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Excellent organisation and suitable for most levels of student

Product review:
Mastering French Vocabulary (Barron's)

Barron's Mastering French Vocabulary provides a large range of vocabulary, ranging from the most basic words for identifying and addressing people, to more advanced (though non-technical) vocabulary on topics such as justice, computers and the environment. It would be well suited to students at A-Level or baccalaureate level, or for learners who know the basics but want to get to the level where they can comfortably communicate and understand a variety of French material. However, because of the book's organisation (see below), it would also be suited to students at lower levels who are planning to continue their French studies to a more advanced level later on.

LevelVocab itemsExample sentences
Table 1: Summary of vocabulary in Mastering French Vocabulary

The authors of Mastering French Vocabulary have paid a good deal of attention to the organisation of the material and, unlike various other vocabulary guides on the market, have provided a clear indication of the rationale behind their selection of vocabulary:

  • within the familiar topic and subtopic structure, vocabulary is organised into "basic" and "advanced";
  • within each subtopic, a further level of organisation means that, for example, a word will tend to be followed by related vocabulary (e.g. âge is followed by various other words and phrases to do with age);
  • many items are also followed directly by example phrases or sentences, which either clarify the way in which a particular word is used, or provide more vocabulary connected with that word;
  • items are chosen due to criteria such as their frequency, topicality or inclusion in particular databases or teaching courses, with total counts as indicated in Table 1 (see the book's introduction for more details);
  • although the work is essentially a vocabulary book rather than a grammar book or course, a number of additional information boxes give further explanations of grammar points relevant to the vocab presented;
  • for those familiar with phonetic transcription, a fairly broad IPA transcription is given of each item as an indication of pronunciation.

A very minor criticism is that occasionally the distinction between "basic" and "advanced" appears culturally outdated. For example, polaroïd is judged to be "basic", whereas DVD and casque are "advanced" (there's apparently no mention of MP3). I wonder how many decades it is since polaroid snaps were really last at the top of the conversational agenda...? It would have been nice to see more focus, for example, on words and phrases connected with dealing with digital media. Note that, in contrast to 6000 Essential French Words, there are no exercises (but it's not clear to me that exercises are really so vital or useful in a reference book such as this). The latter work also omits various very basic words in favour of more advanced vocabulary, so very advanced students may prefer 6000 Essential French Words over the Barron's offering.

But overall, Mastering French Vocabulary will be an excellent resource for students at a range of levels, and for those still at a basic to intermediate level, it will prove a good investment, and potentially "carry you through" several years of study.

Buying Mastering French Vocabulary:

US Mastering French Vocabulary
GB Mastering French Vocabulary
CA Mastering French Vocabulary

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