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Preparatory training for non-French-speaking students of the Ingénieur Polytechnicien program

Designed specifically for non-French-speaking students as an integral part of their first year in the Ingénieur Polytechnicien program, the preparatory training combines French culture and language classes, scientific courses, sports, and cultural activities. This preparatory program has been developed to help non-French-speaking students become familiar with the academic and social campus environment at École Polytechnique. It takes place while the French and French-speaking international students of the class complete their human and military training. In April 2024, all students of class X2023 will get together for the first academic period of the Ingénieur Polytechnicien program and pursue their engineering studies together.
Preparatory training for non-French-speaking students of the Ingénieur Polytechnicien program
25 Mar. 2024

Enrolling in a highly selective engineering program, which is almost entirely taught in French, and implies a military status for French students? – On the face of it, it sounds like an impossible project for a non-French-speaking student. But thinking so means not knowing École Polytechnique's and its students' ambitions! Every year, École Polytechnique welcomes up to 140 international students of from all over the world in its Ingénieur Polytechnique program, representing almost 20% of the graduating class.

An intense start to get ready

To assist non-French-speaking students in getting ready for the program’s first academic period, the Ingénieur Polytechnique program includes a preparatory training period tailored to their needs. The preparatory training enables them to further practice their French, get used to taking science classes taught in French, and familiarize themselves with French scientific terms so that they can make the most of their studies at l’X and in France.

Before the actual preparatory training, the nineteen non-French-speaking students of the Ingénieur Polytechnicien program's class of X2023 spent four months in the south of France (Villeneuve-sur-Lot), where they took intensive French language classes from September 2023 to January 2024. Ariel Silva Claudino, a Brazilian student who is part of this group, points out that "these four months in the southwest of France are crucial for non-French-speaking students as they join France", and he adds: "I was fortunate to have a lot in common with my host family, and our cultural exchanges have been unforgettable."

At the end of January, the nineteen students joined École Polytechnique’s campus to prepare for the beginning of the academic curriculum. During the ten weeks of preparatory education, they further refine their knowledge of the French language and culture thanks to the courses taught by the French section of the School’s Department of Languages and Cultures. Furthermore, the students also attend several scientific classes taught in French, which allow them to get accustomed to the French terms used in scientific disciplines and thus prepare for the academic period of their studies alongside French and French-speaking students, starting in April.

"Starting the science courses held in French in a preparatory way allows us to discover the teaching method at l'X while revising concepts we've already studied", emphasizes Ariel Silva Claudino, who says he particularly appreciated this part. 

"The objective of the preparatory education is to help our international non-French-speaking students prepare best for the academic curriculum taught in French. This period represents a very special moment, as it grants time for thorough exchanges with every student, which subsequently allow for a follow-up tailored to the individual needs of each of them", explains Eléonore Payen de la Garanderie, Adjunct director of the Ingénieur Polytechnicien program. She adds: "It's impressive to see our students' progress in such a short time! In September, they hardly speak French, and they speak and write French fluently by June."

As the regular practice of a sports discipline is mandatory as part of the School’s engineering program, the preparatory training also includes sports sessions. Students can then decide which discipline they wish to pursue as part of their studies.

Various cultural visits and excursions in and around Paris complete a busy schedule. The students visited several museums and also went to see a play at the Comédie-Bastille: "Les Téméraires," a play about the Dreyfus affair.

"To welcome our international students the best possible, we offer tailor-made training, which enables them to improve their French and gain a better understanding of the French culture, and hence fosters a smooth integration at the School alongside their French-speaking peers, and in France", explains Julie André, lecturer in French language and literature at École Polytechnique and coordinator of the French section of the School’s Department of Languages and Cultures.

Also, the Students' Office of the Ingénieur Polytechnicien program extended a warm welcome to the international students who joined the campus for their first year. Amine El Alami (X22) and Colas Lepoutre (X22), two representatives of the Students’ Office, who take a particular interest in matters relating to international students and international affairs in general, organized a whole series of activities to welcome them and introduce them to the busy community life on campus.

The wide range of student associations at l’X, in which many students are very involved, is, of course, also open to international students, and they must know this. We, therefore, organized a tour of our student association premises on campus – called the Bataclan – for the non-French-speaking students who have just joined the campus to encourage them to meet the representatives of over 30 student associations and provide the opportunity to learn more about the different associations", explains Colas Lepoutre.  

In the meantime …

The class of X23 counts 556 students and includes 99 French-speaking international students who participate in the six-month human and military training program in their first year. 
Unlike the French students, the French-speaking international students do not have military status. Consequently, they join civilian organizations during the human and military training period. Many of them contribute to the national initiative aimed at increasing diversity and equal opportunities, called "les cordées de la réussite", which connects French higher education institutions with secondary schools and colleges to allow pupils to broaden their horizons with regard to sciences and to encourage them to consider study sciences. As part of this initiative, École Polytechnique’s students provide pedagogical support and even offer academic tutoring in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.

A definitely international community

The initiatives of the AX – the association of École Polytechnique’s alumni - illustrate the commitment to international students furthermore. Each year, alumni near Bordeaux invite non-French-speaking students who spend their first trimester in the Southwest of France to discover the Bordeaux region over a weekend, for example. "The weekend with the AX members in Bordeaux was a wonderful experience", enthusiastically explains Ariel Claudino. “Meeting different generations of alumni and exchanging with them reinforced our knowledge of the School’s traditions and made us feel even more integrated and part of the polytechnicien community "