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.