Now it's time to get serious

14th November 1997 at 00:00
L'ESSENTIEL, LECTURES ET EXERCISES. John Powell. Hodder amp; Stoughton. Pounds 8.99.

The aim of this compact little volume is simply stated: to help A-level and Higher Grade students achieve accurate, authentic written French. The book does not grab its readers' attention with glossy pictures or fancy graphics. It is a serious book for serious students whose self motivation and willingness to exert themselves are presupposed.

Each of the 14 chapters has two or three authentic texts with supporting vocabulary and a range of exercises: questions in French, fill the gaps, find synonyms, etc, followed by two or three grammatical points explained and practised, again using mainly target-language tasks: put the correct endings on verbs or adjectives, change tenses, add an adverb, and so on. There are also, tucked away guiltily at the back of the book, questions in English on the texts. The tasks mirror those required by the new A-level examination and provide excellent practice material. There are answers for the grammatical exercises but not, strangely, for any of the others. This is a pity, for it weakens the book's potential as a self-study resource, which would otherwise be one of its strongest features.

The texts cover a range of A-level themes and are interesting and engaging. No attempt is made to make them look like newspaper articles, computer screens, or magazines, although there are a few charming black and white sketches reminiscent of those in children's story books from the 1950s - holidaymakers around a campfire, a horseless carriage being chased through the streets of 1880s Paris, for example.

The grammatical explanations in each chapter are, as expected, in French, although the examples also appear in English with the salient points underlined. There is also a glossary of grammatical expressions which teachers themselves will find useful if terms such as "les verbes factitifs" or "les pronoms personnels toniques" do not trip daily off their tongue.

The book's layout is not always easy to follow. Each page is densely covered, and important sections sometimes start at the bottom of pages where they are not readily spotted. This will not deter the earnest student, however.

The author is an experienced A-level examiner and is clearly in tune with the challenges of the modern examination and the needs of candidates. The book addresses these thoroughly yet supportively and sympathetically. Though narrow in scope it will be welcomed by many as a valuable resource.

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