une très triste nouvelle

photo by Lyre Byrd

Pierre Jean Capretz (1925-2014), photo by Lyre Byrd

Dear FIA fans,

It is with great sadness that I convey the news that Pierre Capretz passed away on Tuesday, April 1.

Below is the note sent out by Alice Kaplan of Yale’s French Department, and Barry Lydgate of Wellesley College.

Dear Friends, 

I wanted share with you the sad news of Pierre Capretz’s death. Pierre died last night in Aix-en-Provence, where he had been hospitalized.  He was 89.

Pierre gave the gift of the French language to countless students of French, here at Yale and throughout the world.  Before there was online teaching, people were watching French in Action on PBS and reinventing the story of Robert and Mireille. Pierre gave many of us our first lessons in teaching–and today his method is still the gateway to transmitting French language and culture for our faculty and graduate students. 

We will have a chance to celebrate Pierre’s life in the fall, with a commemoration at Yale.  In the meantime, our thoughts and wishes go out to his companion Sylvie Mathé, to his children, and to his many devoted friends.

Alice Kaplan, Department of French, chair

Barry Lydgate, Professor of French & Chair, French Department, Wellesley College

And here is a news release prepared for Agence France-Presse by journalist Marie-Dominique Gréau d’Oléron-Bédouet:


Il avait appris le français à presque 1 million d’Américains.

A l’âge de 89 ans, Pierre Capretz est mort hier à Aix en Provence.

Il avait inventé la méthode « French in Action » mise au point alors qu’il était depuis 1956 un des rares Français professeur de français à l’Université de Yale.

Dans les années 80, Yale University lui permettra de développer sa méthode faite de petits films construits comme un feuilleton et surtout d’une pédagogie différente.

Tels les enfants qui apprennent à parler leur langue maternelle par mimétisme, avec « French in Action » Pierre Capretz avait adopté la méthode «  je parle, tu écoutes, tu répéteras  et plus tard tu écriras ».

Les plus prestigieuses universités américaines ont adopté cette méthode d’enseignement.

De Yale à Columbia en passant par Middlebury c’est au moins une génération d’Américains qui ont appris le français grâce à « French in Action » et le parlent quasiment sans accent.

Les obsèques de Pierre Capretz auront lieu lundi 7 avril à Aix en-Provence à 15h au cimetière du Grand Saint Jean.

*UPDATE 4/4/14: here is an article on Capretz in the April 4  Yale Daily News and another in the Yale Alumni magazine.

I will always count meeting Professor Capretz at the 2010 French in Action Reunion at Yale University among the best experiences of my life. I know that many of you who were able to attend expressed the same sentiment afterwards.  What a wonderful event it was. I am glad if this blog and our participation at that event let Professor Capretz know how much we loved him. French in Action is a gift that keeps on giving. It so happens that a friend and I watched Leçon 15 (Mireille and Robert’s second meeting & in which Robert and Marie-Laure get introduced) on the evening of April 1, the day I now learn our beloved professor passed away. Yes, French in Action is known for the innovative "immersion" technique of language learning and as a showcase for the beautiful Mlle Allain, but we love it for something more: the infectious Gallic charm radiating from Pierre Capretz that infused each episode. This was a professor you didn’t want to disappoint, whose approval you wanted.  Boy, did I feel like a million bucks when he told me he enjoyed my presentation at the reunion!

We’ll miss you, Professor Capretz, but you’ll always be with us.


Sylvie Mathé & Pierre Capretz, October 30, 2010.

FIA 25th Anniversary Reunion videos now online !

FIA fans, it’s a great day for us: Tim Shea of Yale Press, organizer of the French in Action 25th Anniversary Reunion at Yale last October has just posted additional videos from that great event. They are available on the offiical FIA Reunion blog, on the Yale YouTube Channel and embedded here below.

Foremost among them is of course the skit written and performed by Charles and Valérie, "On n’a pas tous les jours 25 ans . . ." in which Robert et Mireille meet par hasard on the Yale campus and catch up on their lives over the past quarter century. Think of it as French in Action Leçon 53! Unfortunately le Prof doesn’t make an appearance at the end to break down all the dialogue with rewinds and visual aids, so if you’re like me you’ll want to replay parts of it several times over to catch everything.

Then, you’ll want to watch Pierre Capretz’s describe the "Genesis and Inception of French in Action."  Wonderful stuff!

But there’s more.  A panel of French instructors discuss the strength of FIA with co-creator Barry Lydgate.

Here Tim Shea talks about the future of the FIA texbook, workbook and other materials and Prof. Capretz reports the discovery of Marie-Laure’s diary!

At long last, these join the video of me making the case that FIA constitutes a cult (if not a dangerous one).

Thank you for posting these, Tim!  I’m predicting the Robert et Mireille video will set a record number of views for the Yale YouTube Channel!

incroyable, inoubliable !

[UPDATE  16 Nov '10: Tim Shea of Yale Press has set up a site for the official photos (up now) and audio and video (coming later) from the réunion at http://fiareunion.wordpress.com/.  Merci, Tim !  Photos that I and my wife Therese took can still be found here and Lyre_byrd has more great photos here. Particularly with all this documentation, I thought the word "inoubliable" needed to be added to the title of this post.]

