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on 30 September 2013
This book infuriated me, not with the author, but with the archaic ridiculous French system of selecting and 'training' (haha) language teachers, English included. The book relates the totally legitimate idea that a highly educated and experienced in business native speaker could teach English to lycée and university students. FAIL, as Norman (fait des videos) would say. Even more so if the speaker is American (American = 'bad English').

The system does not select speakers of English, but writers in French of dissertations. It is not interested in teachers but academics. No wonder English teachers in France are often so useless. I know by personal experience too as I have two boys in the system who are bilingual and get corrected on their English pronunciation by someone who has never set foot outside France. The word 'flour' for example, in French English is 'fluuur' as in the French town St Flour.

I feel sorry for French kids. There is no hope for them if their parents can't cough up for private lessons. Ms Zuckerman's book should have been a real wake-up call for the French, but I'm sure it resulted in very little concrete action to improve things. My kids have noticed nothing new, one English teacher is still using the old version of English Live published in 1995, not even New Live!

It must have been even more insulting for the French academics to have their precious system criticised by an American than a Brit, but there is much to criticise it seems, and little to praise. It's outdated and unfit for purpose. Well done Ms Zuckerman for raising the issues.
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on 9 February 2009
A very funny, fascinating backstage look at how France produces its elites. And a real shock for people who imagine the Sorbonne to be a kind of Harvard. I'm giving it to all my friends, especially teachers and professionals trying for a second career. And, of course, anyone who has been or wants to go to France.

Here are some extracts of other reviews:

"The book is highly readable and an insightful commentary on France's recruitment process when it comes to selecting and hiring public school teachers (for lifetime contracts) through its competitive exam system known as "concours"-- literally "to run with" or better "to run against" since the author exposes with economy and mordant humor how the French system is a relentless and remorseless competition where everyone is on his/her own, and alliances (one can hardly speak of friendships) are made for punctual strategic purposes only. The most devastating revelations include the protagonist Alice Wunderland's discovery that some French English professors use the concours process as a pulpit from which to vent their knee-jerk antiAmericanism, that the concours reward top performers on a set of academic exercises that have nothing to do with testing one's ability or suitability as a classroom teacher, and that France's mediocrity when it comes to language teaching/learning has given rise to an agressively opportunistic array of private, for-profit tutoring companies whose fees are partly tax-ductible."
Remarkably funny and easy to read. Highly recommended.
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on 22 April 2011
I'm a franco american, educated in the French system from age 11, and my sister passed her English agregation just like the author, so I guess I'm authorative. The book is well worth reading. It's fun, engaging, the characters are brought to life. The insight into the strange world of the French elite of English teaching is hilarious; it's as exotic as, I imagine, learning the mores of the Amazon Indians or the Soviet Kremlin.

Negatives? I agree with Louise's comment that the naive, self-righteous policy recommendations, and the indignation, of the author are not very enjoyable. On the other hand, they are sincere and real; they make her all the more the outsider, which is what makes the book interesting. A more sophisticated and successful academic with the right witty cynicism would have written a different book.

If you're interested in any of the themes of the book: France, the French vs the Americans, Academia, teaching, languages, you'll like Sorbonne Confidential.
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on 22 April 2009
A hairraising and brilliant discovery of France at its most sensitive - teaching English. Some Alice in Wonderland trip where the entire system reveals itself to be composed in order to exclude everyone not French from the job. Hard cheese for an American thinking she knows her native tongue anything but enough.
Zuckerman is somewhat unaware of the differences between American and British English. The French system knows only of British expressions which of course underlines the anti-Americanism of it all.
The French fear of the US is unfounded as that wonderful French critic and writer Raymond Aron often emphasised in his lifetime.
The Americans have after all saved France more than once from disappearing as a nation.
The isolationism of the French however illogical and silly is still a fact and has at last been brilliantly portrayed by Zuckerman telling it all with glorious panache.
Should be obligatory reading for everyone French.
And is endless pleasure for the rest of us.
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on 19 September 2010
There were moments when this book made me laugh out loud, and then moments when I found the narrator unsympathetic and a bit of a whinger (!) This was a shame as the basic premise was excellent and to have kept a consistent light touch would have made the comments that were being made about the French education system much more telling.
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