the madness of giant dictations

5:00 p.m., September 4, 2021, amended at 6:34 p.m., September 4, 2021

But what is Thomas Pesquet doing aboard the space station? It multiplies the experiments, launches satellites and… will read, Sunday afternoon, the first giant dictation in orbit! Nearly 1,000 people are expected to participate in this event open to all which will take place on the tarmac of the Air and Space Museum at Le Bourget (Seine-Saint-Denis). The astronaut chose A dam against the Pacific by Marguerite Duras, discovered at the age of 20, curious to see how “the metaphor of the dam resonates” in him today.

As this son of teachers admits in his recorded message, he does not necessarily have good memories “of some dictated by teachers with a somewhat rigid style”, but he thanks them, convinced that it is “very important to ‘have a good spelling’. He therefore liked this unusual initiative: “I really like the principle of making fun – I hope – an exercise that sometimes has a bad reputation.”

If generations of schoolchildren have toiled on their copy, these dictation-events appeal to a large audience. For twenty years, Les Dicos d’or, these French spelling championships created by Bernard Pivot, have attracted some 2 million viewers. “What was considered a chore became a game, recalls the literary journalist and pen of the JDD. We desecrated dictation to make it fun, an exercise that often brought parents, grandparents and grandchildren together. It replaced the belote competitions in the countryside. “

The level of spelling has been declining for more than 30 years

The show stopped in 2005, but the fever has not subsided. “Before the health crisis, there must have been 200 to 300 events, small or large, per year,” suggests Guillaume Terrien, former champion of the Dicos d’or and founder of Orthodidacte, a platform for learning spelling. The giant Dictée at the Stade France (nearly 1,500 people in 2018 and 2019, awareness raising with the European association against leukodystrophies ELA (read by Brigitte Macron), cities, Rotary, accompanied by a glass of alcohol, truffled French-speaking expressions for the release of a dictionary, on Facebook or TikTok, naughty or inclusive. France 3 is devoting a new program to it All ready for dictation! (2.5 million cumulative audience, last May, for the third edition), France Culture a weekly meeting.

Even to flirt on Meetic, it is better to avoid making mistakes!

Surprising when we know that the level of spelling has continued to drop. According to a note from the Ministry of Education, CM2 students made, at the same dictation, 17.8 errors in 2015, against 14.3 in 2007 and 10.6 in 1987! But many want to improve. “People write a lot on Facebook, Twitter and social networks,” explains Mélanie Viénot, president of the Voltaire project, an online spelling refresher service. like a person not very competent in professional life or not very intelligent in personal life. Even to flirt on Meetic, it is better to avoid doing it! ” To progress, you have to “test yourself.”

Without a note, no risk of being singled out

What is the secret of a successful event? “The texts must be written to measure, with humor and a progression in difficulty, advises Guillaume Terrien. A dictation on an excerpt from Zola, nowadays, is a red card!” The dictations, when they are designed on demand, can include themes as varied as recycling, the headquarters of Belfort or… shoes.

“The exercise brings together everyone: schoolchildren, people in integration, nostalgic retirees, families…”, testifies the novelist Rachid Santaki, who created La Dictée géante. As it is not noted, no risk of being singled out if one grazes “dithyrambique”, “susseyement” or “scent embalmed” (in the masculine). When he invites the young people of 9-3 to do “the hardest dictation in the world”, that of Mérimée, he also specifies: “According to legend, Napoleon III would have made 75 mistakes!”

An exercise imposed by the masters in the 19th century

As historian Claude Lelièvre, author of Today’s school in the light of history (Editions Odile Jacob), “the dictation, which appeared in the statutes of the elementary school in 1834, was not imposed from above, but by the ‘non-commissioned officers’ of education, that is to say – say by the masters. At the time, three errors in the certificate of ability, and you could not become a teacher! ” Today, taking care of your spelling is not a sport reserved for the elites. At the Cité de la Duchère in Lyon, in the northern districts of Marseille or in Trappes, young people participate in La Dictée pour tous, led by Abdellah Boudour, an animator from Argenteuil. The final takes place in prestigious places: the Elysée Palace, the Eiffel Tower or at the top of the Arc de Triomphe.

The phenomenon also affects the countryside. The naughty dictations of Aurore Ponsonnet and Sandrine Campese slaughter villages of 300 inhabitants. It is a question of “callipyge women”, of “reaching the empyrean” (understanding the seventh heaven) or of lovers who “whispered sweet words to each other”. No doubt, we take pleasure in it. “The atmosphere is not at all school, describes Jean-Joseph Julaud, the organizer of La Dictée pour les Dummels. People write, joke and do not feel guilty when they make a mistake.” The public, attached to the linguistic heritage, is also happy to leave with a few rare words, such as “oaristys” (confidences of lovers) or “coruscant” (brilliant).


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