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Modern foreign languages - Grasping grammar

resources | Published in TES magazine on 17 February, 2012 | By: Caroline Tracey

Language students need to know the basics, non?

I have been running French revision courses for sixth-formers in Brittany since 1990 and have helped to prepare more than 1,000 students for their secondary school exams. Many of them have suggested that I should write a book.

But the real reason I began writing it was that most of my students (post- GCSE up to A level) simply did not have a basic grounding in French grammar, even if they attended good academic schools. It seemed that there was not a really good French grammar book on the market. The ones I have seen are outdated or so bound up in the current structure of topic-based learning that the grammar is lost in specialised vocabulary. Some textbook explanations are split into bite-sized bits that stop students seeing how a particular structure works.

I know many teachers who write their own grammar notes. But if they give them to their students, they can end up filed in a drawer and never looked at again, so they become of little assistance, despite the good intentions.

So, my challenge was two-fold. The grammar needed to be very thorough and not topic-based, and the vocabulary kept simple. I made no assumptions of previous knowledge. On the other hand, I wanted to lighten the burden on teachers who are bogged down with topic-based syllabuses. The idea of my grammar book is that it could, conceivably, be used as a self-teaching book - the explanations are comprehensive; the exercises are structured according to difficulty; and the answers include additional notes that explain where students may have made mistakes.

A further challenge was to show that grammar does not have to be boring. I have tried to ensure that the examples and exercises cover a range of contexts. And in the explanations, I often address myself directly to the reader as if I were there myself, teaching him or her.

It has taken me about three years to completely finish the book. In the meantime I have experimented, trying bits of it out on my unwitting students, who gave me such valuable feedback that I was able to polish the explanations to make them as clear as possible.

The final challenge was getting the book published: mainstream educational publishers showed no interest. I was left with little alternative but to put my money where my mouth is and self-publish. I hope it will give over- worked language teachers some valuable assistance.

Caroline Tracey is the author of French Grammar: Essential French Grammar for the Sixth Form and Beyond. For details of her courses or to order more than 10 books, visit

What else?

For quick and handy prompt cards covering rules for tenses, try resources by jt15, tommypops and louise crossley.

Try Claire Miles’ comprehensive grammar booklet or boost memory of grammar rules with Kamol’s interactive presentation.

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Comment (1)

  • I agree with your points. Too many MFL teachers are throwing the development and reinforcement of a strong grammar base in favor of fun and engagement. Fun and engagement doesn't enable students to communicate effectively. Rather, it's fun and engaging. Which is why we risk producing yet another generation of learners with no functional language skills, especially in speaking and writing. I have met students who have advanced to the highest levels of their language studies, but could not order a simple meal, ask for directions, or secure a hotel room. But, their studies were fun and engaging. I believe there needs to be a balance between engaging students via language in context; absolutely. But, these days, at least to me, there seems to be too much of a focus on the latter. Grammar is the glue that holds the language together.

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    Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    17 February, 2012


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