Pierre Capretz passed away this April at the age of 89 in Aix-en-Provence, France - and many thousands of his students around the world mourn the loss.
Learning another language is one of the best things anyone can do to expand their horizons, and sense of common humanity. It is a skill that literally opens new worlds to the learner, and allows one to gain a deepened sense of experience about the world we all share.
When Mr. Capretz first arrived in the United States and gravitated to the profession of language instruction, he was struck by the method of teaching almost universally employed at the time. Grammar based drills and rote memorization of stuffy, unrealistic phrases was a common environment for language learners back in the 50's. 60's and 70's. And because of that approach, many, many students frustratingly gave up attempting to actually communicate with real people - convinced they just didn't have the talent for languages.
Professor Capretz, though, was convinced that this approach to language acquisition was essentially worthless, and set about devising a new system that was immersion based, and focused on real communication from the very first minute of the first class
As an professor of French at Yale University, Pierre developed what at the time was an entirely new, and revolutionary approach to helping students learn to really speak and understand French. He developed the first television (or audio-visual) method for teaching language ever produced.
French in Action was a 52 episode class build around a story - a romantic comedy - of a young American in Paris and his French girl friend. Each episode would begin with a 15 - 20 minute scene of the two characters engaged in normal French life situations that methodically developed different language skills as the episodes went along.
Then, after the dramatized scene with the actors, there would be another 20 minutes with Professor Capretz reviewing what had just been seen by using films. a mime (well, he was French, after all) and various other creative techniques to drive home the language points covered. Eventually a text book, workbook, and audio CDs were developed to accompany the videos - and all together they comprised a full course in learning French.
Au Revoir Professeur
I have been following this course off and on for years, It is still available through the good graces of the Annenberg Foundation, and remains perhaps the best course in French ever created. I went from not speaking a single word of French to a fairly high intermediate level almost entirely because of this class.
I also developed such an warm familiarity for Professeur Capretz in the process, that I almost felt as though he were a member of my family. In reality, I was a member of his.
I will continue with French in Action until I have mastered every lesson. And the fact that anyone, anywhere, can do the same is Professor Capretz' eternal gift to the world. And there are few gifts more valuable than the gift of knowledge - and helping people understand each other.
Merci professeur. Et au revoir.