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Review of  French Grammar in Context


Reviewer: Katie Beth Angus
Book Title: French Grammar in Context
Book Author: Margaret Jubb Annie Rouxeville
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
General Linguistics
Subject Language(s): French
Issue Number: 26.62

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Review:
Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry

SUMMARY

“French Grammar in Context” by Jubb and Rouxeville (2014) is in its fourth edition, after having been published for the first time in 1998. This book is intended for use by intermediate and/or advanced Anglophone students of French as part of a course or independent study. The goal of the book is to have students “learning grammar while also acquiring cultural and topical knowledge” (p. ii).

It is composed of thirty-one chapters, each focusing on a different grammatical point that is useful yet sometimes difficult for English-speaking students. A chapter contextualizes the grammar point in question by starting with an authentic text chosen for its interest and its examples of grammar. The texts are a healthy mixture of literary and non-literary texts from the 20th and 21st centuries. For example, literary excerpts include ones from Camus’s “l’Etranger,” Malraux’s “la Condition humaine,” and de Beauvoir’s “Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangée,” whereas the non-literary texts come from journalistic sources, such as “Le Monde” and “Libération.”

Following a text with the grammar point highlighted in bold-faced type, each chapter continues first with a section about how that feature functions within the given excerpt. Then, there is a small section that brings the reader’s attention to other important constructs found in the excerpt and where explanations about them can be found in the book. Each chapter also contains a section that invites the reader to “discover” uses of the highlighted grammar point beyond those found in the given excerpt, both in written in and spoken French. After explanations about how a certain grammatical feature functions in French, for certain grammatical features, such as verbs, a section about their formation follows. Finally, each chapter contains from four to nine activities allowing students to practice the grammar point in a variety of contexts (i.e., fill-in-the blanks, translations, open-ended communicative questions). All grammar explanations and instructions are given in English.

At the end of the book, there are six revision texts as well as answer keys to all of the closed-ended questions. Finally, for students desiring further practice, there is a companion website that includes additional drills and testing activities.

EVALUATION

This book has many strong points, which outweigh its negatives. First and most importantly (and most obviously, based on the title of the book), the book shows grammar in a context instead of a cultureless vacuum. It saves teachers time because they do not have to find contexts in which to teach grammar, since the authors of this book have already found appropriate texts and highlighted the repeated grammatical structures for them. Furthermore, the texts are varied and interesting for advanced high school students or undergraduates. The mélange of literary and journalistic texts introduces students to literature without removing them completely from the comfort zone of their lower-level language classes, which have a tendency to include primarily non-literary texts.

The order of the chapters follows some sense of increasing difficulty, starting with the present tense of the indicative and advancing through the past tenses, conditional, and subjunctive, with non-verbal aspects of the grammar mixed in. Because each chapter can stand alone, however, it is possible for the teacher or learner to choose the aspects of French grammar that are most relevant to their needs without necessarily having to study each chapter in order.

The activities that accompany each chapter are primarily closed-ended questions and are usually a mix of decontextualized drill-like activities or fill-in-the-blanks of other authentic texts. Therefore, although the grammar is presented in the context of an authentic text, the activities given to use and practice each individual structure sometimes become decontextualized themselves, and they veer away from a more communicative approach to teaching that many students are used to in the lower-level courses that they would have recently completed. Teachers might want to consider adding additional communicative and open-ended questions to supplement the activities that are already provided.

Although this book is supposedly appropriate for both class-work and independent study, it is much easier to use independently than in a class. First of all, the answers to many of the activities are included at the end of the book. Secondly, there are more text-based, written activities than communicative, open-ended oral questions lending themselves well to in-class work. Additionally, one of the prefaces in the book underscores the fact that this book is not all-inclusive and focuses only on “key areas” (p. ix) of French grammar (e.g., subjunctive, conjunctions, and prepositions). It is therefore not intended to be a reference book. Having said this, page numbers are included for some of the most popular grammar reference manuals so students can refer to sources with more details about the grammar points at hand if they are interested. Finally, the section of each chapter pointing out other important grammatical structures also lends itself well to independent study as students can consult other sections of the book when they come across additional grammatical points for which they need further explanation.

This book could be used as a primary text in a bridge course, such as a grammar review class at the upper-intermediate/advanced level, but it presents a few problems for such a class. For example, even though the grammar points are found in a context, the texts themselves are rather decontextualized, as are some of the activities. The only information given about the texts is the name of the author and the title of the text. The teacher and/or the students would have to do additional preparation work and conduct external research to really see French grammar in a fuller context and gain the “cultural and topical knowledge” (p. ii) that the book’s description claims to provide. Additionally, if a teacher were to include this book on his or her syllabus as a required text, recommended material might include one of the grammar manuals, to provide a deeper knowledge of each of the points presented in this book as well as the other points that are not covered in this text.

Because the book depends on students’ abilities to read authentic texts containing a rather high level of vocabulary, it could also be a suitable companion or supplement for an introductory literature course. Sometimes literature classes focus so much on content that instructors forget that students are still learning the language and that there should be a continued attention to grammar’s function and form. Completing text-based activities from this book as homework and/or the occasional in-class activity would be an ideal way to review problematic grammatical features and/or have finer points presented to students, all the while relating to the content of the course.

The companion website, however, pales in comparison to the book and, in its current version, adds little to the students’ learning experience. Each chapter has a few additional activities online, but with minimal instructions, little to no feedback, and inadequate grading, it is not worthwhile for students to visit the site. On the other hand, perhaps a teacher could borrow or adapt some of the questions to include in quick closed-ended in-class quizzes or comprehension checks.

In summary, “French Grammar in Context” has a wealth of motivating texts and clear explanations of the main points of French grammar. It is well suited for independent practice and review, but also could be included in intermediate and advanced classes as a companion text or jumping off point if instructors supplement the book with more open-ended activities and contextual information about the authentic texts themselves.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Dr. Katie B. Angus is an Assistant Professor of French and Second Language Acquisition at the University of Southern Mississippi. At Southern Miss, she teaches undergraduate students in all levels of French as well as graduate students enrolled in the Master of Arts in the Teaching of Languages (MATL) program. She received her PhD in 2014 from the Second Language Acquisition and Teaching (SLAT) interdisciplinary program at the University of Arizona, where she specialized in second language (L2) pedagogy and program administration. Her research interests include the professional development of graduate students, study abroad, and the incorporation of technology into the L2 classroom.

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