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Grammar for the able

French Thru Verbs

By Jenny Gardner

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The heavy-weight language of grammar is back with French Thru Verbs. Conjugations, emphatic and dysjunctive pronouns and modal auxiliaries - and it's back to English-French translation, too: "my neighbour, who is Italian, has a flat in France".

"Behind my house there is a big forest...".

This weighty package of 18 photocopiable booklets leaves no grammatical stone unturned and presents a sort of value-added grammar resource. The main emphasis is on verbs, although basic nouns - nationality, professions, and so on - and grammar, eg pronouns, is also in there. Each booklet runs to between six and 20 pages of tightly set text with virtually no graphics. Verb paradigms and explanatory sections are followed by a series of translation exercises and a Words in Action reading section. The space for answers throughout is very limited and would rely heavily on neat handwriting and accurate answers as there's little room to rub out and try again. Students are encouraged to speak their translations before writing them. Working in pairs is not suggested, but would lend a more practical slant.

The range of language is very broad and since the booklets are grammar-based and not theme-based, there can be an unusual juxtaposition of language reminiscent of a bygone time. A translation exercise practising avoir includes: Le chat a l'air triste and J'ai honte de ma soeur parce qu'elle parle trop.

Pupils are led to think seriously about language structure. In one exercise they read a sentence in French, note the infinitive of the main verb and translate the sentence. The Words in Action sections present challenging language in a variety of lively short stories, plays and short texts.

Questions are in French and range from the perfectly straightforward to the tricky: Qu'est-ce que Justine decide de faire apres avoir parle avec la fermiere?

Teachers will welcome the range of longer reading texts that will stretch more able pupils. However, questions that require pictures to be drawn will not go down well with all pupils or teachers. For example, illustrating a story about problems sending emails in an office would be a tricky commission for even the most accomplished artist. It's not the most accurate way to show an understanding of the language.

Basically, this is a costly gold-standard-setting resource that would appeal to highly motivated and able pupils, for whom a series of personalised grammar booklets might be just the ticket. It would certainly help them to gain a highly structured understanding of the language. For the less able, it would daunt and almost certainly defeat.

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