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Tricolore

 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.

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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 courses. This was a necessary move.

The layout is frankly messy, with no numbers for exercises, making it hard for the teacher to direct pupils to them. In addition there is little sign of a repeated pattern to the layout, as if the authors (or designers) were keen to avoid any sense of repetition or boredom creeping in. This book is is many respects a quantum leap forward when compared to the earlier offerings for brighter pupils. Because let's not forget: this book ended up being aimed fairly and squarely at quite academic pupils, whether this was the authors' intention or not.

In other respects Tricolore has much in common with its predecessors: grammar is the basis of the syllabus, with selection and grading of material, even if this is far less finely or scrupulously executed as in Mark Gilbert's day. There is room for drilling and practice, but it is less rigorous, which was a frustration to me when I began using the book in 1988. The amount of English to be seen in the book, whilst comforting to pupils, was a challenge to the direct method orthodoxy.  It was perhaps also an attempt to sell the book to schools with a wider range of ability. Remember that modern languages were now being to taught to pupils of all abilities. But here is a further point to this: GCSE exams would soon see the use of discrete skill testing, with much use of English for questioning (sound familiar?!), so it is no surprise to see listening exercises in Tricolore Book 1 with English questions. This would have been anathema to the earlier writers. Maybe Honnor, Holt and Mascie-Taylor were heralding a new age of pragmatism in language teaching methodology.

The Tricolore dynasty continues to this day. We saw Encore Tricolore, Encore Tricolore Nouvelle Edition and recently Tricolore Total. Interestingly a small amount of the original material from Book 1 survives to this day. The story of cat and mouse Tom and Jojo has remained unchanged from 1980 to 2010.

The longevity of the course is testament to the success of its approach with more able pupils. The latest addition is better laid out, colourful, separates better the cultural information from the linguistic and comes with a comprehensive package of support material, including an online resource. It is very user and teacher-friendly, grounded in a sound, eclectic methodology, and much more expensive! Is the current TT better than the older books? Well, it is of its time and , yes, I would have to say better.

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