In addition to my literary pursuits, I have a more mundane vocation: that of tutoring high school students preparing to take their SAT’s. When I was offered the chance to tutor a high school senior in French, I welcomed the novelty, eager to practice my own linguistic skills.
Since I had not conversed in French with anyone for quite some time, I decided that a crash refresher course was in order. When I noticed a set of Rapanese tapes sitting on a bureau in my brother and sister-in-law’s apartment, I thought that they looked intriguing, and asked to borrow them. The musical method of learning French, I mused. What a concept. Ha!
The basic idea is not totally without merit. Creator Robert D’Amours’ aim is to make the learning of a language interesting, original and somewhat quirky by setting it to music. The course consists of one 92-minute and two 60-minutes cassette tapes divided into Series I and II. Included inside each box are the French and accompanying English translations of numerous words and phrases, most of which will prove totally useless to travelers.
Instead of teaching the listener sentences like Where is the bathroom? or I would like a glass of wine, Rapanese gives you You are going to study monkey in the snow and I’m going to eat a camel with a hat. (I’m not making this up)! I suppose that a few of the phrases will come in handy once in a while, but Rapanese falls far short of giving you the basics.
The music, such as it is, is pretty bad. Fortunately, D’Amours doesn’t use rap, but his selection is far from sonorous. After conversing briefly with a French national, D’Amours says something in French, then gives the English translation. Several minutes of this ensue, at which point the musical accompaniment sets in, D’Amours screams a sentence in English, and his French assistant chants or sings the French equivalent. The pair repeats each phrase three or four times.
D’Amours’ French accent is atrocious. This is surprising, given that he is French-Canadian and should know how to speak French fluently, aside from the fact that he is a teacher of French (as well as Spanish and Japanese). Maybe his poor accent is fake, deliberately grating on the ear in order to achieve some added humor effect. Rapanese is funny, but the main point I suppose is to be useful.
If you want to amuse your French waiter by telling him We are going to sing with a dumb seagull, purchase Rapanese. If you want to order a meal, find the metro, or ask about a good hotel, use some other method of study.