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Title: en français - Rapid Success in French for Beginners
Author: Marc Bendali and Marie-Paule Mahoney
Copyright: © 2003
Relevance: Any reporter or correspondent posted in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Quebec, Monaco -- and many countries in Africa or western Switzerland -- will appreciate the quick and easy style of en français. The book/three-CD set presents 9 specific lessons that brings French-neophytes up to speed with many day-to-day situations. While it's true you won't be doing your on-air standups or important interviews in fluent French after investing only a few hours with en français, the average reader should be able to understand the language enough to survive (and thrive) in a French-speaking assignment.
Review: En français focuses on the practical aspects of learning a new language, rather than the theoretical ones. Let's face it, most reporters (and others, we suspect) are looking to speak a new language -- not pass a written test as a school student.
It's surprising, therefore, that most language books (and the accompanying CDs, if available) initially focus on pronouncing each vowel and consonant exactly the way a native speaker might do in the new language. Often, even double vowels and double consonants are also introduced. Next comes painful (let's face it, they're painful) grammar lessons that serve to turn off even the most dedicated language student. It's no wonder why most people get turned off learning a new language.
Fortunately, en français does not take this approach. Based on the successful weekend courses run by the Language Immersion Institute at New Paltz, New York, en français offers up the French language using a conversational spin rather than a grammar and spelling one.
The result is that reader/listeners quickly acquire the ability to hold a real world conversation through the program's somewhat contrived -- yet somehow convincing -- story line: a group of friends traveling abroad together.
Rather than concentrating on the mind numbingly boring spelling, grammar and other technical details of a new language, en français demonstrates basic (and very useful) communication topics such as greetings and introductions, farewells, how to make small talk, and how to ask for directions. Consequently, en français is ideal for reporters and correspondents who must quickly to speak the language but really have no need to write with it. Of course, if writing French is your goal, en français can help you become familiar with the language -- but a more formal (and traditional) book/CD combination may be more your cup of tea (or, since we're in France now, more your glass of wine).
Each chapter has specific, listed objectives for students to learn, all using the storyboard of the three friends traveling together throughout France. Chapter 1, for example, shows readers how to meet and greet native French speakers; and Chapter 2 explains the ins and outs of the travel process and includes weather, the seasons, the time of day and even how to form a question in French.
Chapter 3 moves right along and outlines how to express yourself using the French verb avoir (to have) and gives many real-world examples of actual usage: J'ai rendez-vous à neuf heures -- I have a meeting at 9 o'clock. Chapter 4 concentrates on getting around in Paris by cab, ordering drinks in a bar and how to keep track of your money, all things usable by reporters on assignment. Nicely, en français covers the actual dialogue between the cab driver and appropriately, and uses this opportunity to introduce the imperative verb tense to make commands and more urgent suggestions.
Chapter 5 concentrates on checking in at your hotel and dealing with some unexpected problems about the reservation. Numbers (see below), days of the week and months of the year are also introduced in this chapter within the believable context of reservation making and arriving at your hotel. The verb vouloir -- to want or to wish -- is also introduced here as is its cousins pouvoir -- to be able to or can or may -- and devoir -- to have to or must do. The distinction between these three verbs is important and many new speakers get these words confused and their meaning scrambled.
After settling into your hotel, Chapter 6 takes you for a quick visit to a famous Paris restaurant called The Procope. Learning how to order (and how to handle the server when things go wrong) and how to ask for a specific table are covered. Also introduced is the grammatical concept of the immediate future using the French verb, aller -- to go.
Next up is exploring Paris, a process made simple with the accompanying dialogues in Chapter 7. Regular "-re" verbs such as attendre, descendre, perdre, prétendre, rendre, répondre, vendre are introduced. The Galeries Lafayette (Paris' famous department store), the Pigalle (the entertainment district) and the Louvre are all visited in this chapter.
Chapter 8 takes our intrepid travelers out of Paris and across France. They must first visit a travel agency to make the necessary arrangements such as booking a trip on the TGV super-fast train and reserving a rental car. Just about everything in this chapter is immediately usable by a reporter traveling on assignment or a photographer on a shoot.
The book's final chapter deals with the actual explorations in Dordogne, Burgundy (where one of the characters has a bit too much wine). Also covered is another bit of important grammar: the recent past tense using the verb form "venir de". Thus equipped, we can now construct sentences such as Je viens de New York (I've just arrived from New York) or nous venons de voir le Tour de France (we have just seen the Tour de France).
Since French has many has many shared or similar words with English, many native English speakers have problems with pronouncing familiar words in a "French way".
One of the things we liked the most about en français is its helpful repetitiveness and stress on pronunciation within the audio CD. We have found that other language CDs present a few simple words and then proceed to use them in a complex, all-too-fast sentence that no beginner can even hope to understand let alone repeat. In contrast, en français presents its material in a slower-paced, more friendly way of "street speak" -- a way that helps listeners understand how to speak (and listen) in French like a native speaker.
Two of the three accompanying CDs present both familiar and new words slow enough so that listeners can easily hear and internalize the new word -- and remember how each is pronounced. As a result, listeners' pronunciation skills are quickly brought up to speed. The third audio CD acts as a helpful spoken review to reinforce all the lessons presented in the book and the other two CDs. The review disc is beneficial, for example, to brush up on your French before traveling abroad or just to keep what you've learned current.
New words are introduced in each chapter in a section called petit lexique, a mini-dictionary list of vocabulary words required to complete the lessons. The book also provides helpful cultural guidelines and linguistic references along the way. Unlike English, for example, French does not typically capitalize the months of the year nor the days of the week unless they are related to specific holidays or religious occasions.
Throughout en français, readers are introduced to the various eccentricities of the French language. Ordinal numbers, as an example, are rather straight forward in French up to 20. The French equivalent for 21, however, introduces a new construction pattern that continues up to 71 and is then changed for 81 and 91. For number in the seventies, you have to be good at math since the French equivalent for 70 is soixante-dix literally "sixty plus ten"; 71 is soixante et onze, literally "sixty plus eleven".
The pattern changes again for numbers in the 80s where French translates "80" as quartre-vingts literally "four 20s". Numbers in nineties revert back to the pattern observable for the seventies. So, we have "90" translated into French as quatre-vingt-dix (for 4 times 20 plus 10) and "91" as quatre-vingt-onze (4 times 10 added to 11) and so on.
We were very impressed by en français. Not only is there "enough" French in the book/CD set to make it a worthwhile investment to learn this language, it is presented in a fun and helpful way so newcomers will not be intimidated with the learning experience. Highly recommended.
End of Review
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