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Building Community through Vocabulary Acquisition: Proust’s Questionnaire

The French writer Marcel Proust (1871-1922), best known for his novel In Searh of Lost Time, discovered an English game called “Confessions” as a teenager. His answers written as “Marcel Proust by himself” where discovered after his death. The set of questions and answers Proust wrote gave birth to what is known as “Proust’s questionnaire”.

Proust’s questionnaire allows students to move from self-discovery to a better knowledge of the group. It is a fun and thought-provoking way to work on vocabulary acquisition. Since it allows the students to learn more about their classmates, I have used this activity with intermediate or advanced students as an icebreaker.  For intermediate students, I sometimes added word banks. As an additional option, it can be declined as part of a fun Oral Exam.

Students can start looking at the questionnaire in class. I usually assign it first as homework because students require some quiet time thinking about their answers. On the next class, they can work on the questionnaire with a partner, in small groups, or as a mix-in activity during class time.

To become familiar with the questionnaire, I present the questionnaire using some modern adaptations such as Bernard Pivot’s interview of Woody Allen for the French literary TV show Bouillon de Culture:

 

or James Lipton’s version Inside the Actor’s Studio:

For a more updated version, I also add on my Blackboard, Sean Lennon’s answers to Vanity Fair‘s famous Proust Questionnaire:

Some of the online versions of the questionnaire I found included the answers of famous guests such as Bernard Pivot himself. I kept them to provide the students with creative examples of answers. Once they have seen the videos, the students realize their answers are also a creative way to think about themselves.

Adaptation of the questionnaire used by BERNARD PIVOT :

1. Votre mot préféré ? 
Pivot : “Aujourd’hui”.
Votre réponse : ______________

2. Le mot que vous détestez ?
Votre réponse : ______________

3. Votre addiction favorite ?
Pivot : La lecture des journaux en général, et de L’Équipe, en particulier.
Votre réponse : ______________

4. Le son, le bruit que vous aimez ?
Pivot : Le son très discret des pages que je tourne en lisant un livre, ou le son aussi discret du stylo sur la feuille.
Votre réponse : ______________

5. Le son, le bruit que vous détestez ?
Votre réponse : ______________

6. Votre gros mot favori ? :______________

8. Le métier que vous nauriez pas aimé faire ?
Pivot : Président de France
Votre réponse : ______________

9. La plante, l’arbre ou l’animal dans lequel vous aimeriez être réincarné ?
Votre réponse : ______________

10. Si Dieu existe, quaimeriez-vous, après votre mort, lentendre vous dire ?

Votre réponse : ______________

Source : Adaptation of “Faites le questionnaire de Proust et celui de Pivot!” – site agoravox.com (19/09/2008)

For my shortened version of the original questionnaire, I opted to include word-banks with some of the questions.

QUESTIONNAIRE DE MARCEL PROUST (version courte):

1- Le principal trait de mon caractère :______________
2 – La qualité que je préfère chez un homme :______________
3 – La qualité que je préfère chez une femme  :______________
4 – Ce que j’apprécie le plus chez mes amis :______________
5 – Mon principal défaut :______________
6 – Mon occupation préférée :______________
Proust : Aimer
9 – Ce que je voudrais être :______________
10 – Le pays où je désirerais vivre : ______________

11 – La couleur que je préfère : ______________

12 – La fleur que j’aime :
suggestions : a) la rose b) le dahlia c) les camélias d) les tulipes

13 – L’oiseau que je préfère :
suggestions : a) le colibri b) l’aigle c) les moineaux (sparrows) d) les faucons

14 – Mes écrivains favoris : _____________

16 – Mes héros dans la fiction : _____________
Proust : Hamlet.

17 – Mes héroïnes favorites (romans, films ou séries) :______________

 18 – Mes musiciens préférés :______________

19 – Mes artistes favoris :______________
20 – Les héros que j’admire dans la vie réelle :______________

21 – Mes héroïnes dans lhistoire :______________
Proust : Cléopâtre.

The New York Times Style Magazine : The illustrated Interview

Students might also be interested in the updated version of the questionnaire published on last pages of The New York Times Style Magazine : The illustrated Interview. In addition to written answers this visual interview includes sketches by the interviewed artist (like the artiste William Wegman, the architect David Adjaye, or the photographer Bruce Weber.)

What makes you smile? What is your cultural icon? What is your secret talent ? What do you do for exercise ? What did you want to be when you grow up? Do you have any pets ? What would you like to do that you can’t? What do you drive ? Is there something you would like to invent?

When the time comes, what would your final meal be?
Have you ever owned a pet other than a dog?
If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be ? What makes you laugh? What scares you?

I also found some Spanish Language versions of the questionnaire:

Last but not least, according to the website Gotham Writers, writing the answers to describe a character is a great way to start the process of creating a fictional character.

Up to now, I have asked students to interview a class-mate and they really enjoyed it, I’m considering turning the activity into an ice-breaker activity for the beginning of the semester by posting the questions in the discussion board.

 

 

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