Monday, 27 July 2015

Book review: Other Cats to Whip: The Book of French Idioms


Summer's a great time to catch up on some reading!  Its also the time that I get to look at new books and resources that come out and think of how I can use them in my class.  This book review is for the book Other Cats to Whip: The Book of French Idioms by Graham Clark and Zubair Arshad.  The book is about 45 pages (closer to 85 in PDF), published by Idiomatic Publishing, Ltd. and was published this year, May 2015.

Other Cats includes over 50 French idioms, and cartoons that accompany the phrases.  Most helpfully, for each idiom, the authors provide an example of how to use the phrases in conversation, as they would be used by native speakers. 

The book is illustrated with funny drawing of the literal meaning of the idioms, like "pulling worms out of someone nose."  I think that these images are memorable, and if I use it with my students, I believe that there are several images that they will remember.  I think that this would lead to them trying to use the idiom that went with the image they connected with.   Since I had read the book, I know that I have use a couple of the idioms, because of the visual memories of the illustrations. 

The best part of this collection, is that all the idioms that are highlighted, seem like turns of phrases that would be useful to know-- that is they readily relate to some English idioms that we use.  Metaphoric language can be difficult for students to understand in their first language, being able to highlight similarities in their L2 would be a great asset in introducing and using more colloquial French including idioms.  Oddly enough, I use a few idioms that were in the book-- the main one being "C'est chouette!"  I say oddly, because I wasn't aware that was an idiom!  Just another symptom of learning French from living in a French country! 

While there were some of the idioms I had heard before, there were others I was not familiar with at all nor were my Franco-friends that were from Southern France and Senegal.  That's doesn't mean they aren't useful, just that I'm not sure how commonly they are utilized.   What I would have liked to see is some explanation of where the idiom is used, how it came to be, which idioms were more common than others... a little more information for the questions I had and I'm sure my students will have.  Also, the illustrations for the idioms are in greyscale, and I would love to see them in full colour. 

One concern I would have reading this to some of my students is a few of the jokes and one of the idioms included a rude word-- "cul" which translates loosely to "ass,"  so that is one idioms I wouldn't read in class.  Also, in the introduction, the author alludes to a rude word in a funny story about how the book came to be.  Probably more appropriate for the high school kids in those two instances.

Overall, I think that this could be a useful resource to bring some of those more authentic pieces to your students conversational skills.  There are a couple of ways that I would use this book in my  class.  If the illustrations were in color, they would be a great display for the wall to encourage me and students to try and use them.  I may have an idiom of the month, and display one page for the month and track students that use it.  Like a type of contest that could bring the use of the idioms to the conversations that we have in class.

Another idea that I had was to use the pages as large flash cards for the idioms.  Each idiom has an illustration, and then on the next page the translation of the important words of the idiom, as well as an example.  This would be a great set of cards to play "J'ai... Qui a..." with.  Students would read the example of the idiom, and the matching card-- the illustration would be the match.  That could be a fun game for the class to read the book together. 

If you are interested in learning more about Other Cats to Whip: The Book of French Idioms visit the book's website http://thebookoffrenchidioms.com/  for a preview and more information on the paperback version; or you can purchase the e-book on Amazon for Kindle.

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Disclaimer:  I was provided with a free digital copy of this book in order to write this book review.  The copy was provided to me so that I could write an honest review of the book and its use in the FSL classroom.  I do not receive any monetary compensation for my review of resources, and all opinions and comments are my own. 

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