Decouvertes is the second part of a two-stage course leading to A-level or equivalent, which aims "to set the learning of French within the reality of the country in which French is spoken".
The units are based on regions of France, highlighting cultural and geographical aspects, with familiar topics emerging that relate to the regions, and vocabulary and structures relating to the topics.
This is a refreshing approach that will prepare students well for the type of course work and project work found in the new A-level syllabuses, while adding immensely to their general knowledge and developing an increasingly critical, autonomous and sophisticated command of French.
Typically, a unit begins with statistical information on the region, a reading passage and consolidation tasks that bring together knowledge and linguistic skills. there is continuing emphasis throughout on vocabulary learning, using definitions and synonyms.
The articles themselves are drawn from a wide variety of publications that encourage independent reading, make excellent use of graphic support and will appeal by virtue of attractive layout and up-to-date subject matter.
Topics as diverse as the production of cheese and cider in Normandy, wild life in Centre et Limousin, the Internet in Rhone-Alpes, Senegalese and Quebec poetry invite the student genuinely to engage with text, ideas and language in an active, problem-solving way.
Grammar is systematically explained in context in the target language, and there is a comprehensive summary at the end of the book with English explanations. Many of the tasks involve active manipulation of grammatical structures. Especially useful for the autonomous student are the "Controles" in each unit, that allow for checking of knowledge acquired as well as grammar. Other effective and innovative features are the use of presentations to fellow students, summaries, the development of contrasting viewpoints (including an unusual anti-environment-friendly article), monolingual dictionary work, and articles, letters, questionnaires and so on that rely on journalistic and editing skills.
Units are densely-packed, which may lead to overload, but that is a small price to pay for a highly attractive and motivating resource that will fill a real need in the ever-changing advanced language learning market.
Nigel Norman is lecturer in education at the University of Wales Swansea