French 101: Beginning French

Prof: Mark Jensen
Office: Administration 220
Phone: (253)535-7219
Web page:
Office hours: M 1:45-2:45, T 8-10, R 10-12


Required purchase:

Optional purchase (but mandatory use):


Course goals

The primary goal of this course is to develop your communicative proficiency in some basic situations in French. You will develop an ability to really understand what people are saying and to really communicate the information you want to convey in some basic situations –abilities that will be of real use to you in any French-speaking country. You'll learn to greet people and return their greetings, express thanks, surprise, necessity, agreement, disagreement, and other basic attitudes, get basic information you need about times, places, and names, describe families, make choices, express preferences, speak on the telephone, ask people to do things, and accept or refuse invitations. This will be not a theoretical ability, but, thanks to a demanding but entertaining and highly rewarding method developed by Pierre Capretz at Yale University, an actual ability. Unlike other beginning French methods, French in Action exposes you from the start to French as it is really spoken in France, not to some ersatz French devised for teaching purposes. While this means that you will sometimes feel you're bewildered and that you'll generally find it impossible to understand everything that's being said (much less the why and wherefore of every construction you use), it also means that right from the start you'll be developing essential coping skills that will enable you to get through real-life situations later. A secondary goal of the course is to teach you about a different culture. One of the advantages of the Capretz method is its cultural authenticity. The framework for learning is a developing story featuring a large cast of representative types from a typical upper-middle-class French milieu in Paris. You'll witness hundreds of scenes typical of French life and manners and in the process will not only learn a lot of the language but a lot about French culture, too – especially if you study carefully the cultural material at the end of each lesson.

Class schedule

Typically, we'll spend three days on a lesson, and cover twelve lessons during the course. The pace is demanding: don't fall behind! The sequence of classes generally follows a three-part cycle: videotape-grammar-practice, described in the boxes below.

10 septembre : Introductions. Discussion of course. Viewing of introductory Lesson One. Discussion of study methods and expectations for the course. [For the 9:15 section this class is cancelled because of Convocation; these subjects will be covered briefly on Sept. 12.]

12 septembre : Interactive viewing of the beginning of videotape for Lesson Two.

14 septembre : Preparation for communication.

17 septembre : Toward free expression.

19 septembre : Test on Lesson Two. Begin viewing videotape for Lesson Three.

21 septembre : Preparation for communication.

24 septembre : Toward free expression.

26 septembre : Test on Lesson Three. Begin viewing videotape for Lesson Four.

28 septembre : Preparation for communication.

1er octobre : Toward free expression. Individual 15-minute conversation sessions scheduled (for Oct. 1-12).

3 octobre : EXAMEN sur la quatrième leçon. Début de la vidéo de la cinquième leçon.

5 octobre : Préparation pour la communication.

8 octobre : Libération de l'expression. Distribution du journal.

10 octobre : EXAMEN sur la cinquième leçon. Début de la vidéo de la sixième leçon.

12 octobre : Préparation pour la communication. Journal donné au prof.

15 octobre : Libération de l'expression. Quarts d'heure de conversation fixés. Journal rendu.

17 octobre : Révision pour l'examen (et une chanson !).

19 octobre : Révision pour l'examen (et une chanson !). Journal donné au prof..

22 octobre : Révision pour l'examen (et une chanson !). Journal rendu.

24 octobre : EXAMEN MI-SEMESTRIEL (Leçons 2-6). Journal donné au prof.

26 octobre : JOUR DE CONGÉ.

29 octobre : Début de la vidéo de la septième leçon. Quarts d'heure de conversation fixés. Journal rendu.

31 octobre : Préparation pour la communication.

2 novembre : Libération de l'expression. Journal donné au prof.

5 novembre : EXAMEN sur la septième leçon. Début de la vidéo - huitième leçon. Journal rendu.

7 novembre : Préparation pour la communication.

9 novembre : Libération de l'expression. Journal donné au prof.

12 novembre : EXAMEN sur la huitième leçon. Début de la vidéo de la neuvième leçon. Quarts d'heure de conversation fixés. Journal rendu.

