Grammatical correctness

22nd September 1995 at 01:00
Languages. THE KEY TO FRENCH GRAMMAR. Age group: 11-16. By Ian Lane. - 1 85234 553 5.

THE KEY TO GERMAN GRAMMAR. Age group: 11-16. By Harriette Lanzer. - 0 7487 1923 7.

Pounds 5.99 each. Mary Glasgow Publications, Ellenborough House, Wellington Street, Cheltenham GL50 1YD.

Understanding how a language works is a vital part of learning that language. Once you can understand the grammar system, you will be able to use the language more fully and with more confidence." So says Harriette Lanzer in the introduction to The Key to German Grammar. We have, indeed, moved on from those idealistic but perhaps unreal days, when grammar was a dirty word. Dogmatic extremes of language teaching are out; a judicious mix of the formal and the informal are in. Grammar is dead; long live grammar!

Even so, the publisher's blurb does not envisage general classroom use of these handy Keys. The target is not so much the language teacher and his or her stock cupboard, as the doting parent with a weather eye on testing and assessment. The message seems to be that, armed with these grammar books in your school bag, you could independently wield the magic key which will unlock the linguistic secrets purveyed in the ordinary classroom. Neither book is afraid to call a spade a spade. The lists of contents unashamedly use technical vocabulary: parts of speech with their names stand cheek-by-jowl with cases (in German) and even the subjunctive (in French). I suspect that students who use these Keys when tackling classroom tasks or when doing their homework will lend yet greater credence to the truism that more grammar is covered in modern foreign language studies than in English lessons.

The intended readership is the whole of key stages 3 and 4, ab initio to GCSE and Standard Grade. The French volume opens with a simple explanation of genders and articles, and closes with a brief look at the past historic. On the way it takes in problems such as a, de and their derivatives, qui and que, venir de, y and en. The German book ranges similarly from der, die, das to the pluperfect, via those familiar bugbears of the language such as modal verbs and word order.

All explanations are in English and the format is straightforward and easy to follow. Each section begins with a grammatical point; this is followed by a few simple self-help exercises ("Test your understanding"), the answers to which appear at the back of the book. Helpful tips for using these Keys include writing down points newly learned, revision cards kept in different places for self-testing in spare moments, testing between consenting friends, and having the books readily available while doing written homework.

A minor caveat is a certain lack of editing, resulting in significant variations in presentation and terminology. The French volume is divided into 41 points, whereas the German lists but 14, much more, of course, being packed into each section. Lanzer writes of "the perfect tense" and "the simple past" where Lane prefers "the Past Perfect Tense" and "the Imperfect Tense": the inconsistency over initial capitals is unnecessary and the varying names potentially confusing. The same untidy approach is evidenced in an otherwise useful section in both books on how to look things up in a dictionary.

Quibbles apart, these two volumes, companions to the same publisher's Vocabulary for GCSE German and Vocabulary for GCSE French, could be of great value in the hands of the well-motivated student of French or German, both for reference during coursework and for systematic revision.

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