I was excited when I saw Essential French (EF) in the local library. It looked like a decent course, and it lived up to that expectation and more. It is well worth picking up if you are beginning to look at French. A number of the features stand out as worth mentioning:
By far the greatest strength of the book are the copious examples. Rather than charting declensions and conjugations, especially early on, each new form is introduced with examples. Even once some things can be addressed systematically, there are still examples and more examples. This meant that even when the explanation of usage was not very helpful or left a lot of questions (frequently, as I have lots of questions), the examples often could be used to work out the answer or “expected” usage or formation. At times there were typos that were problematic, causing me to doubt the examples, but more frequently what I thought was a mistake turned out to be a language feature as yet undescribed, eventually clarified in a later lesson.
The book is separated into 20 lessons, and four sections – not by material division, but by review chapters. These reviews were excellent, and covered the full range of topics covered in their sections. Combine this with the end-of-chapter exercises and I have to say “kudos” to the author.
Another feature that I found applause-worthy was the use of French linguistic terms for all the language topics. Tenses, noun families, adjective and pronoun families – you name it, it eventually was named in French.
There are a lot of things not covered in this book, but I have tried to judge the book on what it tried to do, not on what it might have done. While other texts might cover more voices and tenses, this one did an excellent job giving examples of those structures most likely to be found in conversations. And this included putting these tenses in both statements and questions from the very start. It made no effort to clutter things with more academic or text-only forms. The only exception to this seems to be the last-chapter-only mention of the subjunctive. EF seems to hold them as less necessary, though other texts put them way up front with the present indicative. This material weighting is likely due to changes in French itself, pushing the subjunctive out of frequent usage in casual speech.
In any case, I give this book ★★★★☆. I think it would be wise to supplement this with a good grammar for reference, but this text provides exactly the kinds of exercises and repetition that will make things stick.
Author: Muriel Placet-Kouassi
Soft Cover, 271 pages + 1CD