Sunday, 27 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 niveau international, les congés des Français sont d'autant plus importants au regard des Américains qui ne disposent que de 17 jours et les Japonais de 16.5 jours. Et Libération de préciser que l'étude a interrogé des personnes actives professionnellement, âgées de 16 ans ou plus."

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 here), the encouragement of discussion through question-answer and essay writing and, perhaps above all, the use of texts about issues of contemporary interest. Subjects covered in Book 1 include: education, young people, leisure and sport, transport, housing, industry and women at work. Sound familiar?

Teaching would be conducted largely in the target language and the underlying assumption was that a combination of direct method supported by grammar analysis and some translation would yield good results. Lessons would still be largely teacher-led, but with room for variations by an enlightened practitioner. The use of drills meant that you could practise grammar rigorously whilst staying in French, so both the conscious learning and natural acquisition dimensions were exploited simultaneously. The writers inherited this notion from Gilbert and the Longman writers. The popular course Le Français d'Aujourd'hui (1975 onwards) by Downes and Griffith, a staple in grammar and independent schools, would use a similar methodological approach.

Where were the book's shortcomings? The texts were long, the subject matter a bit dry at times and not closely related enough to pupils' own experience. There was so much material in Book 1 that Book 2 was used far less and would now look better suited to university level. The book was still aimed at pupils of higher ability and, interestingly, would be considered too hard today. Because the communicative approach from EFL was not yet being felt, there was a lack of task-related group or pair work, no information gap tasks, no games.

But make no mistake, this course was a major break from the past and set a trend. It would also help lead to the end of that era where universities dictated what teachers did at A-level. If anything, the reverse would become true and university courses would gradually be taught the way A-level teachers wanted!

Thursday, 24 June 2010


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 explanations in English, translations to and from French and, with a nod to the new methods on the horizon, passages in French with questions in French or English. To teach with Whitmarsh you didn't have to speak much French at all, though it surely helped if you had a good vocabulary and knowledge of the rules of grammar. You didn't even need other books. He would supply glossaries, verb paradigms, annotations and lengthy vocab lists. Cultural information is supplied in minute doses. The language is largely literary/narrative in style.

In the copy of Modern Certificate French (1965) I have in front of me there is not a single illustration to attract the eye of the reluctant pupil. In the book's foreword Whitmarsh writes: "A wise teacher said, "The writers of French textbooks always try to teach the pupils too much." He goes on to recognise that French is no longer being taught only to the brightest pupils and that the content needs simplifying for "less able classes preparing for O-level". Remember that O-level was only meant for a minority of secondary pupils, so even this Whitmarsh-lite book still looks heavy going for the average ability pupil. It is a reminder not only of how demanding we used to be with grammar, but also of out total failure to develop other language skills.

The methodology is clear: explain the rules, practise them through translation, apply them with reading comprehension exercises, and don't worry too much listening and speaking. I suppose it was assumed that you would pick these up later when you eventually were thrown in the deep end in France. And so we had a generation of folk who say: I knew the grammar, but I couldn't speak a word.

So learning French was like learning Latin. It was a mental discipline, a puzzle for pattern-finders and some gifted individuals would go on to apply their knowledge of grammar in hesitant speech.

Let's face it: it was a poor one-club method. It's as if no-one noticed that young children acquired language skill by listening and speaking. And even if the pretext was that in school you didn't have time to learn oral and aural skills, thousands of pupils were poorly served.

When Gilbert's Cours Illustré came along, or when teachers got hold of Voix et Images de France with its audio-visual/lingual method, Whitmarsh must have looked very old hat.

I'm not sure I used Whitmarsh much at school, if at all. My teachers were enlightened practitioners. I did used to teach prose composition with his Senior French Composition for A-level, for which it is well adapted.

There is a place for grammar-translation, but it is only one club in the golf bag, and it's not the putter.

Nouvelles tours à La Défense

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

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 Métro et, si je peux m'en procurer un exemplaire, La Nuit Américaine. Quels beaux films aurait-il tournés s'il avait vécu plus longtemps?

Sunday, 20 June 2010

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 and talking bull of course, since a singer or a dancer also has to work hard to develop their natural talent.

Bonne vidéo d'une prof d'espagnol

Vous avez 14 minutes? Regardez cette vidéo d'une prof d'espagnol sur Teacher's TV.


 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 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.

Friday, 18 June 2010

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, the pages larger. But the methodology is fundamentally the same. Pictures accompanied by short texts or dialogues which can be used for repetition, drilling and various types of question and answer. There is more dialogue here than pure narrative text, so more pair work may be encouraged. In addition each written sentence is punctuated with numbers which correspond to the accompanying questions and provide gaps for the repetition from the tape which the tets are designed for. "Répétez après le bip!"

We are also  treated to some black and white photographs here and there which give a subtle foretaste of the greater use of authentic cultural material which will feature in later courses. Opportunities for song also feature throughout the Stage 1 book. We also see an early version of the grammar frame, those boxes where you pick and choose words to make sentences; I was never a big fan of those, and we see them less now.

So once again, we have a book in the British tradition of an oral approach within situations, a kind of adjusted direct method, influenced in the Longman case by behaviourist learning theory, rooted within a strongly grammatical framework where the long-term aim is to produce pupils with internalised grammatical knowledge who can use the language creatively and accurately. Selection and grading of material are rigorous, especially with the Gilbert book.

