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Windows on real life

Carolyn McInnes reviews advanced resources on contemporary France. Tele-Textes, By Elspeth Broady and Ulrike Meinhof 50-minute Video Pounds 30 plus VAT. Activity book Pounds 5.50. CD-ROM Pounds 70 plus VAT.

Oxford University Press, Dossiers France Television, By Graham Bishop, Peter Dyson,and Valerie Worth-Stylianou 70-minute Video Pounds 30 plus VAT. Book Pounds 9.99. Audio-cassette Pounds 10 plus VAT, John Murray Publishers Eurolab : Francais-Plus, Pounds 60 per set (includes transcript) Published by Revilo Language Cards, PO Box 71, Winchester SO23 8VL.

Aids, drugs, nuclear waste, politics; even karaoke and rap music. Real situations, real people talking about them, and real responses from pupils.

These new resources bring contemporary issues into the Higher or A-level French classroom, where they can stimulate lively debate. Pupils see relevance in these topics and therefore want to express opinions on them.

French television news is the medium through which issues are explored in both Tele-Textes and Dossiers France Television. In both, videos of television clips are preceded by an introduction, during which acronyms are explained and key vocabulary highlighted. The news items are recent and relevant to the social preoccupations of contemporary France. The accompanying workbooks contain articles from the French press and tasks which build creatively on the language and ideas presented. (Transcripts and answers are printed at the back of both publications.) Pupils like the fact that this is real French television with ordinary people being interviewed on everyday subjects. This authenticity compensates for the difficulty sometimes encountered with the speed and register of the language.

The Tele-Textes video presents 18 news items, taken from the French television channel TF1's Le Journal de 20 heures. These are organised into seven themes, such as "Intemperies", "Environnement" and "volutions Sociales" which are introduced briefly by the journalist Sophie Guillaumin.

The first section of the book contains an interview with the presenter and background information on French television. One activity involves arranging film clips from the video into thematic groupings, thus familiarising students with the types of stories and themes to be explored. Clips range from the poignancy of an iron-mine closure to the story of a gold-fish which has lost its sense of balance.

The language varies from teenagers speaking about karaoke to a report on nuclear waste. A map helps students to associate the stories and accents on the video with the appropriate part of France. Workbook activities include cloze passages, comprehension checks, role-play and reporting.

Dossiers France Television explores similar topics, taking its clips from France 2's news programme. Two presenters give explicit introductions to the 20 television items which are grouped in 10 topic-based units (Le monde du travail, Les medias, Le monde de la politique).

Each unit is divided into an easier and a more difficult section, which facilitates differentiation between levels of ability or for exams. Comprehension activities, grammar exercises and speaking and writing tasks follow on from the television clips and press excerpts, and the "Projets pratiques" section in each unit develops the use of vocational French.

The audio cassette of the video soundtrack allows for extra or individual listening practice. The "Savoir Faire" section of the book stands as a practical reference work in its own right explaining and practising such skills as letter writing, making formal telephone calls, note-taking and dictionary use.

Intensive listening practice, which is such a crucial element of advanced language courses is provided by Eurolab's Francais-plus listening box, which follows on from the listening materials for GCSEStandard grade. The box contains 20 short cassette recordings on several issues (L'extreme-droite en France, L'avortement, L'Europe, La cuisine francaise). Question cards have easy tasks in French on one side and more complicated comprehension questions in English on the other side. Topics are presented in various ways (interview, discussion, argument, casual chat) by various people, in various situations and registers (formal, casual, modern, slang).

The cassettes work on a self-access basis so pupils can choose which ones to work on and in what order. The French is fast and sometimes comprehension is difficult but the cassette can be rewound and the transcripts are available if necessary. Answer cards and record sheets are provided.

The "human interest" stories and recordings stimulate enthusiastic participation and provoke long (sometimes heated) discussion. I have found in these materials many of the topics covered in the Higher exam syllabus, and, as my own pupils hurtle towards their final speaking exams I just wish I had made the discovery sooner.

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