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Review of AQA French for A-level from OUP


I recently wrote a pretty glowing review of Hodder's offering for the AQA French A-level and now OUP have been kind enough to send me a copy of their new book, also approved by AQA, and written by Rob Pike, Colin Povey and Paul Shannon. Rather than produce an all-in-one book for the full A-level, Oxford have decided to publish two books, this first one being for either AS-level or the first year of a full A-level course. Either approach seems sound, but you might want to consider the financial implications of buying one big book compared with two slimmer volumes. The 2-year Hodder book is nearly £30 before discount, the two OUP books come to £44 before discount. That is a significant difference if you have quite a few students. This may be a good point to make when haggling with the rep!

AQA French (what happened to those snazzy old titles like Au Point, Tout Droit, Vécu and Objectif Bac?) looks like another very worthy contender for your capitation budget. The content is similar to the Hodder book and ticks all your new specification boxes: lots of texts awash with cultural information, translation both ways, appropriate listening and reading comprehension tasks, research tasks, summary tasks, oral activities and a grammatical progression (of sorts) and dedicated chapters about literature and film. Each unit (which the authors say can be done in any order) comes with a vocab list at the end, as well as lists of key expressions. I imagine most teachers will start from the beginning with the family sub-theme.

There really is a lot of reading material in this book, although it would be nice to see a bit more detailed exploitation of some of the texts. The format seems to be: text, comprehension exercise, "translate the first two paragraphs", then move on to listening, summary and translation into French. I'd like to see more thorough grammatical practice and lexical work, but space probably does not allow for it. Teachers will need to add this extra level of exploitation. I do like the inclusion of a résumé section at the end of each unit.

The texts are interesting and informative, but can present a bit of a challenge when it comes to using them for communicative work. (This is inherent in the subject content provided by the DfE - the new emphasis on cultural knowledge imposes certain limits on the amount of personalised discussion you might want students to engage in.) If I were still teaching I would build this into lessons anyway, whilst ensuring students have enough knowledge to use when it comes to exam time.

I have not heard the listening tracks so cannot vouch for their quality - there seems to be plenty of material, though, with familiar exercise types. The experience of the writers comes across in the well-chosen oral tasks and well-pitched translation sentences. I would say that the oral tasks are a bit on the general and demanding side.

Just a word about that grammatical progression. If you take the chapters in order, you get: imperfect, perfect, past historic, infinitive constructions, object pronouns, present tense, conditional, future, adjectives, the subjunctive, then re-visits of some of these. Some teachers might feel this is more haphazard than the approach taken with the Hodder book. Others teachers may not be overly concerned with that kind of traditional progression from easier to more complex.

The inclusion of a separate short chapter on essay writing is welcome, although I am not sure whether students need to be too worried about the traditional structure of intro/key points/conclusion since the new mark schemes give no marks for structure or cohesion.

The example material in the sections on film and literature come from what will no doubt be two popular choices from the prescribed lists: La Haine and L'Etranger.

Overall, then, you have another more than acceptable resource here for you and your students. The authors have done a super job. The bar has been raised a good deal with these latest books. The AQA A-level French from Hodder may have the edge (because of its grammatical progression, better value and slightly greater "wow" factor), but some teachers may prefer to get two separate books, especially if they have a significant number of students doing only a one-year course.

I would get copies of both courses and weigh up their relative merits very carefully with your department. In the recent past I would not have bought a textbook at all for A-level, but these new ones will perform a very good role indeed. They are both very usable, which is slightly bad news for frenchteacher.net. More work for me then!

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