Tapes are good talking points

MATIRES PREMIRES (STUDENT'S BOOK AND CASSETTE) By Mark Stroud Hodder Stoughton Pounds 9.99 (book) Pounds ? (cassette)

LIGNE DIRECTE (STUDENT'S BOOK AND CASSETTE) By Jacqueline Bidard-Gibson and Marie-Therese Villamana Hodder Stoughton Pounds 5.99 and Pounds 25 + VAT respectively

SORRY I DIDN'T QUITE CATCH THAT . . . REPETEZ S'IL VOUS PLAIT By GDA Sharpley Multilingua Pounds 4.95. Cassette Pounds 10

There exists what one might call an embarras de choix of listening materials on the market. It is therefore important to be clear about what you want from a package described as "Listening Activities".

Hodder Stoughton have two new such books with cassettes. Mati res Premi res aims to help advanced learners of French, from A-level or RSA (?spell out)students to those on degree courses.

This seems a rather ambitious target market. Although the topics are appropriate for A-level, the range of styles, vocabulary and expressions is much greater than the average student at this level could cope with. The translation exercises in each "dossier" (for which model answer are included with the cassette) are also too demanding for A-level pupils.

For university students, or those taking Institute of Linguists examinations, however, this is useful. The taped interviews are clear and well-presented and the extracts cover current issues thoroughly: they concentrate on the commercial, industrial and socio-economic aspects of French life.

Ligne Directe, by contrast, is aimed at non-specialist adult learners wanting extra practice in understanding spoken French. There are four units, covering travel and tourism, restaurants and hotels, daily life and the business world. There is a variety of exercises designed to boost confidence, based on interviews, conversations and telephone messages. I particularly liked the answer given in French on the cassette to check the "match the meanings" exercises.

This is a lively, easy to use and clearly organised book. You could happily pick and choose which section you wanted to concentrate on for practice, correcting yourself with the transcript and answers from the back of the book. Although there are vocabulary lists within the units, it might have been useful to have included a general dictionary section for quick reference.

Finally, Sorry I didn't quite catchthat . . . is quite useful for the business traveller who wants to cope not only with making appointments and surviving meetings but also with cultural differences. We follow the progress of the fictional Mr Proudie through everyday situations - even including a rather less typical stay in hospital after a encounter with a post at a football match.

He discovers that it's best not to telephone the French office at lunchtime and if you find yourself speaking to a female voice, call her Madame. He also realises that French drivers don't usually stop for pedestrians.

The cassette is clear and one of the most useful exercises (of which there are several in each chapter) is where you try to complete your part of a conservation before hearing the answer. Again, there is no general vocabulary section at the back. There are many language guides for English business people abroad, but this one is worth a look.

Bridget Patterson is head of sixth form careers and a language teacher at Northgate High School, Ipswich, Suffolk

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