14 novembre : Préparation pour la communication.

16 novembre : Libération de l'expression. Journal donné au prof.

19 novembre : EXAMEN sur la neuvième leçon. Début de la vidéo - dixième leçon. Journal rendu.

21 novembre : Film. Journals collected.

26 novembre : Préparation pour la communication. Quarts d'heure de conversation fixés. Journal rendu. Soirée de cinéma : « Le Genou de Claire »

28 novembre : Libération de l'expression.

30 novembre : EXAMEN sur la dixième leçon. Début de la vidéo - onzième leçon. Journal donné au prof.

3 décembre : Préparation pour la communication. Journal rendu.

5 décembre : Libération de l'expression.

7 décembre : EXAMEN sur la onzième leçon. Début de la vidéo de la douzième leçon. Journal donné au prof.

10 décembre : Préparation pour la communication. Distribution of review sheet for final exam. Chansons de Noël. Journal rendu.

12 décembre : Révision pour l'examen final.

14 décembre : Révision pour l'examen final.

18/19 décembre : EXAMEN FINAL (Leçons 2-12) à 8h le 18 pour la section de 9h15 et à 13h le 19 pour la section de 11h15.

Calculation of grades

Learning a new language requires daily effort. Because our class schedule does not permit daily classes, grading policies in the course have been designed to help you overcome this by requiring you to work with French every day, as you need to do.

Your grade will be determined as follows:

  • Participation                         15%
  • Workbook exercises              15%
  • Journals                                 10%
  • One-on-one conversations     8%
  • Chapter tests                         27%
  • Comprehensive tests             25%

    Comments on each of these components:

