Instructions for working parts

11th October 1996 at 01:00
FRENCH GRAMMAR USAGE By Roger Hawkins and Richard Towell Arnold Pounds 17.99 ACTION GRAMMAIRE! By Phil Turk and Genevieve Garcia Vandaele Hodder Stoughton Pounds 8.99 ACTION GRAMMATIK! By John Klapper and Trudi McMahon Hodder Stoughton Pounds 10.99

BASIC FRENCH GRAMMAR By Valerie Worth-Stylianou John Murray Pounds 6.99 BASIC GERMAN GRAMMAR By John Chapman John Murray Pounds 6.99 BASIC SPANISH GRAMMAR By Richard Leathes John Murray Pounds 7.99 GRAMMAIRE ECLAIR By Graeme S F Kirk Senlac Language Publications Pounds 3.50 GRAMMATIK OHNE PANIK By Graeme S F Kirk Senlac Language Publications Pounds 3.50

Grammar texts are like car manuals, says Michael J Smith. Their formats vary, so shop around for the approach you prefer.

Part of the stock-in-trade of all language teachers is the need to convince students that grammar is not the impenetrable barrier to linguistic success that is commonly supposed.

As Action Grammaire! and Aktion Grammatik! so reassuringly tell the reader: "Grammar is really nothing more than a framework which is used to try to define language and how it works and to provide rules and patterns." So that's all right, then - or is it?

Just like car manuals, grammar books come in many formats and, much more significant, explain things in a variety of ways. Even the terminology may vary: Action Grammaire! and Aktion Grammatik! refer to mon, mein, etc as possessive adjectives, whereas for Hawkins and Towell they are possessive determiners. The teacher and the student must shop around to suit their requirements, reflecting the level of study, the target readership and the price.

French Grammar and Usage is a comprehensive manual eminently suited to the library shelves of institutions for those studying the language at any examination level and for the schoolbag of enthusiasts and would-be experts.

The book has English speakers in mind: the Guide for the User, for example, hypothesises the reader who asks: "How do I translate 'should' into French?" This may be helpful in some circumstances, but presupposes that even mental translation is a valid road to fluency. This tendency courts greater danger when what you cannot do is printed: Comment grands sont les livres? for "How big are the books?" (Those with photographic memories, close your eyes. ) Caveats apart, however, the book contains a wealth of information, made easily accessible and principal words and phrases are highlighted. Formal and informal registers are exemplified, with the recognition that the latter is not the equivalent of slang or dialect.

Action Grammaire! and Aktion Grammatik! feature tasks with a self-check key, as well as a lucid presentation of the grammar. Each chapter is divided into the presentation of grammatical rules, practice and reinforcement exercises and more open-ended communicative activities to encourage and develop the creative use of language. Each book, suitable for GCSE and standard grade students and above, also has a section on spelling and a verb reference table.

The three Basic Grammars purport to cater for any level of initial learning and revision, but in reality pupils of lower ability would need to be highly motivated (not always the case) to seek out the information. For those prepared to do that, however, the explanations are straightforward and are intended not only for understanding but also "to make grammar easy to remember".

Designated sections on, for example, nouns and articles, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs, are clear. The German book also includes word order and punctuation (in danger of soon being rendered out of date by proposed reforms). But, oddly, only the Spanish book has a section on pronunciation.

Each volume has an index of the parts of speech and of words and phrases that can cause problems.

In the French book's chapter on adjectives, to take an example of the treatment, we find first a definition, followed by a passage in which the adjectives have to be identified; then comes a section on agreement, an exercise in which adjectives may have to be changed in order to agree, some irregular examples and notes on the position. Possessive adjectives (sic) and demonstrative adjectives are not forgotten and there is a helpful section on "most" and "least". Although this is a grammar book, lexis is also dealt with when appropriate; for example, the differences between marron, brun and bronze merit a mention.

Grammaire Eclair and Grammatik Ohne Panik are much more modest in scope. Aimed at key stage 4 , they each include exercises based on the grammatical explanations, a glossary, a table of irregular verbs and a list of target language instructions. The lower price would make these books an attractive option if class sets are envisaged.

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