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While learning this new language, Alice vows to...
While learning this new language, Alice vows to investigate: Why devise an English exam that few native speakers can pass ? Could this explain why French schoolchildren rank last for English skills in Europe? Is it true that Frenchness is a question of formatting? If so, can a foreigner ever become truly French? As riots break out among the children of immigrants, Alice cannot help but wonder: could there be any connection between her bewildering experience and theirs?
A dual national, graduate of France's top business school (HEC), mother of bilingual children and former French city councilor, Zuckerman closely based Sorbonne Confidential on her experiences at the Sorbonne in 2005.
PRAISE FOR SORBONNE CONFIDENTIAL
THE PARIS TIMES - "Funny and ferocious, Sorbonne Confidential offers new insights into the challenges of integration and education in France."
THE TIMES - « Laurel Zuckerman has split the academic world with a book that relates her experience at the heart of the archaic French teacher-training system."
EDUCATION REVIEW - "Sorbonne Confidential... illustrates how objective measures can be far from objective-a concept often difficult to see when looking only at one's own context. It illustrates how rigor by itself can distract, exclude, and alienate. By taking on an institution that began before the American Revolution, the book demonstrates how systems can develop around programs, allowing them to self-perpetuate without regard for their impact on schools and society. At some level, the book is also an argument for the power and importance of teacher education and of the need for systems that care more about creating good teachers than objectively assigning scores.
THE GUARDIAN - "[Zuckerman's] account of her experience in France's teacher training system has... sparked a furious debate over the country's uneasy approach to English."
LE MONDE DE l'EDUCATION - "The candidate imagines that being a native English speaker constitutes an advantage. She learns rather that it is a handicap. Her tribulations are the pretext for exploring with humour some of the elements which explain why French students rank last in Europe for English
LE POINT - « Her tragi-comic story explains how France produces the worst English teachers in the world »
L'EXPRESS - « Absurd, ill-adapted, discriminatory. And dramatically funny...The French university system seen through the half naïve, half incredulous eyes of an American. The reader laughs a lot and concludes that reform is urgent"
Posted January 27, 2013
A lively - and extremely funny - attempt to solve the riddle: why can't the French speak English? All those years of study, all that hard work, all that expense! And for what? In study after study, the French score horribly in English. And it's not for lack of trying.
In Sorbonne Confidential, Laurel Zuckerman takes a deep dive into the peculiarly French system that produces such results. To the despair of parents, children - and the teachers themselves. Refreshing.
Posted February 12, 2010
Laurel Zuckerman's excellent acccount of her experience preparing for the "agrégation" in English, the competitive French exam which qualifies one for the best paying jobs teaching English, is by turns funny, sad, angry, smart and intriguing. It's also pure theater of the absurd.
The central absurdity is that the exam is actually biased against native speakers of English by focusing on formal French when it might better be focused on conventional English. While this does preserve the best jobs for the French and suggests another defensive movie to preserve "la Francophonie", it does so at the expense of French children. French students rank last in Europe in mastering English, and English -- as French parents are well aware -- is the international language of business. Those sufficiently well-off can afford private lessons and sending their children to English speaking countries for summers. But what about those without the means?
The book touches also touches on a variety of topics -- national identity and its defense, what do we teach when we teach language, and how national stereotypes emerge. If you have any interest in these topics, I strongly recommend this book.
Posted June 7, 2009
Sorbonne Confidential is the story of a middle aged American woman in Paris who needs to reinvent herself after losing her job. Her logical decision to become an English teacher accidentally throws her into a world as absurd and disorienting as Alice's Wonderland.
Struggling to succeed in order to retain the respect of her husband and children, the heroine must overcome surreal obstacles, including learning English from prickly non-native speakers who cannot, under any circumstances, be corrected when they make an error. She cannot help but wonder why the preparation for becoming an English teacher has so little to do with English or teaching. If this elite exam is not really about English, what then is going on?
Sorbonne Confidential's publication in France caused a sensation. It documented, with a humor little short of ferocious, the inner workings of one of France's most prestigious, and contestable, institutions: the elite competitive exam.
It is a thrilling and very funny expose that reads like a novel. Well-documented and easy to read, it invites the reader to reflect on the difficult balance between tradition and identity, and the impossible task of training teachers to teach.
A great book about France, language, teaching and integration. Highly recommended!