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Book review (ct'd):
Correct your French Blunders

Something for everyone...

Above all, the book has a clear, pragmatic approach to both basic and more advanced material. Beginners will find valuable material in the opening sections of many of the chapters. There is very much a sense that the book will "follow you through your study" and allow you to dip into gradually more advanced material. (Intermediate students will equally be able to start partway through each chapter.) Each section contains clear, boxed examples of blunders. One approach to navigating the book is thus to flick through the blunders; when you encounter one thinking "I don't know why that's not grammatical", that's your signal to start reading the surrounding paragraph. For those that want to look up a topic directly, a subject index is included.

Tacit prescriptivism

A slight concern I have is with the book's attitude towards the language. The author takes a somewhat prescriptive outlook. The danger of this approach, as opposed to a descriptive, evidence-driven approach, is that it gives the student the impression that certain utterances are not part of the language when in fact they are used by native speakers given the right circumstances. As mentioned above, the result is somewhat muddled criteria as to what constitutes a "blunder". For example, the author labels the following as blunders:

  • c'enfant (p. 24)
  • Alain, il aime danser (p. 108)
  • t'as pas fini (p. 23)
  • on s'est bien amusé chez toi (p. 111)
  • ne me donnez pas des mauvais conseils (p. 80)
  • voilà les livres que j'avais besoin (p. 129)
  • j'espère que votre voyage soit agréable (p. 234)

The first of these, I believe no native French speaker would ever contemplate saying in their wildest dreams. So in that respect, its label of "blunder" is justified (although I'm less sure that it's such a common mistake among second language learners either). But the second and third examples are paerfectly common, normal utterances, used frequently in the colloquial speech of many educated French native speakers. The next example is a minor issue of spelling: at least some grammars advocate the plural adjective or participle when on has a plural reference. But there is not concensus on this issue (e.g. Thomas quotes nous, on est parti quand même) and in any case this really is a minor spelling point, hardly a terrible "blunder" that would make the offender stand out from a native speaker! The final three examples, although (to different degrees) criticised from a prescriptive point of view and doubtless avoided by many speakers, would still be heard from some native speakers. These examples certainly merit an explanation to learners that they belong to a particular register. But putting their status on a par with the first example is a misrepresentation of the language. Sooner or later, learners will come across such sentences; they may as well be able to understand them than be erroneously told that they don't exist!

I do stress, however, that despite this approach many learners will still find good, clear, pragmatic advice in this book. Intermediate to advanced learners may reach a point where a valuable activity is to discuss some of the "blunders" which are actually possible native speaker utterances-- possibly by looking for counter-examples on the Internet-- and examining what are the specific circumstances when speakers might indeed say nous ne voulons pas un enfant (how about if enfant is used to mean "childish person"?), il l'a entré (imagine playing a game of pool), je suis content que je parte en vacances or t'as pas fini.


Despite a few concerns from a technical and descriptive point of view, this book will serve well both beginner and intermediate learners of French. It will offer clear, pragmatic advice for a range of learners, and will prove to be a good investment: a book with a good "shelf life", allowing learners to dip in and out of it over the course of their study.

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