Dialogue and data

22nd March 1996 at 00:00
Je t'Ecoute, By Richard Marsden, John Murray Pounds 24 + VAT, Book and two cassettes, Age range 14 - 16 dialo-5

Autolire, CD-Rom for French, Collins Pounds 125, Age range 14-16

Michael Grenfell on tapes for listening practice and a CD-Rom with great potential.

Je t'ecoute is designed for intermediate listening practice at GCSE and Standard Grade. It is based around 28 situations, which have been recorded from conversations between native-speakers. These dialogues sound totally authentic, with a good range of accents, ages and personalities. The recording is crystal clear with very little background noise.

Each situation has a novel angle. The author should be congratulated for avoiding cliches and predictable topics. The coverage given to topics such as alcoholism, women at work and foreign cuisine has a genuine interest value. These subjects have clear relevance to the national curriculum areas of experience; although they might also be used as AAS-level and higher grade.

The coursebook offers support in the form of vocabulary lists and preparatory tasks. These exercises are rudimentary, but do deal with key language for understanding the dialogue. Further exercises are to be carried out during and after listening to the tapes.

Such activities offer a good range of modern approaches to text: gap-fill, find the French for truefalse, etc. Generally, however, themes are left undeveloped. A teacher's heart may sink when reading such skeletal instructions for oral work as, "en travaillant avec un(e) partenaire discute - tu bois de l'alcool?". Much more support should be given to develop conversational strategies that will encourage more advanced discourse from the learners themselves.

This is a highly flexible resource which could be used with whole classes but will come into its own for individual extensive listening.

The level is pitched high and only the best GCSE pupils will cope without support. It deals with topics in a mature way, however, and so will attract both teachers and pupils.

Autolire is a state-of-the-art CD-Rom for pupils at key stage 4 and Standard Grade. Some 700 texts are included on this data file covering the national curriculum areas of experience: daily activities, the international world, education and teenage life.

With so much on offer, it might be difficult to find one's way around, but Autolire could not be easier to use. Texts are graded according to three levels of difficulty, and there are options to view main points or the full version. Textes Preparatoires provide basic key language. They are offered with exercises to be completed before, during and after reading, which help develop reading strategies as well as apply language and ideas encountered in new contexts. Textes Principaux are for more extensive reading.

Extra features include bilingual dictionaries, sound, complementary visuals and the option to store texts on disc andor print them. Many of these texts will be of use to teachers for classroom language work. The strength of Autolire, however, is the choice and independence it offers the learner in dealing with texts.

Of course, Autolire is the very antithesis of the normal textbook. The user manual gives the basic operating instructions, then the learner is left to roam the CD-Rom. It might have helped to offer a little more guidance to structure such exploration, or ways of recording progress.

It would also be overstating matters to claim that class use will be trouble free. I for one could not get everything to work first time. However, the potential is enormous. Autolire provides an answer to the problem of reading in the languages classroom and is well worth the investment of time and money.

Michael Grenfell is a lecturer at the Centre for Language Education, Southampton University.

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