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Breaking the French Barrier, Level One Review by Courtney Larson

Catherine Coursaget and Micheline Myers
Breaking the Barrier, Inc.
63 Shirley Road
Groton, MA 01450

Breaking the French Barrier is an all-in-one French text and workbook. Level One is equal to a one-year high school course (although it could be used for a middle school course) and should take about one school year to complete. Level Two (equivalent to a second-year high school course) and Level Three/Four (which is equal to a third/fourth-year high school course) are also available. The authors are French speaking; Catherine Coursaget is a native of Paris, while Micheline Myers is a Belgian citizen and native of the Congo.

I received the "Self-Learner Package" to review; this package includes the Student Edition of the text/workbook, an Answer Key Booklet, a two-CD set, and an Oasis booklet. The Student Edition contains all instruction and practice exercises, the Answer Key Booklet contains all the answers, the two CD set contains pronunciation exercises, and the Oasis is a pocket translation guide.

The Student Edition of Breaking the French Barrier begins with ten "First Steps" that introduce some basic vocabulary, expressions, and pronunciation rules to familiarize the student with French. There is written practice for each step, along with good written explanations of French pronunciation rules and plenty of oral practice. (Pronunciation of the many different combination of letters and vowels are on the CD set.)

Following these ten steps are twelve lessons. Each lesson begins with a map of a French-speaking country, information about the country, and a list of famous people from the country. This information requires translation, as it is written in French. Breaking the French Barrier stresses that a strong foundation in French grammar is key to really learning the language. Each lesson teaches four different grammar concepts, with written practice exercises for each concept. Several vocabulary words are presented for each lesson (ranging from around 30 to over 50 words), and these words are used throughout the practice exercises.

Following the teaching and written practice of the grammar concepts, there is an oral practice section for each lesson. This section includes questions that use the new grammatical concepts and new vocabulary. They are meant to be completed with a partner (one person asking the question and the other answering, and then switching roles), although they could be done independently if necessary. Many lessons also include a French dialogue to be read aloud, followed by a series of written questions about it. All of the provided questions for both the oral practice and dialogue are in French and are meant to be answered in French. Each lesson concludes with a review quiz.

The two CDs include the vocabulary lists as well as the oral practice and the dialogue for each lesson. These are very helpful when it comes to pronunciation. The back of the book includes verb charts, a French-English dictionary, and an English-French dictionary. The Oasis is an easy-reference pocket translation guide that would be handy for someone traveling to a French-speaking country. Topics include "at the hotel," "destinations," and "at the restaurant."

I think Breaking the French Barrier is very well done. It follows a logical progression, and the grammar of French is explained very well. The practice exercises and oral exercises provide the right amount of verbal and written practice--not so much that the student gets bored, but enough to really cause the information to be understood and retained. The lessons and practice exercises do have several references to celebrities, movies, etc., such as Lance Armstrong, Abercrombie & Fitch, Mario Lemieux, and Daniel Day-Lewis. There was nothing offensive that I noticed, but I found the references to be slightly annoying. I wish the program used fictional names instead. However, these pop culture references do not detract from the quality of the program. I recommend Breaking the French Barrier to anyone who is looking for a textbook/workbook-based French program for a middle or high school student. At $70 for the "Self-Learner Package," it is an affordable, thorough choice.

Product review by Courtney Larson, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January 2010