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Espaces in the NECTFL Review
The NECTFL Review #61, Fall/Winter 2007/2008
Mary Helen Kashuba, Chestnut Hill College
Mitschke, Cherie, Cheryl Tano, and Valérie Thiers-Thiam. Espaces. Rendez-vous avec le monde francophone. Boston: Vista Higher Education, 2007.
Includes: text, workbook/video manual, lab manual, audio CD, video CD-ROM, and a Website (supersite): www.espaces.vhlcentral.com. Supplementary materials for teachers include an Instructor’s
Annotated edition, video on DVD, Instructor’s Resource CD-ROM, Testing Program, overhead transparencies, and self-correcting exercises, grade book, and other teacher tools. ISBN 1-59334-833-9.
Following the success of their programs in Spanish, Vista Higher Learning has undertaken their first French text, for beginners at the college level. Espaces contains an attractive, well-integrated textbook accompanied by numerous ancillary materials. All chapters follow a similar pattern, organized around sections carrying the generic name espace. For example, Espace Contextes lists vocabulary in a meaningful context, with entertaining illustrations. Mise en pratique, on the same page, immediately reinforces the words just taught. Graded phonetic practice follows, with explanations in English and practice in French. Espace Roman-photo highlights some clips from the video and includes the written text. Espace Culture gives some background on the topic of the lesson, along with a portrait. Beginning with
Unit 2, these are in French. Espace Structures explains the grammar in English, with clear color-coded charts and examples in French. The exercises are on the same page as the grammar, for immediate practice. Le français vivant illustrates these points with authentic materials on the facing page, such as posters or ads. A synthèse concludes with three multimedia activities, Projet, Interlude, and Le zapping, with materials on the Website. Finally, Espace Savoir-faire has two parts: Panorama, which addresses systematically a section of the Francophone world, and Lecture. A listening exercise and a writing exercise complete the lesson.
The video that accompanies the text uses native speakers in authentic situations, such as the university, a café, and a supermarket. The story consists of different episodes in the lives of several young people in Aix-en-Provence. They represent various parts of the Francophone world, but also include one American student. Their adventures are amusing and typical of teenagers and young adults. Although the story is entertaining, its plot may not be engaging enough to hold the students in suspense for the next episode. It does, however, address the structure and the topics of the lesson well. The actors speak slowly and distinctly. While this is comforting to the beginner, who always complains that they speak too quickly, it is not typical of ordinary conversation. Students can, however, watch the video on the video CD-ROM, or on the Web. They can repeat as often as necessary and see the French text or an English translation. For the motivated learner, this is a great advantage.
The Workbook materials, available in paper or on the Website, are copious, with a section for written responses and a lab manual. Only the most diligent students could use all of them. The spoken materials are clearly articulated, and well paced. The student has the opportunity to repeat as often as necessary. Written and oral exercises, both in the workbook (or Website), and in the textbook, use a communicative approach. Directions are usually clear, although some exercises seem overly complex. In the textbook exercise on page 89, for example, three people briefly describe themselves, one after the other, without a pause, and students must mark vrai ou faux for ten statements, which mix all three people. This is only Lesson Six!
The text is divided into 15 unités, with each unité consisting of two lessons. They address the topics normally found in beginning texts, in an acceptable sequence. Unless a class meets four or five times a week, it would be almost impossible to cover the entire book in one year. The authors suggest three semesters. Teachers with three-credit courses might need four semesters to cover the material in any meaningful way.
The authors of the text are familiar with the ACTFL proficiency guidelines and the Standards. The targeted standard is marked in the text. Paired and small-group exercises focus on interpersonal communication. The reading and listening sections address interpretive communication, each with its own pre- and post-activities. The exercises incorporate appropriate techniques such as skimming and scanning. The final lessons present attractive literary selections.
The program explores all of France and the Francophone world, a rather ambitious undertaking, given the large number of countries encompassed. It uses good maps and illustrations and contains useful information about the regions or countries. The Website builds on the text. Four short readings explore topics typical of the region or of great interest to the student. The source of these materials is not indicated. One would hope that they are from authentic documents. Some are obviously from Websites, such as the Ecole de Français de Lille on pages 68-69.
Although this program focuses strongly on culture, there are some notable omissions. There is almost no mention of the important religious monuments and feasts, nor of the cultural perspectives that grow out of a religious heritage. Very few of the prominent historical figures appear on the pages of the text. In the chapters on food, the cafés sell tea, coffee, and soft drinks, but not wine. Professors who are conscious of “political correctness” will find the choices very attractive, and those who wish to supplement can always do so. On the other hand, the environment, health issues, sports, and artworks are well developed. Each video segment also contains a Flash Culture, totally in French after Unit 8.
This text is very much oriented to young people. It features people from their world, such as singers and sports figures, who may not remain as popular in the near future. In the video, the mother of an 18-year-old lycéen runs a small café. She and her employee are the only adults. Since many universities also enroll adult students, this might hinder an instructor from choosing the program, which is on the whole very promising. Espaces should motivate and inspire students, and provide useful materials to the teacher.
Mary Helen Kashuba
Professor of French and Russian
Chestnut Hill College
This textbook is a clearly-presented and well-organized beginning-level French manual. Each of the fifteen chapters is divided into sections A and B,with each section comprised of the following: Espace Contextes (Contextes or vocabulary and Les sons et les lettres); Espace Roman-Photo, a photo-novel depiction with transcription of each character’s dialogue of the video segments that fosters student learning by allowing students to listen and read simultaneously in French as well as prompting class reenactments of the video segments; Espace Culture (Culture à la loupe and Portrait, short glossed readings with guided comprehension questions); Espace Structures, two distinct grammatical presentations per section with concise explanations and examples to support the appropriate range in difficulty of written and speaking exercises; and Espace Synthèse (Révision—comprehensive speaking activities that encompass the chapter’s grammar and vocabulary, Le Zapping—cultural activities incorporating video, for Section A, and À l’écoute—techniques for improving listening skills, for Section B).Rounding out each chapter is Savoir-Faire, composed of Panorama, detailed cultural readings to complement the chapter’s two Culture à la loupe and two Portrait components; Lecture, longer readings with strategies that help students to read for the main idea and arrive at individual conclusions; and Écriture, a themed composition activity with suggested methods that encourage students, for example, to express and support their opinions, while brainstorming their ideas before actually writing their formal composition, followed by recommendations for revising.While currently most beginning-level French textbooks propose a broad range of materials on the Francophone world, Espaces offers a balanced approach. Specifically, each chapter’s Espace Culture will typically have the focus of Culture à la loupe be on a cultural aspect of France and that of Portrait be on a similar aspect of another Francophone country. Thus, fromthe start, students are exposed to the wide range of countries and cultures where French is spoken and are able to make informed comparisons. Then, these comparisons are reinforced in Panorama which focus on a variety of French regions and departments or other Francophone countries or regions. The Espaces Supersite, whose features vary by access level selected by the instructor, is the user-friendly online source for combining textbook, technology, and media resources (online virtual and partner chats, a downloadable digital image bank, oral testing suggestions, and streaming video of Roman-photo episodes, with instructor-managed options for subtitles and transcripts in French and English). It is the precise synchronization between the textbook and the spaces Supersite that allows for more face-to-face communication and enhanced exposure to relevant authentic materials.
Eileen M. Angelini
Professor of French
Canisius College (NY)