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Showing posts from June, 2010

Les Français champions du monde de vacances

On le savait déjà, non? Mais au cas où vous l'auriez oublié, selon Zigonet:

"Avec en moyenne 37.5 jours de vacances par an, les Français seraient toujours les champions du monde des vacances, loin devant les Britanniques qui ne disposeraient en moyenne que de 28 jours.

Voilà 10 ans que l'agence de voyage et Harris Interactive effectuent une étude annuelle afin de déterminer la nationalité des plus grands vacanciers du monde. Et c'est sans surprise que les Français arrivent en tête de ce classement avec en moyenne 37.5 jours de congés par an, et 77% d'entre eux prenant la totalité de ces jours de liberté. Et Libération de préciser que les plus de 50 ans seraient ceux qui utilisent le plus de jours congés, et que les Français préfèrent à 67% partir à la mer. Les Français seraient d'ailleurs largement en tête de ce classement puisque les Italiens disposent de cinq jours de moins, et les Britanniques de 9.5 jours de moins également. Au nivea…

Actualités Françaises

Hello again. I'm on a roll with my review of text books from the past! Actualités Françaises (1971) by Nott and Trickey was the book I learned French with at A-level and with which I began my teaching career at Tiffin School, Kingston upon Thames. Nott and Trickey were grammar school teachers in Manchester and Stockport and it is clear that they were weary of Whitmarsh-style A-level textbooks. They wanted to produce a course which engaged pupils with contemporary issues, rather than just literature, and one which moved beyond grammar-translation.

They succeeded very well indeed. Actualités Françaises, whilst not perfect, is probably the best ever A-level French course written up to the present day. Its approach was a combination of the old and new. The old bit was detailed granmmar explanations after each article, along with sentences to translate into French.

The new bit was the copious use of oral grammar drills in French (the influence of the audio-lingual method is powerful h…


William Frederick Herbert Whitmarsh
W.F.H. Whitmarsh MA Licencié ès Lettres

Whitmarsh is the author of, as far as I can tell, about twenty French school text books. No snazzy names referencing French society, just do-what-they-say-on-the-tin titles, like: A First French Book, A Second French Book, A Third... you've got the gist. Whitmarsh was prolific, thorough, accurate and successful. I can't trace exactly when he published his first school book, though I have a copy of the Complete French Course which was first published in 1935,but he was churning our plenty in the early 1960's and was still being reprinted in the late seventies.

Whitmarsh was to grammar-translation as Beethoven was to the classical symphony. GT was at its most refined, in its pomp, but was about to explode and give way to a new movement, the romantic direct methodists.

To the teacher who enjoyed teaching grammar and translation these were reassuringly structured text books, usually with grammar exp…

Les 400 Coups

Je viens de visionner Les 400 Coups de François Truffaut avec ma classe de première. J'avais oublié un peu combien de motifs typiquement "truffaldiens" se trouvaient déjà dans son premier long métrage: la peur et l'admiration de la femme (surtout ses jambes!), le sort des enfants, la distance entre les enfants et les adultes (on y voit une raison pour laquelle Spielberg admirait tellement l'oeuvre de Truffaut), la faiblesse des hommes, l'amour de Paris, l'importance de l'amitié, son intérêt pour les chapeaux (!), l'amour des livres et du cinéma, bien sûr. On trouve également sur le DVD MK2 une introduction au film, un commentaire voix-off et une émission où un jeune Truffaut s'explique. L'analyse en détail commencera dans le prochain cours.

Sur TES Connect Noémie a posté des feuilles de travail très utiles sur le film. Je les recommande.

Nous allons aussi étudier Jules et Jim, Le Dernier …

Why learn French?

I came across an 1823 French grammar primer by an American called William Cobbett. It is in the form of a series of letters to his son Richard. In the first letter he offers his son a justification for learning French. Among other things he writes:

"this talent gives... not only an air of superiority, but also a reasonable and just claim to real superiority because it must be manifest to every one (sic), that it is the effect of attention and of industry as well as of good natural capacity of mind.It is not a thing like dancing or singing, perfection in the former of which is most likely to arise from an accidental pliancy of the limbs, and in the latter from an organisation of the throat and lungs, not less accidental: it is not a thing of this sort, but a thing, the possession of which necessarily implies considerable powers of mind, and a meritorious application of those powers."

Do you think people of that day struggled to be concise?

He's also an intellectual snob a…


 Update 27.3.14 I see that Oxford have just published the latest edition of Tricolore (version 5), the sample of which looks quite similar to Tricolore Total. I shall shortly be reviewing it.


Seven years after Longman published their widely used course, Nelson (in association with the Nuffield Foundation) brought out Tricolore, written by Sylvia Honnor, Ron Holt and Heather Mascie-Taylor. How had things moved on since Cours Illustré and Longman's AV French?

Visually Book 1 is very different. All black and white, but almost every double page spread is filled with photos, cartoon images and simple pictures. There is a fair amount of text, but much of it is now in English. This is a major change. It seems that the authors felt that previous books had been dull to look at and unappealing to pupils. They also wanted to include a good deal of cultural content which had barely been hinted at in the older cour…

Longman's Audio-Visual French

I'm sitting here with my copies of Cours Illustré de Français Book 1 and Longman's Audio-Visual French Stage A1. I have previously mentioned the former, published in 1966, with its use of pictures to exemplify grammar and vocabulary. In his preface Mark Gilbert says: "The pictures are not... a mere decoration but provide further foundation for the language work at this early stage." He talks of "fluency" and "flexibility": "In oral work it is advisable to persist with the practice of a particular pattern until the pupils can use it fluently and flexibly. Flexibility means, for example, the ability to switch from one person of the verb to another..." Ah!