  • Class participation. Because communicative proficiency is the goal of this course, faithful attendance and active participation are essential to your success in learning and retaining French. For this reason, your attendance and participation, both in class and in individual meetings, will affect your grade considerably, regardless of how you do on tests. I will evaluate your participation as follows. Your presence and your participation in class will be evaluated by me after every class. You will receive either 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 for each class. Zero means you were absent (with or without an excuse: for the purposes of learning, these are equivalent); 1 means either that you arrived noticeably late or you were found to be not up-to-date in a spot check of your Workbook, which you should always bring to class; 2 means that you were present but scarcely participated; 3 means that you participated minimally in class activities; and 4 means that you made what I deem to be adequate efforts at communicating. At the end of the course I'll average these scores, and 15% of your grade will be determined by the result, on a conventional 4-point scale.
  • Workbook exercises. In many ways proper use of the Workbook is the key to the course. The exercises have been carefully designed to help you figure out, little by little, the principles that govern the French language. Some of the exercises require use of the cassette tapes; others do not. Don't do the listening exercises with the cassette first, and the others later. They have been designed to form a coherent learning sequence, so do them in the order in which they're given. After you've finished an exercise, you can check the answers in the back of the book. I will grade your workbook exercises during spot checks in class, including, but not limited to, days when chapter tests are given. For full credit, do the exercises with a sharp No. 2 pencil (writing legibly enough for me to read your writing without difficulty) and correct your answers in colored ink. This will help you identify more clearly areas you need to review for tests. At the end of the course I'll average your grades, and 15% of your grade will be determined by the result. NOTE: (1) Composition exercises: Some exercises (§§2.35, 3.51, 3.52, 3.53, 4.55, 5.50, 6.42, 6.43, 8.42, 8.43) are mini-compositions. Please mark these with the word COMPOSITION. When you to them, carefully prepare at least one preliminary draft of your work before copying the final version into your workbook. In these exercises you will be held to a higher standard and should try to write without making any mistakes. (2) Optional exercises: Some of the exercises ask you to use "documents" that appear in the textbook at the end of each lesson. Please mark these exercises (2.34, 3.50, 4.53, 4.54, 5.44, 5.45, 5.46, 5.47, 5.48, 5.49, 6.40, 6.41, 7.44, 8.37, 8.38, 8.39, 8.40, 8.41, 9.37, 9.38, 9.39, 9.40, 9.41, 10.48, 10.49, 10.50, 10.51, 11.53, 11.54, 11.55, 11.56, 11.57, 11.58, 12.48, 12.49, 12.50, 12.51, 12.52) "OPTIONAL." They are recommended but not required.
  • Journals. On October 8, at the beginning of the fifth week of class, you will receive a class journal in which you must write a double-spaced page of French on every day in which the journal should be in your possession, including the days on which you hand it in or get it back. This journal will be collected on Friday and returned on Monday. If for some reason you do not turn it in on Friday, you must write a page each day of the weekend as well, and then turn it in as usual on the subsequent Friday. On abbreviated weeks, journals should be turned in on Wednesday (i.e. on October 25 and November 21. Should you miss class on Monday, it is your responsibility to either pick up the journal in my office or to continue to write a page of French and paste it later into the journal. You'll get nine grades, and the average of these grades will constitute 10% of your final grade (note that this is the easiest part of the course, really, but that a failure to write in your journal daily and turn it in weekly will significantly hurt your grade). Grading will be lenient, provided that I feel that you are making a good faith effort; however, entries turned in late will be marked down. The journal is for free-form writing. You can do anything you like in the journal as long as you are putting French words together in meaningful sentences, and are not copying some other text. You can chronicle your activities, reflect on anything you like, write letters to friends and relatives, invent a story – anything at all. Most students make it a sort of diary, but you can do something different if you wish. One of the points of this activity is to help overcome the drawbacks of our three-day-a-week schedule (not ideal for beginning language study) by obliging you to do some French every day, so entries MUST BE ACCURATELY DATED to receive credit. This requirement is for your own benefit. Be clear that this is not a five-page assignment to be handed once a week, but a daily one-page assignment. You may use a dictionary if you wish -- copies of the Oxford Starter Dictionary, the dictionary I recommend for beginning students, are for sale in the bookshop -- but the real point of the journal is to use the French that you're learning, not look up more vocabulary words. Before you look up something in the dictionary, try to express yourself with words you know.
  • One-on-one conversations. Beginning on October 1, in the fourth and fifth weeks of the course, you'll be required to meet with me individually in my office for a conversation session. English will only be allowed during the first and last minutes of this session; during the rest of the time I may pretend not to understand if you speak English. Our meetings will last only 15 minutes, so you must arrive on time or be marked down. The point of this is to actually converse completely in French, not to deal with questions about grammar, homework, tests, etc., so questions about these should be dealt with at other times (during office hours, for example – which are also available for more conversational practice). Your performance in these five one-on-one conversations will constitute 8% of your final grade. You'll be asked to sign up for a time for these meetings by signing a schedule sheet at the beginning of each two-week period. I'll do my best to remind you of your appointment but it's your responsibility to remember and to come on time. Rescheduling missed meetings may not be possible, and missing these meetings will hurt your grade.
  • Chapter tests. There will be nine chapter tests (Lessons 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11). Each will test your aural comprehension and your knowledge of vocabulary as well as your mastery of the structures studied in the preceding week's lesson. Your average grade on these nine tests will constitute another 27% of your final grade.
  • Comprehensive tests. Mostly because it's very useful to review, there will be a mid-term exam on Oct. 24 that will determine 10 % of your grade, and a final exam on Dec. 18-19 that will determine 15% of your final grade.

A brief note on faux débutants (false beginners) : some students in class will have already studied some French. Don't be discouraged by how easy they may find the beginning lessons. Because of the authenticity of the Capretz method, experience has proved again and again that this advantage rapidly diminishes. Believe it or not, I have observed that success with the Capretz method does not, in general, correlate with previous study of French. It does relate to how faithfully you follow the NINE GOLDEN RULES FOR LEARNING WITH THE CAPRETZ METHOD given below. I defy you to apply them and fail to learn French ! Absolute beginners who have practiced them faithfully have achieved amazing results ! I can cite names !


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Nine golden rules for learning French via the Capretz method

Take the following advice and avoid the pitfalls of the rewarding but challenging Capretz method !

