Across the gap

24th January 1997 at 00:00
ENVOL By Daniele Bourdais, Sue Finnie and Anna Lise Gordon Oxford University Press. Student's book Pounds 9.50. Teacher's book Pounds 18.50. Repromaster book Pounds 40. Set of cassettes Pounds 57.50 + VAT. Entreprise video Pounds 32.50 + VAT

FRANCOSCOPE A LA MODE By David Sprake, Hazel Rhymes, Stephanie White Oxford University Press. Student's book Pounds 9. Teacher's manual Pounds 14.50. Repromaster book Pounds 29.50. Set of cassettes Pounds 42 + VAT

Given the difficulty of bridging the gap between GCSE and A-level in modern languages, Oxford University Press has taken a logical step in publishing Envol. This new French textbook constitutes the first two years of a 14 to 18 course; the A-level follow-on, Essor, will be published later this year. However, Envol can be used as a key stage 4 course in its own right.

There are some innovative features, including a well-produced accompanying video, Entreprise, containing interviews with French people talking about their work. These are well linked thematically to the course, but are linguistically very difficult. (The video would be perfect for A-level students.) The shortened audio versions of the interviews in the student's book are simpler, and introduce a welcome authenticity and adult feel. In contrast, the scripted dialogues in the rest of the course are rather wooden, although there is a good range of voices.

Also commendable is the inclusion of poems, songs and brief literary extracts, although there is disappointingly little with obvious masculine appeal. Some passages are from classics such as En attendant Godot, and together they give a light-hearted introduction to French culture, while fulfilling the national curriculum requirement of "reading for pleasure". There are no accompanying tasks, and teachers may need to help students access this material. Other reading texts, especially on the repromasters, have very well devised exercises.

Another good idea is the regular pronunciation practice, divided into categories of sound; there are some fun examples such as "Les abeilles piquent l'oreille et l'orteil de Mireille". There is also a cassette for individual use, containing the pronunciation practice, a selection of exercises including some enjoyable interpreting tasks, and models for oral "exposes" which provide very effective preparation for the conversation in the GCSE speaking test. Study skills, language awareness and expressing opinions are also well covered in the student's book.

A-level teachers often complain about students' hazy grasp of grammar. This course claims to cover grammar systematically, and certainly gives it a higher profile than some recent course books, including presentation of a wide range of structures, extra exercises on repromasters, and a detailed summary in English at the back. But there tends to be a lot to take in at once, and I would be surprised if the exercises were enough to ensure that structures are fully grasped. Other minor gripes: the excellent multicultural emphasis becomes somewhat diluted after the opening unit, as does the learning of classroom language; although the teacher's book suggests IT activities, French IT terms are not taught; and there is very little dictionary practice. Overall, however, this is a lively, varied and teachable course for bright students.

The major attraction of OUP's other new French course, Francoscope a la mode, is that it follows the same sequence of topics as the Southern Examining Group's modular GCSE, and co-authorship by the chief examiner and assistant principle moderator inspires confidence that it does indeed cover the syllabus. Until now, teachers preparing students for the SEG course have had to find materials from a range of sources.

Although based on the previously published Francoscope, the course has an up-to-date feel, with attractive new illustrations, target language rubrics and exercises, suggestions for IT use, reference to the national curriculum programmes of study, and assessment tasks at foundation and higher levels. It is aimed at "a broad range of abilities".

This is a less ambitious offering than Envol. Pages are uncluttered, each unit consisting of a series of straightforward tasks supported by clear recordings. More able students could work through a unit with some autonomy. The four-page units provide short-term goals for the less motivated; it is a pity that learning goals are not explicitly defined. The course has some unexpected strengths: well devised dictionary exercises, imaginative end-of-module "projects" which allow for differentiation and foster independent learning, and a surprisingly extensive treatment of grammar hidden at the back of the student's book. The thorough grammar summary includes even the subjunctive, and the traditional exercises which follow give plenty of practice, though it is up to the teacher to link these to the body of the course. There are also verb tables and a useful grammar index.

The main shortcoming of the course is its inaccessibility to lower ability students. Irritatingly, the boxes showing key phrases (too overcrowded for the less able) do not contain all the words needed to complete the exercises, and the amount of visual support is inconsistent. Teachers will need to provide extra materials, including cue cards for the rather unstructured "pairwork" tasks. It's a pity that these do not involve communication for a real purpose. The repromasters contain some better ideas for working in pairs, and some useful differentiated material, but extension reading tasks rely too much on old-fashioned comprehension questions, many of which are far too difficult even for the most able. Francoscope a la mode will appeal to teachers who prefer to be in charge of the textbook rather than vice versa. It contains a wealth of useful material, and provides a reliable "backbone" for the SEG course.

Kathy Wicksteed is general inspector, modern foreign languages, Hampshire County Council

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