Back from the réunion.  I’m still pinching myself.  Was it all just a dream?  Did I really meet Professeur Capretz, Valérie Allain and Charles Mayer?? Wait…I have all these photographs. It must have really happened!

It was a fabulous time, as those of you who were lucky enough to have been able to attend know.  It was wonderful to meet a number of you.

My photos of the great event (and those taken by my wife, Therese) are now available on Flickr. Enjoy !

Also, here’s a nice interview of Prof. Capretz that ran in last Friday’s Yale Daily News.

Some who couldn’t attend have asked for a summary of the events.  That’s a tall order!  What I can do is reproduce the schedule from the two days which will give you some idea of what you’re seeing in the photos. All the events were videotaped and, if I understand correctly, will be eventually be made available to the public. Probably the highlights for us FIA fans were Professeur Pierre Capretz’s description of the history of FIA, the question-and-answer session with Charles and Valérie and of course the skit they put on Sunday morning.   A special surprise was that all attendees received an 8×10 glossy of Mireille et Robert, autographed by them.  I hope that we won’t have too long to wait for the official videos and photographs!

The French in Action Reunion at Yale

A 25th Anniversary Celebration

Saturday, October 30

Whitney Humanities Center, 53 Wall Street

8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.: Registration and continental breakfast

9:15 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.: Opening remarks by Pierre Capretz and Barry Lydgate

Introduction of guest speakers Carol Herron, Diego Arciniegas, and John Lytle

10:00 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.: How French in Action was born: a synopsis of the development, filming, and launch of the program: Pierre Capretz

10:45 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.: Coffee break

11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.: Question and anwer session with Pierre Capretz, Valérie Allain, and Charles Mayer, moderated by Brian Reilly

12:00 p.m. to 12:45 p.m.: Reinvention de l’histoire: examples of student work shown on video

12:45 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.: Lunch break

2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.: Teaching and Learning with French in Action in 2010: A panel discussion featuring Barry Lydgate, Carol Herron, Ruth Koizim, Catherine Ostrow, and Sylvaine Egron-Sparrow, moderated by Brian Reilly

3:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.: Coffee break

3:45 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.: Looking Ahead: French in Interaction and new editions of the textbooks and workbooks

6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.: Cocktail hour, Yale Commons, 168 Grove Street

7:30 p.m.: Banquet, Yale Commons

Sunday, October 31

Whitney Humanities Center

9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.: Breakfast

10:00 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.: John Sullivan: French in Action dans le monde

10:45 a.m. to 12 noon: On n’a pas tous les jours 25 ansLes Retrouvailles de Robert et Mireille: A Special Performance by Valérie Allain and Charles Mayer

It’s official!


click above to go the announcement and registration page.

une réunion à Yale !

I’m breaking the news before it’s official, but word is that a French in Action reunion WILL happen at Yale University October 29-31.  Charles Mayer left a message in the Discussion section last week. I shot an e-mail off to the Professor to ask if it were true and today I received a response.

Professor Capretz writes:
Yes, indeed, we are planning a FIA Reunion for October 29-31 in Yale, because of you: visitors to your blog have suggested it.
Of course everybody interested will be welcome. We will mail an announcement and, of course will send a message to your blog as soon as the plans are fairly definite. At this time we expect "Mireille" and "Robert" to be present as well as many members of the old gang. We are thinking of talking about how FIA got to happen, having a round-table about learning and teaching with FIA, showing some  students brilliant and funny accomplishments in Reinvention de l’histoire, and showing how FIA is going interactive. We will welcome any suggestions that you and visitors to your blog would be kind enough to  send.

Don’t keep him waiting, send in your suggestions as comments below!

However, on a very worrysome note, Prof Capretz  relates that he’s recuperating from recent heart problems.  I know all FIA fans join me in wishing him a speedy recovery.  I hope it will do his heart good to see and meet many of us for whom FIA has been hugely important and useful in our lives!

Here’s a suggestion: how about a FIA Halloween party (all 80’s music, of course) with prizes for the best FIA look-alikes?

Hope to see you in New Haven, Connecticut at the end of October!

Robert and the weatherman

Hey FIA fans, after watching Leçon 32 for the umpteenth time, I note this detail that ought really to be added to the FIA Fans Wiki entry for this episode.  (Anyone care to help resurrect the wiki?)  At the beginning of the teleplay, Robert, perdu comme toujours, gets directions to the Belleau household from a guy on the street who a short time later is seen presenting the weather on the Belleau’s television.  It was clear that this was the cameo of someone well known, at least to the French. There is no credit at the end, but I listened to Professor Capretz say the man’s name during his review of the dialogue and got it close enough to Google it. (Of course I could have just looked at the text of the dialogue.) He is Alain Gillot-Pétré and he was France’s most famous TV weatherman at the time and apparently much beloved. Unfortunately he died in 1999 when he was just short of 50 years old.

