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Early steps on the path to French

CHATTERBOX PRIMARY FRENCH. Workbook and 2 CDs Sherston pound;79.95 (single) + VAT.

HOULALA. By Stephane Derone. Linguascope. Single CD pound;25. www.linguascope.comhoulala

PILOTE MON ECOLE INTERACTIVE. KETV Interactive Education. Kent County Council. Single CD pound;10 + VAT + p+p.

Network versions are available for all products Gill Maynard reviews some primary French resources

Primary French is proving to be one of the major successes of recent years. Our best key stage 1 to 2 learners are using French confidently in their everyday school life, have a clear sense of progression and pride in their achievements and are developing their understanding of a different culture.

Questions to ask about interactive resources are "how far do they help primary language learners achieve the same standard and how will they support non-specialist teachers in delivering appropriate language lessons?"

Chatterbox Primary French consists of two multimedia CDs and a Teacher's Book containing lesson plans and worksheets. The CDs are produced by Eurotalk and are technically impressive, with clear sound files and a variety of imaginative games to practise new language. However, it would appear that little effort has been made to adapt the content of the Eurotalk adult French materials for primary children and items such as "une carte de credit", "un rasoir" and even "des allumettes" are introduced at an early stage.

The unit on animals hardly encourages children to talk about their own pets, since it fails to mention hamsters and guinea pigs, although it does include an octopus. Suggested activities in the lesson plans are not always practical and a non-specialist teacher would require more detailed support in setting them up in the classroom. Finally, and most disturbingly, basic language is not always accurate. The first unit presents "bon apr s-midi" as a standard greeting and teaches the time phrase "dix heures moins quart" - both errors which are unacceptable in a language course.

Chatterbox is phrasebook holiday French masquerading as a serious language teaching resource and is a disappointing waste of technical expertise.

Houlala is a multimedia CD which enables children to visit five different planets, such as Plan te Bonjour and Plan te Nombres, with French-speaking aliens. On each planet, a presentation of the appropriate language is followed by an interactive game, and a printable worksheet is available.

Houlala is colourful and both content and style are suitable for KS2. A related website offers the opportunity to buy a Houlala mug or tie and also features an ambitious project where children can invite a mascot teddy bear to accompany them to France. This is language learning as an all-round experience and as such is to be applauded. However, Houlala has limitations as a language course. The aliens speak in squeaky voices which will appeal to young learners but which are less than ideal as a pronunciation model.

The presentations and worksheets are often text-heavy and the activities rely on written French, which could prove frustrating for children with limited reading and writing skills. There is no specific support for non-specialist teachers, but the units are linked to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority KS2 scheme of work, which contains practical suggestions for classroom activities.

Pilote - mon ecole interactive is the second Pilote CD-Rom produced by Kent County Council to support its primary French programme. This is a language course produced for young learners by language and primary specialists and it shows. The course consists of eight units, each focusing on a different topic area such as "mon ecole" and "l'heure".

Each unit opens with a video clip of a primary school in France, where French children present the language clearly and simply. The cultural content is excellent and accessible to children of all abilities. Each video is followed by an interactive game based on listening skills; a strength of Pilote is the stress on spoken rather than written French.

Activities are varied and imaginative, such as clicking on a stopwatch or choosing the correct lesson on a timetable and there is constant feedback on progress in the form of comments and an individual scorecard.

Pilote doesn't include lesson plans for non-specialist teachers, but is designed to be used with the QCA scheme of work. It is a superb resource, combining language and culture and bringing France into the English primary classroom.

Gill Maynard is languages development officer at the Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex

QCA Publications Tel: 01787 884444 DfES schemes Centre for Early Language Learning, part of CILT, the National Centre for Languages

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