Beauty and the business

20th October 2000 at 01:00
PYRAMIDE AS. By Brigitte Clarke and Ruth Wilkes. Students' book pound;45.99 Teacher's book pound;13.99. Cassettes pound;65.79. Longman

ZENITH. By Anneli McLachlan. Teacher's book pound;36. Pupils' book pound;15.99. Heinemann

Both these books tackle the question of what to do after GCSE. Pyramide AS is the most up-to-date way to study French for this stage. It has been developed explicitly in the light of Curriculum 2000 specifications and aims to help students of all abilities reach their full potential. It matches the topics and grammar of the new exam syllabuses and can be used on its own or as an introduction to A2 courses.

Six chapters cover life, leisure and learning. Each of these is divided into four sections to allow students of varying abilities to progress carefully. Depart gives an introduction to topics based on GCSE material and links with AS-level. Progression offers language and grammar practice. Extra provides extension opportunities to stretch the more able and for those aiming for A-level study. Revision covers exam preparation in the four skills.

Pyramide has a succinct no-nonsense approach. Occasionally, this is a little too business-like, but sensitive use of graphics, colour and photos maintain an attractive appearance for learners. A second part to Pyramide A2, will be published shortly.

Zenith is a one-volume course aimed at covering the same ground as Pyramide. It is divided into three principal sections, each dealing with transition, AS and A2 work respectively.

Printed texts are well chosen from a wide range of French culture and literature - past and present. For example, there is the French treatment of l'amour through passages on Cocteau's La Belle et La Bete ad Notre Dame de Paris. Many of these texts can be used as a springboard for complementary materials from the teacher, including song and art. The teacher's book offers some ideas for these and provides a list of related software and website sources, as well as some useful contact addresses.

Zenith sets out to help students to learn on their own. Independent language skills are therefore developed across its three parts. There are Organisez-vous sections, offering tips on how to memorise vocabulary, for example, as well as grammar learning. Guidance is also given on how to set about planning a written text. These are particularly helpful in the early sections of the book. Additional worksheets also support the student in managing listening material, breaking down a reading passage and summarising their ideas. The cassette recordings are bright and clear.

The students' book provides an extensive section on "Skills for your A-level Course". There is also a comprehensive grammar summary. Both are complemented by further worksheets from the teacher's resource book. There are three separate assessment packs: one each for AQA, OCR and Edexel exam boards.

The recent Nuffield Inquiry report on the state of modern foreign language learning and teaching in this country bemoans the dwindling take-up of French and German post-16. Yet second language skills are more than ever required in a competitive world.

Pyramide and Zenith are a useful contribution to making language learning at this stage a challenging, yet informative and engaging prospect.

Michael Grenfell is a senior lecturer in education: modern languages, Centre for Language in Education University of Southampton

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