Professeur Capretz et ses réponses à notres questions, Partie Deux

Dear FIAfans,

Here, in part two of this Mystère et Boules de Gomme blog exclusive, are Pierre Capretz’s answers to the remainder of our questions on casting and production of FIA, controversies surrounding FIA and its future.  Thanks to everyone who submitted questions and of course a huge thank you to Professor Capretz for his willingness to answer them for us!  Lots of great stuff below, including information on a possible French in Action reunion on which Prof asks us for input, so please provide it!   Enjoy and leave comments!

Continue reading

Professeur Capretz nous répond !

capretz1At long last we have what we’ve been waiting for (the delay is all my fault): answers to our many questions from our Dear Professor, Pierre Capretz.  I organized our questions, including my own, into five categories: I. biographical, II. creation and development of FIA, III. casting, IV. controversies, V. the future of FIA and VI. miscellaneous.  We have answers to the first two categories below and the others are on the way.  This is without doubt the best thing to ever happen to this blog and for FIA fans like us in a long time.  I am so grateful to the Prof. Capretz for taking his time to inform us and humor us.  He gives us some great insights into the early history of FIA.  I tried to phrase my questions en français and my apologies to all real French speakers.  J’attends avec impatience la suite! Continue reading

Demandez au professeur !

pierre_web Dear fellow FIA fans:  I know I haven’t been the best at updating this blog.  Mes excuses. But now, I feel, the culmination of all my years of loving French in Action is at hand and I have been floating on a cloud since Friday.  The reason?  J’ai reçu un email de notre prof, Pierre Capretz! He has graciously agreed to answer our questions.  If you’ve been following the comments in our Discussion section, you know we’ve been talking about this for several months.  The credit really goes to FIAfan Steve who emailed Dr Capretz a few months back and got the ball rolling on this.  At that time I suggested in the Discussion comments that you send me your questions for the good professor and some of you have done this.  But now this thing is really going to happen and I need each and every one of you to search your soul and give me your best questions for Professor Capretz.  Pop in an FIA videocassette or DVD or watch an episode on the Annenberg site to whet your imagination.  Send your questions in as comments to this article. (Don’t worry if your question doesn’t appear immediately; because of the volume of spam getting around the WordPress spam blockers, I now have to approve every comment before it appears.)  I will take your questions, along with my own, put them into a semi-coherent order, and email them to him.  I’ll post his responses as an article here on Mystère et boules de gomme.

Our correspondence and the comment form for you to leave your questions are below the fold: Continue reading

la Closerie des Lilas

Closerie facade F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, Amedio Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre, Gertrude Stein…the list goes on and on of giants of the arts and letters who, when in Paris, sought out the peaceful setting of la Closerie des Lilas for their preferred beverage, a bite to eat, and inspiration.

But for us FIA fans, two names eclipse all these others when we think of the la Closerie: Robert Taylor and Mireille Belleau. It was at this hallowed spot that Robert and Mireille spent leçons 19–21 in animated conversation. It was here in Leçon 20 that Robert becomes a bit dérangé by Mireille’s rapturous description of her prof d’art grecet paf, over goes his kir onto her skirt.

Mireille et Robert à la Closerie des Lilas

One morning last summer, my wife and I headed here for a rest after our perambulations through the Jardin du Lux. We hoped it would look as it had in FIA and we weren’t disappointed. Continue reading

un changement de look

As you can tell, I changed up our look here at Mystère et boules de gomme. I did this over frustration with the way the old template (Tarski) screwed up the Discussion page. Comments were forced below the long list of links. (Other than that, I liked Tarski just fine.) With this template this issue is solved, while other nice features, like the organization of the links, are maintained.

Qu’en pensez-vous? Continue reading

Notre wiki est né

Was it at a recent meeting of 40 members of the Académie Française that the gender of "wiki" was decided? (C’est masculin.) One more infantryman in the invading army of foreign words the French have to deal with: in this case not an English word, but a Hawaiian one, that has come to mean a collaborative website that anyone can contribute to. (Did I end that sentence with a preposition?) In any case, FIAfans now has its own wiki via Wikispaces. Continue reading

Favorite FIA Parisian Scenes

FIA is not only a "tour de force" of the French language, but it is also a grand tour of the most beautiful city in the world – Paris. Each of us fans probably has several sights and sounds from the series that are most memorable. Two of my favorites are the Fontaine Medicis in Luxembourg Garden:

Fontaine Medici

Continue reading

32, rue Guynemer


With apologies to the current tenants of this stately building who must now suffer more FIA fans out front each day snapping pictures, there it is, the real address of a fictional family that lives forever in our hearts. I might have hesitated to publish it at all, given the desire of notre prof to keep it a secret, were it not for the fact that le chat est déjà sorti du sac. Continue reading

18, rue de Vaugirard


Been a bit quiet here lately, hasn’ it? Yes, well my excuse is a good one: I’ve been in Paris. While there, you can be sure, I paid visit to some FIA terre sacrée and collected some material for this blog. And what place better qualifies than 18, rue de Vaugirard? Does it exist?

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