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Sorbonne Confidential by Laurel Zuckerman
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Sorbonne Confidential

by Laurel Zuckerman

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English (17)  French (1)  All (18)
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
A tragicomedy about an Anglophone's gut-wrenching adventure through competitive examination (l'agrégation) preps at the Sorbonne. Successfully passing the exam is a prerequisite for teaching (English in this case) in the French educational system. As an American-born, twenty year French citizen, the author finds herself (as do her non-native French peers) challenged by a system bent on preserving a very French status quo; a status quo that is demonstrably ineffective at turning out capable English speakers, relative to other European nations. An interesting perspective on cross cultural friction and the spectrum of tolerance versus accommodation versus true integration in a multi ethnic society. ( )
  traumleben | Sep 26, 2011 |
Horribly funny and true. ( )
  Mindsetter | Nov 8, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Enjoyable in a appalling sort of way -- a fairly good satire of an antiquated educational system (hopefully at least somewhat exaggerated -- if not, I really fear for the French). As another reviewer mentioned, there was no bio included with the Early Reviewer copy, and I would've loved to know more about the author and how much she did manage to find out about the system. I'd also like to try the original in French someday. ( )
  bostonian71 | Oct 25, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
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. ( )
  louiseog | Jul 30, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The author is an American forty-something former IT professional, naturalized French citizen with a French husband, mother of two children in French schools who speaks fluent French and has a degree from a prestigious French university. She decided to challenge the uniquely French competitive examination ("l'agrégation") to become qualified for 'lifetime' employment as an English teacher.

This "docu-fiction" was published in the original French version in France in 2007 and reportedly contributed to debate on education and the effectiveness of teaching English as a second language in France. In February 2009, Sorbonne Confidential will be released in the US in English.

I enjoyed this book and admire the author both for writing it in French and for taking on the entrenched French education system—what a brave woman!—however, for this review, I defer to the many excellent commentaries on this book, including those by other reviewers at LibraryThing, as well as several erudite discussions on the Internet, which anyone would be well rewarded to read in detail. I can't improve upon any of these reviews, so please do a web search, and enjoy.

The only critical comment I might make is that Sorbonne Confidential could be stronger and more vivid if the "voice" were consistent--I don't think we need the conceit that the fictitious "Alice Wonderland" is really the author, etc.--or on the other hand, make "Alice" a stronger, more blatant caricature of the author. If it is documentary, keep it so; if it's fiction, make it so...

Laurel Zuckerman's observations hit me on a very personal level from the point of view of trying to teach English in Japan. I share a few superficial things with the author—I'm from the American southwest, studied French for several years (but never went to France), and find myself married to a foreigner and living the life of an expatriate, supplementing our income by tutoring English, but in Japan.

Although I'm relieved that the Japanese don't typically prefer English to be taught by Japanese people trained by a Japanese system (which would be the mirror image of the French system), there is quite an opposite bias here for "blue-eyed-blonde" English teachers as opposed to those with dark complexions from other continents whose English is actually more proper and precise than mine.

I have encountered the exam-driven learners and the confusion of learning "British English" or "American English." Most of the time when I ask my students if they enjoy learning English, I am only faced with blank stares. Children undergo various private lessons, cram schools, private and public school curricula, but very few of them discover the fun they can have by communicating in English with real foreigners. I was surprised to find after reading Zuckerman's book that the whole situation may be even worse in France than it is in Japan in terms of wasted manpower and resources. ( )
1 vote nobooksnolife | Jan 25, 2009 |
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