A place where la vie is always rose

Breakthrough French 2 - New Breakthrough French.
November 27, 1998

This is the welcome third edition of a long-established self-tuition method. The popular Beginners' course has been extensively revised as New Breakthrough French . It now comprises four cassettes of new and very authentic-sounding conversational recordings (with instructions and explanations), providing the basis for the accompanying handsomely produced, full-colour textbook. Here the spoken material is extensively developed and exploited, with oral and written practice, a wealth of practical information for the traveller, and a lucidly presented grammatical guide (essentially covering: gender and number of articles; nouns and adjectives; formation of adverbs; negatives and interrogatives; present, future and perfect of regular and common irregular verbs; pronouns, including y and en ; possessive adjectives).

Emphasis is on everyday "survival" activities like shopping, ordering drinks, telling the time, asking the way, booking train tickets and hotel rooms. There are plenty of illustrations and reproductions of realia - but the overall impression is gratifyingly uncluttered, with a colour-coded page layout that is reader-friendly and agreeable to use.

A particular problem for the independent learner of French is the highly indirect relationship between sound and spelling. There are a number of pronunciation hints scattered through the book, but they seem somewhat haphazard, and one rather regrets the lack of any explicit introduction to the orthographic code (conventions about silent letters, for example) to parallel the grammatical sections. The usefulness of the latter would in fact be enhanced by a more detailed index - it is not always easy to track down explanations and exercises for specific points. And as the course is primarily intended for the holidaymaker, the view of France presented tends to be of the "theme park" variety - an curiously unreal world of attractive towns, scenic landscapes and unfailingly friendly people, with not a social, environmental or economic problem in sight.

Obviously it is difficult to deal with such matters in a beginners' course (has anyone else tried?) and maybe most users are not particularly interested. But those motivated enough to proceed to Breakthrough 2 might be. They will find that this entirely new volume (accompanied by three cassettes and bridging the gap between New Breakthrough and the existing Further French - to be renamed Breakthrough 3 ) is "visitor" rather than just "tourist" oriented. People have become more sophisticated: they go to the theatre, arrange business meetings, use washing machines. And there is a certain amount of material on less "survivalist" topics - albeit occasionally oddly chosen ones - the exploration of Mars(!), media censorship, and (yes) a short excerpt on unemployment.

In short, it is all pleasantly varied, and although the budget permits colour only on alternate pages, the presentation is good: manageably short conversational excerpts of a thoroughly natural kind (recorded on cassette and transcribed in the book), together with vocabulary notes and grammar commentary, a range of imaginative oral and written exercises (and answers), and lively, attractive illustrations. The learning curve is quite steep, but anyone who perseveres will find the new-look Breakthrough excellent value.

Rodney Ball is lecturer in French, University of Southampton.

Breakthrough French 2

Author - Stephanie Rybak
ISBN - 0 333 71265 x and 71267 6 (pack)
Publisher - Macmillan
Price - £14.99 (3 cassette pack £42.50)
Pages - 217

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