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LIVING IN FRANCE

6 things to know about France’s ‘illogical’ AZERTY keyboard

Few can forget their first encounter with a French AZERTY keyboard, which can be pretty mind-blowing for people used to typing on the QWERTY keyboard.

6 things to know about France's 'illogical' AZERTY keyboard

The keyboard, which is only used in France and Belgium, is named after the order of the first six keys (as is the more common QWERTY keyboard).

Some of its differences to the QWERTY keyboard are completely logical, such as prioritising the é, ç and è keys which are used all the time when writing in French.

But some of the differences seem completely illogical and designed to designed to make typists tear their hair out especially if – like many new arrivals to France – you have to change your typing style having grown up using the QWERTY keyboard.

The placement of the letters

The differences are few when it comes to the actual letters of the alphabet: The A and Q are switched, as are the Z and W, and the M is transferred to the end of the middle row, rather than at the end of the bottom.

But that’s still enough to make for some frustrating weeks when you transfer from a Qwerty to an Azerty – or if you’re trying to use a French’s friend computer to send a quick email. 

If you’re not careful, “a quick pizza” can turn into “q auick piwwq”, for example. 

The French AZERTY keyboard. Photo: WikiCommons
 
The QWERTY keyboard. Photo: WikiCommons
 

The reason the letters are in a different order remains unknown, as is much of the reasoning behind the buttons on French keyboard, which took off in the early 20th century according to French historian Delphine Gardey.

French speakers in other countries like Canada actually prefer the QWERTY keyboard. 

It is worth noting, however, that the letter Z is much more common in French than it is in English, and the Q occurs slightly more frequently too.

Numbers are not prioritised

Writing the numbers on a French keyboard requires using the shift key each time.

The top line of the AZERTY keyboard features the special characters needed to do accents such as é è ç and à, as well as common punctuation such as as brackets and dashes.

It also features numbers, but the numbers are all on the shift key.

The French language has a much, much higher usage of accented letters compared to English. In fact, most English writers don’t even bother adding things like an accented e to words like café or fiancée anymore. 

In French, however, the é is more frequently used that a whopping ten letters in the alphabet. It makes sense to give it a key to itself, especially compared to y, w, z, and x. 

However this does mean that every time you need to type a number you are using the shift key – and certain UK or US based websites won’t allow you to enter characters in say – the box for your credit card details – if you are holding down the shift key, making shopping and admin on non-French websites particularly annoying.

@ and €

Two of the biggest gripes with the Azerty keyboard are the lack of a  dedicated @ key and the lack of a € key.

The @ symbol might have started out as a relatively obscure symbol, but in the days of email and Twitter it’s needed all the time, while one could argue that France’s official currency would be a pretty useful symbol to have.

Both the @ and the € require an ‘alt gr’ to find, but on newer keyboards they are at least clearly marked on the keyboard so they’re easy to find – @ is found at Alt gr + 0 and € is found at Alt gr + e.

On the other hand ù – a letter used by the French just 0.058 percent of the time – gets its own key, just to the right of the ‘m’, while the dollar symbol also has its own key, presumably a hangover from the Qwerty keyboard as used in the US. 

Underscores and dashes

The underscore symbol (this one _ ) is another one that has seen its popularity vastly increase with the widespread use of websites, email, Twitter and Instagram where it’s a frequent feature of user names and domain names.

And in good news, it does have its own key – it’s right underneath the number 8.

In fact in French the dash and the underscore (- and _) are  sometimes called “tiret du 6” and a “tiret du 8” respectively, meaning a “six dash” and an “eight dash” because that’s where you can find them on a keyboard, although their formal names are just tiret and tiret bas.

Pressing shift to end a sentence 

But surely the mostly baffling and irritating thing about the Azerty keyboard is having to use the shift key to end every sentence.

The much lesser-used semi-colon gets its own key, while if you want to end a sentence with a full stop or period – by far the most common way to finish – you need to employ the shift key. Likewise if you need the period point for an ellipse (…), a decimal point (although the French use a comma in place of a point) or any and all website addresses and email addresses. 

Likewise the French are apparently fonder of jokes than they are of questions, since the exclamation point keys its own key while the question mark requires a shift. 

The § symbol gets equal prominence with the . since both are accessible through a shift key.

We had to Google § to see what it even is, it’s apparently a section sign used for numbering legal documents, so we can only assume that a lawyer (who also hated full stops) designed the Azerty keyboard.  

