We all say it to our A-level students in the hope that they will improve their listening skills and discover the excitement of entering a new culture. But the reality is likely to be a dispiriting experience. How do they find a "suitable" programme? How can they be sure they really understand what they hear?
The Champs Elysees family of audiomagazines is the ideal resource to fill this gap. Each edition takes the form of an hour-long radio programme, written and presented by media professionals in the country, and including news items, interviews and songs.
Recent editions have included reports on subjects as diverse as last December's storms in France, the pilgrimage centre Mariazell in Austria, new archaeological discoveries in Spain and an interview with Bertolucci.
The language and format are totally authentic, the one concesion to the target audience is a marginally slower delivery than in a real radio programme. The material is lively, varied and contemporary and the recording quality is excellent.
With the cassette or CD, subscribers receive a 70-page booklet containing full transcripts and a detailed glossary section. This is no ordinary vocabulary list - as well as linguistic points, it includes highly readable, comprehensive background information on personalities and places mentioned in each item. Compulsive reading for Europhiles! A study supplement is also available for each edition, with structured comprehension exercises in the target language. Designed for independent learning, these are admirably clear and focused - and, incidentally, in the same format as current A-level listening tasks.
The high level of language makes these materials most suitable for students in higher education and for teachers and other language professionals seeking to maintain their fluency and contact with another country.
However, used selectively, they would be invaluable in schools, as extension listening material for Year 13 students, as a resource for independent study and as a source of information for A-level coursework.