No monkey this time, but we do get a family: the Marsaud parents and their children Jean-Claude, Pierre and Claudette (no people from non-white ethinic groups - I guess it didn't occur to anyone really).

Books like this were written for bright children at grammar schools, independent schools and the upper sets of early comprehensives. Could they be used now? Well, yes. The method is pretty sound, though you would adapt the exercises to use greater pair work (easy enough) and you would supplement it with some of the resources we have got used to, for example interactive computer exercises.

I still like the use of the family as a source of stories and humour and to provide a thread of continuity. I like less the almost total lack of cultural content and the single-minded use of one method, sound though it is.

Another time I'll take a look at Le Français par l'Image - a sort of Cours Illustré "lite" for less brilliant pupils.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

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 coverage than Mandarin. Pupils may also value their language skills when appreciating foreign culture and this is much more likely to be French novels and movies than Chinese or Arabic.

Mr Bryant may also wish to consider the practicalities of teaching pupils languages which are even more difficult than European ones when there are few teachers available for the purpose.

People can be very naive about this issue and it is surprising to hear a former Foreign Office spout such drivel.

To "spout drivel" - j'ai trouvé:

raconter des salades, raconter des bêtises, débiter des inepties/des inanités, dire n'importe quoi, baver

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

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 position.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

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.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

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 notorious with his stand-up routine about school French and Nikki the monkey (search youtube - you'll laugh). The other main characters were members of the Lavisse family. Having a family in the couse book was de rigueur in those days because it served some very useful teaching purposes. (I even wrote an essay on this topic years ago during my PGCE course at the West London Institute - part of London University.)

I reckon we would do well to return to using families in course books - never mind about politico-social sensitivities.

Anyway, each chapter of the book would feature a description or a short story and was followed with lists of questions to be exploited orally and on paper. The book was the apotheosis of this method of teaching a language: scrupulous selection and grading of language, an oral approach with little use of English, lots of whole class oral question and answer, grammar taught through repeated drilling and practice rather than by explanation in English but in a meaningful way.

As a method it had its limitations, but it worked well for pupils who could concentrate at length and induce grammar rules for themselves. I used the course from 1968 through to O level in 1973 and my memory is that the early books were the best. I recall the book still being used in my first teaching practice school, Beverley Boys, in 1980.

Amazingly I see that you can still get copies of it quite easily from used book shops on the internet. I may even be tempted to buy one!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

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 la moyenne de l'OCDE qui est 769. Peut-être qu'on parle du primaire dans ce cas.)

La semaine française est à revoir. Il faut alléger le contenu des programmes aussi. 5 heures par jour, cela suffit. 5 jours par semaine avec un weekend libre. Des vacances d'été moins longues, car bon nombre d'élèves risquent d'oublier ce qu'ils ont appris.

Il serait dommage si, dans le contexte actuel, les syndicats prenaient tout allègement des programmes ou des horaires comme un prétexte pour réduire le nombre d'enseignants. Et pourtant....

Un dernier point: je reste un peu sceptique en ce qui concerne les classements de l'OCDE. Il doit être quasiment impossible de faire des comparaisons précises de progrès entre enfants de différents pays qui suivent des programmes divers.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

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-courrier, mieux vaudrait prendre le train. Un problème c'est que le régime de taxation favorise le transport aérien: les compagnies aériennes ne paient pas de taxes sur le kérosène. En plus le coût d'entretien des infrastructures ferroviaires est énorme, sans parler du fait que les compagnies aériennes low cost on fait un grand effort pour réduire leurs coûts à tous les niveaux. N'oublions pas non plus que le nombre de trains est limité par le nombre de voies ferrées. Ceci est un facteur promordial sur certaines lignes.

Que faire pour rendre le train plus compétitif?

Agir au niveau européen: taxer les vols davantage; subventionner davantage le train avec l'argent accumulé; investir dans de nouvelles lignes rapides (plus polluantes malheureusement); rendre le train plus attractif que l'avion en offrant plus de confort et de vitesse. En décidant de créer une nouvelle ligne TGV entre Londres et Manchester le gouvernement est sur la bonne voie (si j'ose le dire). En général les gens préfèrent prendre le train à l'avion, mais il faut que le prix soit abordable.

Pour sortir les gens de leur voiture... c'est une autre question.

A noter:

Emissions CO2 par passager...

Voyage: Aller-retour en avion... Et par le train...
Londres - Paris par Eurostar 3.5 heures, 244 Kg/CO2 2.7heures , 22 Kg/CO2
Londres - Edimbourg 3.5 heures, 193 Kg/CO2 4.5 heures, 24 Kg/CO2
Londres - Nice 4 heures, 250 Kg/CO2 8 heures par Eurostar+TGV, 36 Kg/CO2
Londres - Barcelone 4.5 heures, 277 Kg/CO2 Eurostar puias wagon-lit, 40 Kg/CO2
Londres - Tanger 5 heures, 435 Kg/CO2 48 heures par Eurostar, wagon-lit et ferry, 63 Kg/CO2
  Source:  The Observer, 29/01/06 &   Kg/CO2 pour un aller-retour.
Si vous voulez comparer vos émissions de CO2 pour un voyage en Europe, allez à: