1925 - 2014
Pierre Capretz, creator of French in Action, the innovative French language instruction program, died on April 2 in Aix-en-Provence, France. He was 89 years old.
French in Action, introduced in 1985, is a total immersion course, built around the light comedy of an American-boy-meets-Parisian-girl video series, and modeled on language acquisition in young children; you hear, you mimic, you repeat, and gradually you acquire understanding and build a natural grammar. From the outset of the course not a word of English, or any other language than French, is used. It's estimated that the course has created over a million new French speakers, who found the program on PBS and cable television in its first years, and through universities and high schools across North America and overseas. Each video leçon Is led by Le Professeur, a jovial and entertaining guide and mentor to grasping the fundamentals of French, and becoming imbued with a soupçon of Frenchness: Pierre Capretz, naturally.
Pierre Capretz, born in Mazamet, France, was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris, from which he earned a law degree, then a doctorate. His long career in language instruction began at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and went on to Yale University in 1956, where he taught until his retirement. He devoted his last years to preparing a revised third edition of French in Action, bringing the narrative into the age of Twitter and "les bobos", the French counterparts to the Brooklyn brownstone bohemians, and contemplating an all new "French in Interaction", a fully digital program.
He is survived by his companion of many years, Sylvie Mathé and their son Pierre Olivier Mathé, both of Aix-en-Provence, three sons from a marriage which ended in divorce, Michel Yan of Mill River, Mass., Yves of New Haven, Conn., and Alain of Manhattan, and one grandson.
Published in The New York Times from Apr. 15 to Apr. 20, 2014