Last Sunday, the famous Champs-Elysees street in Paris was turned into a giant outdoor classroom for a special spelling event called “The Big Dictation” (La Grande Dictée). The event was a chance for people who love words to show off their listening and spelling skills in an unusual setting.
Dictation is a common classroom experience for students in France. Someone – usually a teacher – reads a text aloud while students write down what they hear. This exercise helps the students improve their spelling and grammar skills. It’s a little bit like a spelling test, but instead of single words, students are copying down several paragraphs of writing.
Sunday’s massive event, known as “La Grande Dictée des Champs”, or The Big Dictation of Champs-Elysees, was organized by a writer named Rachid Santaki. Mr. Santaki is often called “Monsieur Dictée”, or “Mr. Dictation”.
Mr. Santaki came up with the idea of large groups of people taking part in dictations back in 2013. He thought it could help people in France get better at reading and writing. “It’s about bringing people together, having fun around spelling and the French language,” Mr. Santaki explained in a 2018 interview.
Over 50,000 people asked to join the special spelling event on the Champs-Elysees, which turned one of Paris’s busiest streets into a classroom, with cars replaced by desks. In the end, around 5,000 people, aged 10 to 90, were chosen to take part.
Just like in school, a large “blackboard” was set up for the event near a famous monument, the Arc de Triomphe. Several famous people were there to play the part of the teacher, and read the dictation texts out loud.
A total of 1,779 desks were set up in the street to be used in each of three different dictation sessions. Each session had a different theme, including classic French writing, recent French writing, and writing about sports.
Not everyone found it easy. Ten-year-old Samson thought the dictation was too quick and he couldn’t finish. Another young student agreed. “It was impossible!” he said. “The dictation was for adults.”
Even adults found it challenging, reporting that it caused “stress and worry”. One retired woman was pleased that she had only made two mistakes.
Marc-Antoine Jamet is in charge of the Champs-Elysees Committee, which brought the event to the famous street. Mr. Jamet said the event wasn’t just about getting all the words right. He said dictation is something that brings people together.
Another goal of The Big Dictation was to break the record for the largest dictation event ever. The previous record was set in 2018 at France’s national stadium, Stade de France, with 1,473 people taking part. That event was also run by Mr. Santaki.
It’s not clear if the event on the Champs-Elysees managed to beat the record. But even if it didn’t, The Big Dictation is likely to be remembered by the people of Paris for a long time.
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