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Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Foreign Language Instruction Films of the early 1960s


View selected films from the 'Je Parle Français (1961) and Emilio en España (1965) series

Note: We are trying to find extant audio tape recordings from any of the EB instruction series. If you have them, please contact us.

The purpose of this page is to describe three groundbreaking foreign-language instruction series of films made by EB in 16mm format in the 1960s: Je Parle Français, La Familia Fernández, and Emilio en España. They were all produced by Milan Herzog, who passed away in 2010, at the age of 101. Films in these series have almost entirely disappeared from media libraries, and were apparently discontinued by EB from approximately 1977 onward.  Departing dramatically from how foreign languages had been previously taught, the EB series consisted of video-audio-lingual instruction (VAL), a term coined by Charles Benton, in which films would be coordinated with audio tapes and visual aids, including filmstrips. The series were based on a continuous narrative, with the same characters appearing in each series’ films. They were well-directed, well-acted, suggested some degree of character development, and were intended to impart important elements of the culture, as well as the language.

The series are described below. If you have access to any of these films, wish to donate them to our archive, or have stories or anecdotes relating to the making of these films, please contact us, as the films, and the history of their making, are historically significant.

Je Parle Français, Premier Degré (1963) 

The 'Je Parle Français' series of French Language Instruction films was filmed in 1960-61 and produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica Film's Milan Herzog in conjunction with Otterbein College professor LaVelle Rosselot, and Georges Matoré, Dean of the Language & Civilization Dept, Sorbonne. Rosselot was the prime educational consultant and curriculum developer for the film project. Her father was a history professor at Otterbein, and her brother Gerald was one of the founders of Scientific Atlanta. She makes at least one appearance in the series as herself in lesson #7,'Pouvez-vous Me Dire...' Referring to the same episode, noted academic filmmaker, and later head of Special Effects for industrial Light & Magic Tom Smith writes: "In lesson #7 (18:43), I dubbed the voice of the fellow coming down the stairs carrying a tennis racket. 'Hi Chris, see you later.' The French actor playing the role had a bad accent when he spoke English so Milan used me."

The films were made by Tadié-Cinema in France, and distributed by EB in 1963. The camerawork was by Georges Strouvé and Jacques Duhamel. Actors were not credited in the films, but several were listed in the Teacher's Manual. They included Jean Renoir film veteran Ghislaine Dumont as Margot. There were 120 films made in the series, most of which were between 4 and 8 minutes in length. No film was longer than 10 minutes in duration. There were 62 speaking roles in the series and a crew of 16.

The films are notable for spectacular footage of important French monuments, such as Mont Saint-Michel and the chateaux of the Loire. They depict France as it was in 1961, including wonderful fashions (e.g. the magnificent dress worn by the wife in the 'Chaumont' film), family members smoking cigarettes in the films, and the relative lack of motor traffic. The story line revolves around the travels through France of Anne, a Québecoise, her French friend Margot, and Margot's uncle, who acts as her guide.

Today, aside from what may be in EB’s vaults, no complete edition of these films appears to be extant, and teacher’s manuals are nearly impossible to find. It is believed that manuals were in 4 volumes, covering lessons 1-27, 28-66, 67-81, and 82-120 respectively.

In 1970, Je Parle Français Deuxième Degré, Nouvelle Édition , was distributed by EB, consisting of what are to believed to be 20 films. They are not part of the Herzog/Rosselot series, and consist of a series of travelogues with French dialogue. In 1974, EB released an updated series of Level 1 French instruction films, Je Parle Français Premier Degré, Deuxième Éditionconsisting of 20 titles, each of which was directed by Michel Beaudry, Michel Boyer, Jean Goumain, or Jean Leduc. This series, produced by Edward F. “Frank” Wilgocki, Jr., may have also been distributed under the name Pays Francophones. It is believed that these newer editions caused many schools to de-accession the older 1961 series,  accounting the rarity, or perhaps total disappearance from extant media libraries, of the earlier series today.

La Familia Fernández [View lesson 54, 'Otra Carta']

This was the first-level Spanish course that was part of EB’s El Español por el Mundo series. It was filmed in Mexico in 1963 and produced by Herzog in conjunction with educator John W. Oller, who was the prime educational consultant and curriculum developer for the film project. Also serving on the consulting team was Angel González Araúzo. The films were produced by EB in collaboration with the Department of Education of the Republic of Mexico. The film director for this series of 54 titles was Irving Rusinow. There was a cast of ten individuals, some of whom were, or became, well-known. Among them were:

bulletRodolfo Landa, who played Sr. Fernández, was an actor/producer, born Rodolfo Echeverria, and was the brother of future Mexican President Luis Echeverría. He appeared in Luis Buñuel’s 1955 film ‘Ensayo de un Crimen,’and died in 2004.
bulletRené Dupeyrón, who plays Pepito, later appeared in ‘The Wild Bunch’ and ‘Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.’
bulletHoracio Casarín, who played Sr. Gutiérrez, was a well-known soccer star. His wife, María Elena, played Sra. Fernández.

 Emilio en España  [View lesson 11, Campos Manchegos, and lesson 12, Molinos de Viento]

This was the second-level Spanish series that was part of EB’s El Español por el Mundo series. It was filmed in Spain in 1964 and produced by Herzog in conjunction with educator John W. Oller, who was the prime educational consultant and curriculum developer for the film project. Also serving on the consulting team was Angel González Araúzo. The films were co-produced by EB and Ancora Films, in collaboration with the Ministerio de Educacción Nacional, España. Films were directed by Antonio Ribas, who, it is assumed, is Antoni Ribas i Piera, b. October 27, 1935 in Barcelona, d.October 3, 2007. 

This series is notable in that follows Emilio, from the first-level Fernández series, as he travels through Spain, visiting his grandfather in Sevilla, and his cousin Paco in Barcelona. Not only are various regions in Spain explored, but differences in Castellano and American Spanish are contrasted. There were 27 films in the second-level Emilio series.  

EB’s third-level Spanish series began with 10 titles in the Coloquios Culturales series, made by the same production team, with the same actors, and following the story of Emilio as he leaves Sevilla and flies to Barcelona. We’ve been unable to find a teacher’s or student’s manuals for these films, and are unsure as to whether they were actually ever released commercially.  The Coloquios films were identified in the private collection of Milan Herzog (now here at the AFA), printed on Eastman film, and contained all titles. 

EB’s level-three Spanish series ends with 10 films in the Emilo series, and again, we have to teacher’s manual to confirm that their distribution. In summation, there appear to be 47 films in the Emilio series, 27 level-two, and ten level-three. Ten of them were called Coloquios Culturales films, with the same production team and narrative continuity.  

John W. Oller, who served as the educational collaborator and creator of the curriculum, also served as the collaborator on at least 9 other Spanish language films for EB, on the subjects of art, dance, theatre, and culture. 

These films are among the most extensively researched and produced foreign language instruction films ever made. Their story lines, acting, and directing were exceptional. The fact that they’ve almost completely vanished from institutions and libraries in unfortunate, as is the dearth of documentation in terms of teacher’s manuals and other materials.  

Please contact us if you can add to the story by providing more information.

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