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  • Good range of material
  • Suits many levels
  • Clear, pragmatic advice
  • Good 'shelf life'
  • Tacitly prescriptive
  • A few simplifications and inaccuracies

Book review:
Correct your French Blunders

According to its introduction, Correct your French Blunders "identifies the most common trouble spots for English speakers learning French". The book outlines a number of areas of the French language which many students and teachers will surely recognise as causing problems for learners (although without identifying exact criteria for judging its selection of to be the most common). In this review, I aim to show that this book covers a good deal of ground for both beginner and intermediate learners. As such, it will have a good "shelf life" for many learners, allowing them to dip into it at different stages of their study. Two small criticisms will be that the book is underhandedly prescriptive, representing as "blunders" both utterances that are and are not used by native speakers, and that the book contains certain technical inaccuracies. These aspects may make the book less suitable for advanced learners.

(N.B. See the bottom of this page for an overview of which sections and chapters are recommended for which levels of speaker.)

Content overview

The book's material is divided into three broad sections: pronunciation and spelling, grammar and vocabulary. The spoken language is often neglected in language learning material and so a leading chapter on pronunciation (albeit short) was a welcome sight. The chapter gives basic hints such as "don't use the English /d/ sound before j in French words", "don't pronounce French -tion with a /sh/1 sound as in English" or "don't pronounce the r or z of a verb ending". Those looking for more technical descriptions or detail will be disappointed. The chapter admits to being a "basic guide" and recommends that for more information the reader consult a "book on French phonetics that includes the International Phonetic Alphabet"2. It would have been good to see some specific works recommended. I also feel that even without resorting to phonetic transcription, some other details of French pronunciation that differ from English (such as the lack of aspiration after voiceless plosives and fricatives, or the dental position of /d, t, l/) could still have been mentioned. Nonetheless, the chapter does succeed in explaining certain points of pronunciation in a simple way, and thus gives the beginner a grasp of some material not mentioned in other beginner to intermediate textbooks.

Also consider...

Correct your Spanish Blunders
Offers similar a treatment to Correct your French Blunders for Spanish.

The chapter on spelling covers issues such as common homonyms (appelle vs appel, the -s- and -t- added to certain imperative forms, when to capitalise, and elision. Mention is also made of the 1990 spelling reform, although the author misrepresents the reform as being purely to do with the use of the circumflex (and fails to mention that in any case the reformed spellings have barely been adopted). Ironically, the author later labels as "blunders" spellings such as je jète and j'appèle (p. 167) which are in fact proposed in said spelling reform! More consistency is clearly called for here...

Then we move on to the largest section of the book, grammar. This is split into various chapters for the different parts of speech: nouns, descriptive adjectives (sic), determiners, numbers, a chapter on the use of pronouns, followed by several subchapters covering verbs before two final chapters on reported speech and questions and answers. On the whole, the section successfully mixes an overview of the basic points of each topic with some more in-depth material that is not always covered in other basic textbooks. The grammatical framework is largely traditional, which will make it readily understandable for intermediate learners but may not appeal to more advanced students. From time to time, the book's preoccupations reflect more the traditions and preoccupations of Francophone prescriptive grammars (that old chestnut the "sequence of tenses" rears its head on p. 219) than genuine issues for English-speaking learners. Occasionally the author's translation of a French term may be confusing for English speakers (past subjunctive is used for the perfect subjunctive whereas other works use this term for the imperfect subjunctive or as an umrella term for both-- perhaps the term should just be avoided altogether?). The author's prescriptive attitude appears at times to muddle her vision of what is genuinely a L2 error and what is a grammatical native-speaker utterance rejected by certain prescriptivists, both types of "error" being indiscriminately labelled as "blunders" (see the next section for examples).

But if you don't mind this perspective, the book does generally offer sound, pragmatic advice for both beginner and intermediate students, and manages to touch upon a number of more intricate points not covered by many textbooks at this level. Some points that I felt were well covered in this book include:

  • Coverage of numbers: the chapter covers both basic issues such as how to say dates with more intricate points such as le huit/*l'huit and les trois premiers coureurs/*les premiers trois coureurs;
  • Use of clitics: the chapter on pronouns covers the basics and also manages to touch on cases such as je pense à elle rather than *je lui pense;
  • Coverage of determiners: a tricky topic for L2 learners, where the book's approach of focussing specifically on typical mistakes allows the author to cover a wide range of material;
  • Tense usage: a chapter is devoted to each tense, with trickier topics such as the subjunctive and the difference between imperfect and passé composé getting more detailed coverage. It is good to see less generally covered topics such as the future-perfect getting a look-in. There is little information on more literary uses (the passé simple and imperfect/pluperfect subjunctive are not covered at all, and certain stylistic uses of the imperfect are glossed over) but at this level, that is probably a good pragmatic decision.

The final section on vocabulary covers issues such as false friends, translation of words that cause specific problems such as time, people, connaître vs savoir and relatively thorough coverage of certain prepositions. For a book of this level, the list of false friends is a little simplistic (e.g. pub is listed, without distinguishing between pub [pyb] meaning advertisement and [pœb] which does indeed mean pub). Only the meaning of the French word is given, and not the correct French translation of the expected meaning of the false friend. A chapter is rightly devoted to common prepositions, with à, de, en vs dans, sans, jusqu'à and chez getting particular attention. A summary table showing how to translate a few other common prepositions would have been a welcome round-off to this chapter. Finally, a chapter entitled constructions takes an English-French perspective, with issues such as "how to translate would".

Each chapter finishes with a couple of pages of exercises to test your comprehension of the chapter's material. Finally, at the back of the book is a set of exercises entitled "catch the blunders" relating to material contained throughout the book. A number of exercises are given, with words containing blunders highlighted in blue. More advanced students may prefer a version without the words highlighted (though I am not, of course, advocating illegal photocopying...). This seems a pertinent way to round off the book, and main criticism with these exercises is that there could have been twice as many (perhaps another set without the blunders highlighted?).

What's in it for you? Different parts of the book will appeal to learners at different levels, and the book will provide most people with something to 'grow into'.

Section Beginner/
Y2-GCSE Advanced GCSE/
A/S Level
A-Level Start of
Pronunciationpp. 3-13pp. 13-15(Revision)----
Spellingp. 17pp. 17-22pp. 17-27(Revision)--
Nounspp. 35-37; p. 46pp. 35-40; pp. 47-49pp. 41-46; pp. 50-52p. 53--
Adjectivesp. 55; p. 59-60; p. 63pp. 55-64pp. 65-68pp. 65-68p. 67?
Determinerspp. 71-75pp. 71-87pp. 71-87(Revision)--
Numberspp. 90-91pp. 90-94; pp. 97-101pp. 90-103pp. 95-106(Revision)
Pronounsp. 107pp. 107-118pp. 107-122pp. 107-129Revision plus pp. 128-132
Verbspp. 158-160; pp. 166-173pp. 137-184pp. 186-199pp. 192-244pp. 221-244
Vocabulary--pp. 277-289pp. 277-301; 304-318pp. 304-318; pp. 319-329(Revision)

1. The slant brackets are those of the book's author, although they clearly (I hope) are not intended to denote a phonemic transcription! This (mis)usage of the slant brackets could be misleading for students.
2. It is not clear why the author advocates specifically the IPA and not, for example, the American transcription system which is adopted by several works on French phonetics and phonology.

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All comments and material contained on this page are accurate to the best of the author's knowledge.