Exploration and experiment

14th June 1996 at 01:00
Cambridge French, Carnaval, By Bill Pease-Watkin and John Greenway, Livre de l'eleve Pounds 6.95, Manuel du professeur Pounds 35, Cassettes Pounds 65, Reprofiches Pounds 37.50

Edito, By Kate Beeching and Jemma Buck, Livre de l'el, ve Pounds 8.95, Manuel du professeur Pounds 35, Cassettes Pounds 65, Reprofiches Pounds 37.50, Cambridge University Press

Michael Grenfell on a new course which takes pupils from beginners' level to GCSE.

Cambridge French is a five-year programme, taking secondary school pupils through from beginners' level to GCSE. It has the unusual feature of being designed by an editorial team rather than individual authors; different members of the team take the lead in each of the five levels. The intention is that successive books will be distinct in their approach, style and content. Carnaval and Edito provide courses for the start of national curriculum key stages 3 and 4; Years 7 and 10 respectively. Both come with standard kit: livre de l'eleve, manuel du professeur, reprofiches and sets of audio cassettes. There is the addition of flashcards for the beginners' course.

Carnaval starts the programme off in fine style. As in so many course books these days, there is the evident tension of trying to balance a fun, activity-based approach with the necessary structural basics. The game-like exercises and bold use of colour and cartoon are familiar. However, the Carnaval team has come up with some original approaches to covering the first stages in French learning, and there is evidence they have learned from the excesses of recent new-generation courses.

Rather than create a series of topic-based chapters, the authors organise the work around 20 unites. Each of these is topic led, but there is no sense of working a theme to exhaustion. Instead, activities are organised around a series of special features: the Diabolo Club where pupils are encouraged to experiment with language; a Guide Pratique for transactional language use in France; life in an international lycee near Paris to introduce elements of French teenage culture.

In addition, Le Manoir aux Quatre Mysteres, an adventure game of a type available on computer disk, is interspersed throughout the book. Pupils are expected to contribute towards the direction and content of the plot, solve the mystery in each episode and finally find the lost treasure. Pace and imagination are at a premium.

Variety is also provided by a wide range of audio materials. Besides grammatical exercises and models for repetition, these include dialogues and stories, vox pop interviews and songs.

The authors certainly succeed in their stated aim of making a little language go a long way. The approach is essentially functional-notional. Even so, by unit 7, irregular verb forms, reflexive verbs and verb endings have been introduced. Throughout these materials, the photocopiable Reprofiches provide welcome additional support for both the more and less able.

The fourth book of the Cambridge French programme, Edito, is modelled on a mag-jeune. Six numeros of this teenage magazine are included in Edito, each one based on a different theme. These are certainly more thought-provoking than is often the case: the problems of falling in love, finding a place to live, going on holiday without your family, and the hidden messages of advertising. The media angle of the course presents some truly creative contexts: writing front-page news and solving a murder mystery, for example.

In both the tapes and books, there is plenty of coverage of grammar and functional language. All things European have a high profile in Edito. I particularly liked the effort made at every stage to draw language and opinion from learners rather than relentlessly feed them information with numbing effect.

Edito and Carnaval represent a genuine advance in course book design. By offering courses for the start of both key stages 3 and 4, teachers will be able to see where they are heading before committing themselves to the full programme. Cambridge French looks like a refreshing alternative to more established books.

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

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