Memorial Ceremony for Pierre Capretz

Dear FIA fans: A memorial ceremony for Pierre Capretz on the Yale campus has been scheduled for Saturday, October 11, 2014 at 1:30 PM. Check here for details. I know your attendance would be appreciated if you can make it. I plan to go and will say a few words at the event. Many of you have already left comments here about the significance of Pierre Capretz and French in Action in your life, but I would be pleased to relay more of your thoughts and reflections to those in attendance. Please leave as a comment to this post anything you’d like me to read. Thank you.

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  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.