The long and winding route
So what do you want to know? That one in 512,000 pregnancies results in quads? That a rotten egg floats? That the stethoscope was invented in 1815 by a Breton doctor? Or what about your general knowledge? "Vrai ou faux? En 1907, il n'y avait pas de cornflakes . . . En 1982, il n'y avait pas de baladeur."
Not interested? Just have a quiet read instead - about the menacing nature of virtual reality machines, about Claude Monet's stunning use of colour or about one young journalist's awe-struck impression of the Mount Rushmore sculptures in the USA.
The Route Nationale course, now at Stage 4, continues tirelessly in its quest to establish French, not only as a positive and enjoyable subject in its own right, but also as a highly original adjunct to a whole range of different curriculum areas.
For the innovative teacher with time, creativity and performance skills, the inclusion of poems, songs and jokes will change the entire pitch of teaching. A heart-felt poem by a French-speaking Cajun from Louisiana, forced to speak English at school, will broaden the mind if not the language skills.
In terms of actual language learning, Route Nationale 4 remains very challenging. Pages in the students' book are tightly packed and could be daunting were it not for the enormous variety of visual stimuli: photos, cartoons, diagrams, graphs, maps and so on.
In contrast to this multifarious approach to the topics, the grammar in Route Nationale 4 is pitched at a demanding level: tenses include the imperfect, future and conditional. Patterns are set out in Rappel boxes and in a 16-page exhaustive Code de la Route grammar section to be practised in down-to-earth exercises on photocopiable worksheets. Add to these, homework "A faire chez toi" sheets and the production of accurate, written French becomes more of a possibility.
While the "Entree libre" pages, at the end of each of the 12 units, provide a three-fold differentiated scheme of work, there is little doubt that Route Nationale is for the motivated and more able pupil. The undoubted attraction of the teenage "Roman Photo" and the lively contemporary feel of the videos are counteracted by the demanding level of language.
These problems notwithstanding, pupils of all abilities will greatly benefit from the most important feature of Route Nationale: its view of the French language from a global perspective. There is more chance now that school leavers will add to a perhaps flawed command of French, an unprecedented understanding of life in Guadeloupe, Martinique or Tunisia.