK moves closer to Europe politically, a command of French will open doors for you in careers as diverse as law and IT.

What do students say? "I'm going to do French with business at university because I think you need a modern language in the world of work," says Vicky Wood, an upper- sixth pupil at Sharnbrook Upper School in Bedfordshire. "I'd recommend French A-level: by the time I finish I hope I'll be a fluent speaker of the language."

Which awarding bodies offer it? Edexcel, AQA and OCR.

How widely available is it around the country? Very widely available.

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