Title Voilà! 1
Author Gwen Berwick and Sydney Thorne
Publisher Nelson Thornes
ISBN 0 7487 7847 0
Reviewer Duncan Byrne
   

Voilà! is Nelson Thornes’ new Keystage 3 French course for the KS3 Framework, and will eventually be extended up to GCSE. It comes with an impressive range of resources, including two differentiated workbooks, an ICT resource CD-ROM, assessment file, flashcards and OHTs. From book 2 onwards, there are two student books, Voilà clair being for lower ability learners.

Voilà’s Framework credentials are immediately clear. The ICT resource, called ‘Just Click’, contains ready-made starter activities, and the content of book 1 has certainly been refreshed since Nelson Thornes’ last generation of French KS3 textbook. For example, opinion phrases are dealt with in chapter one, so that pupils at the earliest stages of language learning can start to express ideas that matter to them. After an initial reaction against the heavy use of photos in the early chapters, which I felt gave the book too ‘busy’ a feel, I eventually was convinced by the truism that eleven-year olds are motivated by bright colours and found the format no more confusing than that of Voilà’s principal competitors. However, when Voilà splits into two levels at book two, I found the higher textbook to be less colourful and therefore clearer. Publishers clearly believe that the less one has a natural affinity for language learning, the more one’s attention needs to be retained by gaudy colours.

There is certainly more English in Voilà than in the previous generation of coursebooks, although it is used sensibly to explain grammar points and aspects of question answering technique. I also liked the clarity of the sommaire that concludes each chapter. As someone who tries to supplement the coursebook with my own material, I was impressed by the variety of extra resources immediately available to me. Powerpoint presentations from the CD eliminate the need for flashcards and animations and video stories would help to create possibilities for open-ended oral work with high ability learners. The graded workbooks start with book 1 (even though there is only one textbook). What I particularly liked about these was that the exercises are mostly identical content-wise in workbooks A and B, although workbook B gives the learner much less support. This would allow different pupils within the same class to have a workbook suitable to their level of ability without the teacher having to explain two exercises, and without the pupils necessarily being aware that others were engaged in a slightly different exercise. The only box that Voilà fails to tick from my wish list is grammar exercises. Despite a clear section at the back of the student book explaining the key grammar points, there were no exercises to practise them. Admittedly, grammar exercises are relatively easy to make up, but I wonder why so few textbooks choose to help out the teacher by supplying them – it would certainly make homework setting more straightforward!

I have already alluded to the ‘Just Click’ CD-ROM, which contains Powerpoint presentations, Word worksheets, animations and video stories based on the content of each chapter in the student’s book. Although these are woven into the content of the textbook’s chapters, the exercises could easily be used as an independent resource, as they are self-standing. Its cost is between £400 and £500, as you might expect from a whole-school resource, but it could certainly help to liven up a more old-fashioned textbook, such as its Nelson Thornes stablemate, Encore Tricolore Nouvelle Edition, so beloved by the independent sector.

In conclusion, I was impressed by the thought and investment that have gone into Voilà! The writers have thought carefully about how to produce a course for mixed-ability learning, and have gone the extra mile to assist teachers in the preparation of varied, exciting lessons. Inevitably, we have to pay for the extras, but I can imagine Voilà! being of use to all but the most able linguists.