French vocab

Obviously punctuation points have their own names in France, here are some of the most common

Full stop/period . point. Most commonly heard for French websites or email addresses which end in .fr (pronounced pwan eff eyre)

Comma , virgule. In France a decimal point is indicated with a comma so two and a half would be 2,5 (deux virgule cinq)

Exclamation mark ! point d’exclamation – when you are writing in French you always leave a space between the final letter of the word and the exclamation mark – comme ça !

Question mark ? point d’interrogation – likewise, leave a space between the final character and a question mark 

At symbol @ Arobase – so for example the email address [email protected] would be jean point dupont arobas hotmail point fr. 

Ampersand/and symbol & esperluette

Dashtiret

Underscore _ tiret bas 

Forward slash / barre oblique

Brackets/parentheses ( ) parenthèse

Quotation marks « » guillemets 

Member comments

  1. I learned to type on an Azerty keyboard. The shock for me was encountering a Qwerty keyboard for the first time. Pretty easy to adapt to either.

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EDUCATION

Fees to class sizes – what you need to know about private schools in France

In many countries, private schools are the preserve of the wealthy elite, but France has a wide network of private schools that are well within the financial reach of ordinary families - James Harrington explains more.

Fees to class sizes - what you need to know about private schools in France

The education system in France has its problems – at the start of the new school year some 4,000 teaching posts were unfilled and the government has launched an ‘emergency plan’ for English language lessons – but there’s no doubting there are wonderful schools and wonderful teachers making every effort to ensure children from aged three to 18 get the education they deserve.

However the country also has a sizeable network of private schools and around 15 percent of French children go to a private school. While some are undoubtedly expensive and elite, others are surprisingly affordable and provide an extra option for parents when deciding on  a school for their children.

Here’s what you need to know; 

Different types

There are two types of private school – sous contrat and hors contrat.

Sous contrat schools, of which there are about 7,500 in France, are part-funded by the state – teachers are paid by the Department of Education, for example – but also charge fees. France’s numerous Catholic schools, or regional language schools are usually sous contrat.

Hors contrat schools – which number about 2,500 – must still meet general education requirements but can choose their teaching methods and have no state funding. Private international schools found in most big cities, such as the American School of Paris, are hors contrat, but still follow mainstream teaching methods.

For comparison, there are around 60,000 state schools in France.

Prices

Yes, there are expensive private schools in France. Sending your child to the exclusive Ecole des Roches Private Boarding School, for example, will set you back more than €12,000 a term – not quite Eton or Winchester-level fees, but still well out of the reach of a large portion of the population. But, like Eton and Winchester, they’re not the norm. 

On average, fees for a day pupil – one who goes home at the end of the school day, rather than one who boards at the school – are in the region of around €2,250 a year. Meals are not included, and are generally charged at a slightly higher daily price than at state schools.

Financial aid, including scholarships, may be available for less well-off families.

READ ALSO French school canteens to cut cheese course as inflation bites

Boarding and hours

A large number of state and private schools offer Monday-Thursday boarding. It is not uncommon for pupils who excel at certain subjects or sports to attend collèges or lycées some distance from home, and board during the week.

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Daily school hours, meanwhile, are broadly similar, with children generally starting their school day at around 8am and finishing soon after 4pm on school days. Collège and lycée pupils also go into school on Wednesday mornings, and some may have classes on a Saturday, too.

Popularity

Smaller class sizes and a reputation for “better” results means that private schools are increasingly popular. The number of French private schools has increased steadily over the last decade, and now 15-20 percent of pupils go to a private establishment of some form. 

On the whole, private schools tend to do better in results league tables – perhaps in part because of the additional investment from parents, but also because class sizes tend to be smaller, which allows for more one-to-one education. Smaller class sizes and more individual attention mean they may also be a better option for children who struggle in big schools.

READ ALSO What kind of school in France is best for my kids?

Qualifications

State schools and sous contrat schools teach to the national curriculum, which leads, in turn, to brevet and baccalaureate qualifications.

In contrast, some hors contrat private schools offer different qualifications, including American High School Diplomas and SATs, British GCSEs and A-Levels, or the international baccalaureate.

Religion

Although many sous contrat schools are Catholic, most readily accept non-Catholic children and are not allowed to indoctrinate the Catholic faith. Hors contrat schools, on the other hand, may include a religious element to their teaching.

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