  • FOR EVERY HOUR IN CLASS, SPEND AT LEAST TWO HOURS STUDYING OUTSIDE OF CLASS! Actually, this should be a self-imposed rule for every college course you take if you want to get full value for the investment you're making. And remember that for most people the optimal foreign language study session is about 45 minutes – long enough to get into the subject, but short enough so that you don't get tired. Try scheduling three 45-minute sessions into your agenda between every two classes and you'll notice a big improvement in the efficiency of your studying.
  • DO SOME FRENCH EVERY DAY! Regular practice is crucial ! The best way to achieve this is to have a regular times when you study French – say, the first thing after breakfast. The journal component of the course is meant to ensure that you do this.
  • KNOW HOW TO USE THE WORKBOOK! Here's how the Workbook exercises work. Every time there's a section entitled "Observation," there is something definite you need to learn – something more general and more important than the meaning of a word or an expression. This will be easy to grasp in lessons 2-5, because there the explanations are in English. From lesson 6 on, though, the explanations are in French! Make sure you can summarize in your own words the point of the explanation before proceeding to the "Activation" exercises, which test your learning. Doing this is in my opinion the key to the course, and is, I think, the chief difference between the A students in French 101-102 and the others. Much of the Capretz method is self-instruction. -- It's a good idea to cover up what you've just studied with a piece of paper so you can resist just looking up the answer. -- Don't expect to get clear explanations of everything ! (But by all means do ask questions about what you think you ought to understand better.) Bring the Workbook to class every time.
  • LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES! The Workbook exercises are self-correcting – you will correct your own work by checking the back of the Workbook. Treat the exercises as tests, and analyze your mistakes you see what you need to study. You'll also get lots of feedback in comments on the journal.
  • FORM A PRACTICE GROUP! Join with two or three other students and meet for two 45-minute sessions twice a week. Adopt French names and act out parts, do improvisational exercises, review vocabulary, talk about difficulties. This will make learning a lot more fun.
  • GET EXTRA HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT! Visit me as often as you like during my office hours for extra help and practice. You can also meet with Laura Ricketts, the French tutor, who is available at the Academic Assistance Center.
  • DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK ABOUT GRAMMAR! The only weakness of the Capretz method is its fragmentary approach to grammar. This is probably unavoidable, given its effort to maintain authenticity – in real life, who talks much about grammar ? But French in Action also tends to introduce grammatical terms without explaining them, on the perhaps erroneous assumption that you know them already. If you don't, it's your responsibility to find out what they mean and learn them! And if you can't figure them out, just ask. You may wish to buy a copy of English Grammar for Students of French and/or a French grammar -- I recommend Langenscheidt's Pocket French Grammar for beginners.
  • STUDY ACTIVELY! After all, you need to be active if you are to develop communicative proficiency. Communication is action ! Don't just read and listen. Open your mouth ! Parlez ! Write something down ! Écrivez ! Many students find it useful to write out the text of the lesson, or to write out the answers to the questions at the end of each lesson. The more active you are, the better you learn !
  • DO MORE THAN THE MINIMUM! Strictly speaking, some elements of the class are not required. Decide now to do them all anyway! The more you put into the class, the more you'll get out of it and the more you'll take away with you. Computer exercices. We have developed extra exercises for each lesson that you can do on the Macs in the Language Resource Center in the Library. Though not strictly requried but most sections of the chapter tests are modeled on them. Should you bother doing them? That's a no-brainer! Documents. In the textbook, every lesson is followed by a set of amusing, imaginative, instructive "documents." If you're already interested in French culture, you'll probably find them irresistible There are optional exercises based on these documents in the Workbook. Surfez le web! Whether at the Language Resource Center or elsewhere, the WorldWideWeb now makes it easy to use your French in real life. On my home page [], click on "Tennessee Bob's French Links" and go from there ! Use the Language Resource Center. There are many more learning resources available for your use there.
  • Apprendre le français vous ouvrira des mondes et vous livrera des trésors sans prix ! (Learning French can open worlds to you and make available treasures beyond price !)