Now, the Longman offering, written by S. Moore and A.L. Antrobus, published in 1973, just seven years later, has a great deal in common with Gilbert's course. We now have three colours (green, black and white) rather than mere black and white. The layout is arguably more attractive, …

Les langues les plus utiles à apprendre

L'ancien minsitre au Foreign Office Chris Bryant estime qu'on devrait apprendre aux élèves le mandarin ou l'arabe et pas le français. A lire:

Il ferait bien de lire cet article:

Let me spell it out for the former minister in a language he would understand: our children are far more likely to be using their foreign language in Europe than anywhere else. In addition French and German are still the most sought after languages in business. More importantly, our children are far more likely to use their language skills when on holiday and are more likely to holiday in mainland Europe than in China or the middle east. This creates a good case for Spanish which is also most useful in the Americas, of course. French remains a lingua franca with wider global cover…

La mobilité étudiante en Europe

La France peut se féliciter car c'est le pays où l'année dernière le plus grand pourcentage d'étudiants ont profité d'Erasmus pour étudier dans un autre pays européen. Mais les chiffres sont loin d'être impressionnants et relativement peu d'étudiants font leurs études à l'étranger.

Cet article fait le point de la situation:

L'auteur propose quelques solutions et insiste sur les arguments économiques et linguistiques. Certes, on peut inciter financièrement les étudiants, mais améliorer les compétences linguistiques, c'est moins faisable.

Ce que l'auteur ne dit pas, c'est que la plupart des étudiants ont peu envie d'étudier ailleurs car, ou bien  ils sont contents de rester chez eux, ou bien ils ne se considèrent pas vraiment comme des citoyens européens.

Où vont les jeunes Français? L'Espagne est la destination numéro un. Le Royaume-Uni est en deuxième positio…

Old modern language courses

I'm thinking of doing a bit of research into old modern language courses and wondered if anyone could recall the course they had used in their youth (French or other languages).

I used Cours Illustré de Français (Mark Gilbert), some Whitmarsh and Actualités Françaises (Nott and Trickey) at A-level. For German we used Deutsches Leben for a while. For A-level I do not recall.

When I began teaching in 1980 I used Le Français d'Aujourd'hui (Downes and Griffith) et then Longman's Audio-Visual French. Actualités Françaises was still going at A-level then.

Anyway, please let me know if you can.

José Picardo on Teacher's TV

José hosts a blog called Box of Tricks and has recently been featured in a Teacher's TV programme on using ICT in MFL teaching. His students seem to be doing some nice work with web applications such as Voki. I often wonder if some Web 2 activities are a bit gimmicky, and indeed he says that pupils soon spot this, but judge for yourself.

Hard to teach from José Picardo on Vimeo.

Cours Illustré de Français

I thought I would blog about one or two of the French course books I have known over the years. Mark Gilbert's Cours Illustré de Français would look very dated now, but when it came out in 1966 (the last in the series, book 5 was published, I believe in 1973) it was rather revolutionary. This was also the time of the early audio-visual courses for slide projector and reel-to-reel tape recorder, but Gilbert's book was rooted firmly in the London University tradition of oral work through question and answer - LOTS of it. Oral and written. It was a method pioneered by Sweet, Prendergast and Gouin, a sort of controlled direct method.

Cours Illustré was the ultimate death by QA book. It was illustrated with pictures by Celia Weber, some of which were for decoration, some which could be used for questioning. It was all in glorious black and white and took a number of characters as the basis for its descriptions and stories. They did stories then!

Comedian Eddie Izzard made the book …

Rythmes scolaires

On reparle des rythmes scolaires en France. Dans les classements mondiaux la France n'est pas bien placée pour la culture scientifique, littéraire et mathématique de ses élèves. La Suède et la Finlande sont souvent citées comme des pays où les élèves font les meilleurs progrès. (Le Royaume Uni est relativement bien placé, selon l'OCDE, surtout pour les connaissances scientifiques des élèves.) Et pourtant on passe beaucoup d'heures à l'école en France. Les journées sont longues.

Finlande 190 jours - 950 heures environ par an
Royaume Uni 192 jours - 950 heures par an
France 144 jours - 1142 heures par an à 15 ans

(Ces chiffres ne sont pas certains -  dans une lettre adressée au comité qui va examine la question depuis le 7 juin, Luc Chatel affirme que le nombre d'heures est 914, par rapport à…

Un vol transatlantique "vert"

Apparemment  Air France a effectué mardi dernier un premier vol "vert" de Paris à Miami. Ils ont réussi a réduire de quelques tonnes les émissions de CO2, en diminuant le temps de roulage au sol, en changeant la manière dont l'avion monte et descend (en continu, non par "paliers") et en réglant continuellement l'altitude et la vitesse pour une consommation optimale de kérosène.

Ce vol est loin d'être vert bien entendu, mais on peur les féliciter sans doute d'avoir fait un effort pour réduire le CO2 émis dans l'air.

Pour traverser l'Atlantique il faut prendre l'avion. Le seul moyen véritable de réduire la pollution émise, c'est d'exploiter au maximum des avions gros porteurs comme le nouvel Airbus. Cela permettrait de réduire le nombre de vols et de produire moins de CO2 par passager.

Pour ce qui est des vols de court et de moyen-courrie…