La société française: Lecture et civilisation

Writer(s): 
Nobuhito Nagai, University of Tokushima
Publisher: 
Kyoto: Alma Editeur

 

[Jean-Luc Azra, Olivier Lorrillard, Bruno Vannieuwenhuyse, Yoshio Miki, Meiko Ikezawa, & Mariko Ichikawa. Kyoto: Alma Editeur, 2008. pp. 76. \2,520. ISBN: 978-4-904147-00-9.]

While teaching a foreign language which is not a lingua franca, one encounters particular problems. In the case of French in Japan, obvious is the difficulty to maintain students’ motivation. For most of them, it is merely an unknown language, spoken in a remote country. For such a language, a textbook must not only instruct, but also attract (Ohki, 2009). La Société française can be considered as an attempt to meet this double requirement.

According to the authors, this book is for students who have who have studied French for 60 to 100 hours. In other words, it should be used by those who have finished studyinggrammar and are able to practise elementary conversation.It is composed of eleven 6-page units; each unit includes two texts in French, as well as related supporting materials, such as official statistics or opinion polls, which are often quite informative. There is also a concise glossary.

Themes treated in the units are as follows: territory/regions, education, food, politics, work/vacation, religion, gender, manners, etc. Each text, of some 250 to 300 words, is clear and logical, and free from blind laudation of French society or culture. Having two texts on one theme provides a deeper understanding of the topic. For example, students can familiarize themselves with French work-life from two points of view: Employment and unemployment and Relationships in the work place. Details of daily life are not forgotten: the last unit is devoted to Politeness and Conversation, where students learn that in France sniffing is far worse than blowing their nose—which is often surprising to them—or that, if French people talk much about themselves, it is also a way to invite the interlocutor to talk. In this way, this book’s contents are quite attractive.

Concerning grammatical aspects, there are only brief explanations in the glossary. But students using a textbook of this level should be able to understand the language on their own. Also, the absence of exercises, except simple quizzes in Japanese or true-false questions in French to check students’ comprehension is evident. However, one soon realizes that formal exercises are insufficient for exploiting the maximum richness of the texts. The book, without fixing any pedagogical guidelines, leaves room to manoeuvre: the teacher can use the texts for reading or writing, or as materials for discussion in French. On the phonetic side, downloadable mp3 files on the website can be used for shadowing or listening practice.

I used this book in a second-year class with students who have just finished a course emphasizing grammar.Students were interested in the themes presented in each unit,in spite of a certain lack of themes, such as student life or information technology. Concerning comprehension, students were obviously assisted by the clarity of the texts, and also by the simplicity of tense, to which we will return below. Their level—lower intermediate—did not permit me to ask them to paraphrase certain passages, or discuss the theme in French. Nevertheless, knowledge of exemplary phrases from the units will be useful on numerous occasions, even in conversation.

After all, this book succeeds in meeting the double requirement mentioned above: instruction and attraction. The sole regret concerns the tense: a large majority of verbs used in the texts are in thepresent tense. And one of the characteristics of French in comparison with English is precisely a diversity of past tense usage. French teachers often point out the difficulty for Japanese students to use the imparfait (imperfect) correctly, which they tend to identify with the past in English. The passé simple (simple past), another form of past tense, is today disappearing from French textbooks available in Japan, but continues to be used in real life, even in newspapers. It is quite normal that a book on French society is written in the present time. However, students who learn French with this book are supposed to be in a lower intermediate or intermediate course. For such a level, mastering different tenses is indispensable, even essential. I would have appreciated sentences containing different past tenses.

Despite this lack of diversity of tenses, this bookstands out by the quality of sentences and supporting materials, and by the variety of themes treated. Finally, this could be used even as a textbook on French society forFrancophones.

 

References

Ohki, M., Hori, S., Nishiyama, N., & Tajino, A. (2009). Les causes principales de la baisse de motivation chez les apprentis japonais du français. Revue japonaise de didactique du français,4(1), 71-88.

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