Cultural riches

5th December 2003 at 00:00

Echos: Cultural Discussions for Students of French By Kimberlee Campbell Yale University Press pound;14.50

France File 4 Carel Press pound;17.50, on subscription pound;14.50, 10 copies or more pound;4.95 CD-Rom pound;17.50 or pound;9.95 for subscribers to the book.

Kimberlee Campbell's attractive little book Echos is a delight. Designed as "an interdisciplinary approach to French cultural studies", it has an appealing mix of illustrations that range from from artist Paul Cezanne to a street mural from Haiti. The texts are also varied, fascinating and strongly multicultural in origin. Any student of AS or A-level French could browse and learn from this rich mixture.

But, alas, I don't foresee there being time in the classroom to use the book as the author intended. The thematically grouped texts and pictures are a springboard for discussions on such cultural issues as "Commemorating cultural heritage" and "Transforming the social order" - topics which move beyond the current requirements of exams for sixth-formers in modern languages.

It is a pity, because the language content of the extracts is well within their grasp. It would certainly be worth having a copy in the classroom ready for interested students to dip into, perhaps when they're wondering what "French studies" might encompass at university. They may also like to read Tahar Ben Jelloun's poem l'tranger from North Africa or Calixthe Beyala's Le Petit Prince de Belleville (an account of being an immigrant child in 1990s Paris), and if they do, they will be the richer for it.

France File 4 from Carel Press focuses clearly on the needs of AS and A-level students. It comprises 45 photocopiable factsheets based on statistics from such sources as the Minist re de l'Interieur and the Banque Mondiale. They are grouped by topic. For example, under "La politique" there are statistics on the 2002 French presidential elections (did you know that Jacques Chirac polled less than 20 per cent of the votes in the first round?), a graph showing the proportion of female Members of Parliament who won seats at each election since 1945, and a bar chart comparing electoral apathy in 28 European countries.

The material can be aptly exploited. After some quick comprehension questions students can write a few lines analysing the trends shown, then move on to preparing their views for oral work on questions such as "tant donne l'enorme influence des gouvernements sur notre vie, comment se fait-il que nous participons si peu dans les elections generales?"

This makes the material eminently suitable as preparation for the oral exam, especially the stimulus and presentation sections, or for coursework research or inspiration. This is a good-value way of providing topical material (a new edition will be published in two years' time); it is available as book or CD-Rom with live web links.

Marian Jones teaches languages in Somerset

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