‘Variations Stylistiques’ Published

Associate Professor Diane Dansereau is the author of a new French grammar book. photo: Ashley Bauler • CU Denver Sentry


Diane Dansereau, associate professor in the Department of Modern Languages, had a problem: She couldn’t find any books at a truly high level for her top-tier French class.

“It took me a long time to figure out why, and that is because it’s an advanced level class, and all the books that are out there, as far as I can tell—and I’ve been monitoring them—they’re advanced or intermediate,” Dansereau said. “The existing books spend a lot of time doing things like conjugating in the present tense or talking about adjectives, which takes up a whole lot of space. By the time students get to third year, they’ve had quite a bit of French, and we should be looking at only those topics that are new or really hard.”

Associate Professor Diane Dansereau is the author of a new French grammar book. photo: Ashley Bauler • CU Denver Sentry
Associate Professor Diane Dansereau is the author of a new French grammar book.
photo: Ashley Bauler • CU Denver Sentry

Her solution was rather labor-intensive— after years of working off her own materials, she assembled them into a book, published Feb. 23, entitled Variations Stylistiques: Cours De Grammaire Avancée. It is her second book, following 1990’s Savoir Dire, which is now in its second edition and standard for teaching French pronunciation.

One of her fellow professors in the Modern Languages Department, Lori Willard, can attest to just how widely-used Savoir Dire is. “I had taught from it prior to even meeting her,” Willard said. “Before I came on board at CU Denver, we were talking on the telephone, and I kept thinking, ‘Diane Dansereau, I know that name,’ and then, ‘Oh man, she wrote that amazing book.’”

One of Dansereau’s goals in writing the book was to provide quality, realistic examples of French speech. “Of the books that are out there, there are some that have good exercises. But so many of them are really boring, just things that have no context,” Dansereau said. “Even at the beginning level, it’s just not going to be interesting talking about people you don’t know and conjugating some random verbs.”

To get the quality of examples she wanted, Dansereau explored French media and even surveyed people in France itself. “I did a workshop once at a teachers’ convention, and I had around 25 people in the audience,” Dansereau said. “Most of them were native speakers, and I asked them to write down all the ways that they could think to say, ‘Where does Pierre live?’ And they came up with something like 25 different ways. All the existing books teach only two ways—the two formal ways.” While she doesn’t give students every variation, she covers the main ones in Variations Stylistiques.

“I tried to write exercises where they could discuss topics that would be of interest to them, and that they would actually use when they went to their francophone country,” Dansereau continued.

As Lori Willard explains, all this has made for a book that is very useful, in addition to simply being more interesting. “To tailor the register to the occasion or to the audience is one of the things that takes you from being an advanced speaker of a foreign language to being really truly fluent,” Willard said.

Willard’s opinion of Dansereau has only grown from their time teaching together. “She’s a true expert in her field and an excellent teacher, and really, really cares about her students,” Willard said. Dansereau herself is more modest: “I wanted to give them something that was useful.”

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