Topical French texts
L'EXPRESS: Perspectives francais. By Ross Steele. Oxford University Press Pounds 9.50.
These two resources complement A-level course books by providing extra practice in reading longer texts and in coping with new style examination questions. More importantly, however, they systematically develop analytical methods of study, moving language learning towards genuine autonomy.
Facettes de la France contemporaine is a set of eight photocopiable units based on authentic texts with topics that include pollution, unemployment, recycling, alcoholism, euthanasia, homelessness. Exploitation is carefully graded, leading from identification of key words and comprehension questions in French and English, to reading between the lines, detailed and precisely focused study and re-working of vocabulary and idiom and finishing with a written exercise. What distinguishes this resource above all though is the section "Corriges et explications", which provides correct answers as well as explanations, thus enabling the student to work without the teacher. The content is topical, interesting, the approach adult and motivating, the pedagogy effective.
L'Express also impresses through its excellent choice of topical reading passages which really extend learners' vocabulary and comprehension. The six "dossiers" comprise 40 articles, interviews, surveys on a host of contemporary issues that illuminate French social and cultural attitudes and behaviour. They provide good preparation for non-literature examinations and project work, providing a wealth of information, vocabulary support, and moving from comprehension to expression, highlighting also points of view, advanced linguistic points and inviting comparison with the learner's home country. Layout is more resolutely text-based than Facettes and exploitation marginally less innovative, but as a back-up resource it fulfils a role that course books cannot.
Both resources progressively extract points of content, structure, style, and interpretation of meaning, building up a firm base of information, while encouraging enquiry into the workings of the language.
Language support materials have certainly come a long way, and as far as reading is concerned these represent "state of the art".
Nigel Norman is lecturer in education at the University of Wales Swansea