Skip to main content

Review: Cambridge IGCSE and O level French as a Foreign language



Written by Danièle Bourdais and Geneviève Talon, this brand new coursebook and accompanying CDs are for pupils studying for IGCSE and O level. It's a thickish, colourful and clearly laid out 12 unit pupil book of nearly 200 pages. The book looks suitable for good Year 10 and 11 pupils.

Unit titles are: mon quotidien, La pleine forme, Une famille à l'étranger, Faites la fête!, Ma ville, demain, La nature - amie, ennemie ou victime, Bonjour de Francophonie, L'école et après, Au travail!, A l'écoute du monde, En voyage and Jeune au XXIe siècle. There are revision units built in to the course after every two units. The coursebook should be bought in conjunction with the Workbook if you want plenty of back-up vocabulary, grammar and strategies support. These workbooks are usually well worth getting.

When I look at a unit in detail, e.g. Faites la fête, I see it contains a good range of activity types: imaginative questions, comprehension matching, task-based activities such as drawing up lists for a celebration and traditional short texts with key grammar embedded, e.g. future tense verbs, quand + future + future. The latter leave plenty of scope for exploitation with question-answer and other interactions.



There are group and pair activities, grammar drills (e.g. changing infinitives to future tense), cultural information, boxes with brief grammar notes, gap-fill listening and reading comprehension tasks (grids to complete, matching names to paragraphs etc).

There is one longer text about the positive and negative consequences of a festival on a locality. This is followed by a range of exercise types: matching, TL questions (only three - I like to see more but space is limited in text books), identifying opinions and how they are expressed, grammar analysis (finding verbs in different tenses), finding time expressions, note-taking from listening texts and oral work to get pupils to use complex si clauses.

The grammar section for the unit is written all in French. This may confuse some pupils, but the target students tend to be at the able end of the spectrum and may be able to handle this. Teachers may choose to do their own explanations in English and add plenty of supplementary grammar drills.

Whenever I look at a book my main question is: could I use this in class? Overall, this unit, even if you don't go for every single exercise, looks very usable and quite interesting for its target clientele. (I always think this topic is a tricky one to approach since it is relatively hard to personalise it compared to some others.) The implied methodology is the common hybrid of communicative + comprehensible input + explicit grammar and drills so is in the sensible mainstream. The source texts look to be adapted authentic.

Just a word about the revision sections in the book. I like how these build in an element of spaced learning. They include lots of model questions and answers for exam practice, extra reading and games.

As far as the listening material on the CDs is concerned, it's definitely in the "clear and slowed down" camp, which is fine by me. Some would argue that it should be more authentic and natural to prepare students for real life speech. If anything, there may be a slight disconnect with the difficulty level of the written material and easier listening. I hesitate to be too judgemental about this, however, especially as I have never taught this specific course.

Danièle and Geneviève should be congratulated for putting together such a comprehensive, well thought-out and varied book which I daresay is well matched to its exam specification. I am full of admiration for teacher-writers who spend so much time producing resources for relatively little reward. It's a mammoth task.












Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

A zero preparation fluency game

I am grateful to Kayleigh Meyrick, a teacher in Sheffield, for this game which she described in the Languages Today magazine (January, 2018). She called it “Swap It/Add It” and it’s dead simple! I’ve added my own little twist as well as a justification for the activity.

You could use this at almost any level, even advanced level where the language could get a good deal more sophisticated.

Put students into small groups or pairs. If in groups you can have them stand in circles to add a sense of occasion. One student utters a sentence, e.g. “J’aime jouer au foot avec mes copains parce que c’est amusant.” (You could provide the starter sentence or let groups make up their own.) The next student (or partner) has to change one element in the sentence, and so on, until you restart with a different sentence. You could give a time limit of, say, 2 minutes. The sentence could easily relate to the topic you are working on. At advanced level a suitable sentence starter might be:

“Selon un article q…

Google Translate beaters

Google Translate is a really useful tool, but some teachers say that they have stopped setting written work to be done at home because students are cheating by using it. On a number of occasions I have seen teachers asking what tasks can be set which make the use of Google Translate hard or impossible. Having given this some thought I have come up with one possible Google Translate-beating task type. It's a two way gapped translation exercise where students have to complete gaps in two parallel texts, one in French, one in English. There are no complete sentences which can be copied and pasted into Google.

This is what one looks like. Remember to hand out both texts at the same time.


English 

_____. My name is David. _ __ 15 years old and I live in Ripon, a _____ ____ in the north of _______, near York. I have two _______ and one brother. My brother __ ______ David and my _______ are called Erika and Claire. We live in a _____ house in the centre of ____. In ___ house _____ …

Dissecting a lesson: using a set of PowerPoint slides

I was prompted to write this just having produced for frenchteacher.net three separate PowerPoint presentations using the same set of 20 pictures (sports). A very good way for you to save time is to reuse the same resource in a number of different ways.

I chose 20 clear, simple, clear and copyright-free images from pixabay.com to produce three presentations on present tense (beginners), near future (post beginner) and perfect tense (post-beginner/low intermediate). Here is one of them:





Below is how I would have taught using this presentation - it won't be everyone's cup of tea, especially of you are not big on choral repetition and PPP (Presentation-Practice-Production), but I'll justify my choice in the plan at each stage. For some readers this will be standard practice.

1. Explain in English that you are going to teach the class how to talk about and understand people talking about sport. By the end of the lesson they will be able to say and understand 20 different sport…

Designing a plan to improve listening skills

Read many books and articles about listening and you’ll see it described as the forgotten skill. It certainly seems to be the one which causes anxiety for both teachers and students. The reasons are clear: you only get a very few chances to hear the material, exercises feel like tests and listening is, well, hard. Just think of the complex processes involved: segmenting the sound stream, knowing lots of words and phrases, using grammatical knowledge to make meaning, coping with a new sound system and more. Add to this the fact that in England they have recently decided to make listening tests harder (too hard) and many teachers are wondering what else they can do to help their classes.

For students to become good listeners takes lots of time and practice, so there are no quick fixes. However, I’m going to suggest, very concisely, what principles could be the basis of an overall plan of action. These could be the basis of a useful departmental discussion or day-to-day chats about meth…