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French School Vocabulary

image via Wix

Bienvenue à l'école en France! If you are new to France or putting kids in a French-speaking school for the first time, here are the words you will hear and see the most.

French School Organization:

The names of all the French grades and schools can be a web of illogical numbers and letters, so here is a general categorization with each grade explained. Don't worry, you will memorize it eventually!

L'école maternelle

L'école maternelle comprises the three grades of petite section (or PS, ages 3-4), moyenne section (referred to as MS, ages 4-5) and grande section (you guessed it... GS, ages 5-6), which is roughly preschool, pre-K and kindergarten in US/Canada

L'école élémentaire

L'école élémentaire is elementary schoole, it is made of the five grades after maternelle, comprising grades CP (ages 6-7), CE1 (ages 7-8), CE2 (ages 8-9), CM1 (ages 9-10) and CM2 (ages 10-11).

L’école primaire

L’école primaire includes all the grades in maternelle and l'ecole elementaire and some towns have both the maternelle and ecole elementaire on the same campus.

Le collège

Le college is secondary/junior high/middle school and is made of four grades: 6ème (ages 11-12), 5ème (ages12-13), 4ème (ages 13-14), and 3ème (ages14-15). Collèges are generally in their own location in a town, separate from the lycèe.

Le lycée

Le lycèe is high-school/secondary school and made of three grades: seconde (ages 15-16), première (ages 16-17), and terminale (ages 17-18).

Centre de loisirs / Accueil de loisirs

France supports working parents by offering subsidized child care at public schools on Wednesdays (when elementary schools close), after school, and during school holidays (sometimes only the first week, check your mairie's website for more information). The Paris mairie offers all children from ages 3-14 whether they attend private or public school a place at the centres de loisirs, read more on its centre de loisirs website. The staff are hired by the city and are obliged to structure activities around a pedagogical project rather than

simply offer a drop-off centre. Centre de loisirs will also offer day trips or outings, depending on the day or center.

image via Wix

Assorted School Vocabulary:

arithmetic l’arithmétique

art class les arts plastiques, le cours de dessin

bell la sonnerie, la cloche

biology la biologie

boarder un(e) interne

boarding school un internat

chemistry la chimie

civics l’éducation civique

classroom la salle de classe

cloakroom le vestiaire

college l'université, la fac (coll.)

competitive (entrance) exam un concours

computer science l’informatique

corridor/hallway le couloir

course un cours, un stage

desk un bureau, un casier

detention la retenue, la colle (coll.)

dining hall, canteen/cafeteria la cantine

diploma un diplôme

distinction une mention

economics les sciences économiques

English l’anglais

exam un examen, une copie d’examen

field trip (residential) une classe verte

first class honours (Grade A) une mention très bien

French le français

geography la géographie

German l’allemand

grade, mark une note

grammar la grammaire

Greek le grec

gym la gymnastique, le sport

gym room (maternelle) salle de mototricité

hall le préau

handwriting le graphisme

headmaster/principal (primaire) le directeur/la directrice

headmaster/headmistress le principal, le proviseur


high school students les lycéens, un(e) lycéen(ne)

history l’histoire

homework les devoirs

International Baccalaureate (IB) le baccalauréat international

laboratory le laboratoire

Latin le latin

lesson le cours

librarian le/la documentaliste

library la bibliothèque centre documentaire

literature la littérature

map une carte

marks/grades une note

mathematics les mathématiques

middle/secondary school student les collégiens, un(e) collégien(nne)

mock exam un examen blanc

music la musique

notebook le cahier

nursery school l’école maternelle

parent teachers association (PTA) une association de parents d’élèves


philosophy la philosophie

physical education (PE) l’éducation physique et sportive (EPS)

physical science les sciences physiques

physics la physique

playground la cour de récréation

primary school teacher un instituteur, une institutrice

private school une école privée

professor un professeur

pronunciation prononciation

public/state school une école publique

schedule, timetable un emploi du temps

school une école

scooter (step scooter) une trottinette

smart board le tableau blanc interactif (TBI)

afternoon snack le goûter

Spanish l’espagnol

speech therapist l'orthophoniste

spelling l’orthographe

sports ground le terrain de sport

staff room la salle des professeurs

students (primary school) les élèves, un(e) élève

study-time l’étude

subjects les matières

teacher la maitresse, l'enseignant(e), un professeur

teacher's assistant (maternelle) L'ATSEM (l'agent territorial spécialisé des écoles maternelles)

teenagers les ados (adolescents)

term un trimestre

test un contrôle

to fail échouer, recaler

to go to school aller à l’école

to know (a subject) savoir, (a person) connaître

to learn apprendre

to memorize mémoriser

to pass a test réussir un examen (do not use "passer"!)

to practice répéter

to repeat a year redoubler une classe

to study étudier

to take a test passer un examen-careful, this confuses Anglophones!

to teach enseigner

university une université, la fac, une grande école

whiteboard le tableau

workshop un atelier

written paper un écrit

We will be adding a vocabulary list for school supplies soon! Why is this a thing in France? Older students are given a long list of ultra-specific school supplies before school starts, so prepare yourself for an annual scavenger hunt.

If you have any questions about schools in France, you can ask other English-speaking parents in our Members Forum.

Do you have any words you found to be unique to school in France? Comment below!

This article was originally published in 'The ABC's of Parenting in Paris' -curated by our members, and filled with insiders' tips and practical information. As part of our drive towards greater sustainable practices, the book is no longer available in print form. This article was updated for 2023 by Annie Kamp.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of Message. Message cannot be held responsible for any information contained in or omitted from this article.


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