Teacher as author;Interview;David Sparke;Modern languages

8th October 1999 at 01:00
David Sprake is head of modern languages at Wheatley Park school, Oxfordshire. His publications include 'Francoscope a la Mode', with Hazel Rhymes and Stephanie White, published by Oxford University Press.

Roll on: all the usual topics are covered, including 'En Voyage'

This year I'm celebrating my 20th anniversary of publishing modern language books with Oxford University Press. It began when I was teaching at Chiltern Edge school, a comprehensive in Oxfordshire, and we were round-robbined by an OUP editor asking what we thought were gaps in the market.

I'd already produced some O-level French aural materials for the school because of the lack of preparatory O-level work. I also told OUP there was little available for CSE.

This resulted in a book of French aural materials in 1979, C'est Sympa, and in 1981, Communication, aimed at the top end of CSE. I was lucky because there was little competition at the time. From then on, the books were self-perpetuating, and I wrote mirror versions of my French books in German.

When the GCSE exam was introduced, it was a bit of a boom for me: I wrote a GCSE textbook, Francoscope, then a German version of it, and in 1996, when modular courses were becoming popular, I revamped it as Franscope a la Mode.

I've always had slightly ambivalent feelings about one aspect of the course - a large part of each syllabus is transactional - conversations in shops, post offices, banks - which can be dull. I've always been interested in presenting things in the form of interesting, imaginative tasks, and at times I felt a bit constrained.

Language books have changed - there is far more use of the target language now so you have to think it out much more carefully to ensure children will understand what is being asked.

What I find satisfying is taking a syllabus, which is a fairly dry document and acting as a kind of filter, to turn it into user-friendly materials for the classroom. When the finished copies come through the letter-box, that's always exciting. One of my biggest thrills was receiving an aerogram from a former pupil in Tasmania, telling me: "Guess what book we're using here?" David Sprake was talking to Diana Hinds

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