Yes, my title is true. Three years of high school French and I didn’t learn even a third of what is contained in this book. For example, we were never even taught the imperfect past tense, which I was surprised to learn is one of the fundamentals of the language and is constantly used. Over 15 years have gone by since then, and during that time all my knowledge of the language (what little there apparently was) was forgotten, so basically I have had to start from square one again. This book claims to cover everything from beginner level (day one, not even knowing how to say a single word) up through intermediate. This is mostly true, there are some relatively higher level concepts covered near the end, but the majority of the book focuses on the fundamentals and is aimed more toward the novice. In total there are 40 chapters.
Each chapter begins with a small dialogue between two or three people, written in French, followed by a translation afterward. Then the real lesson will begin, which expands on the material introduced in the dialogue. Each chapter will cover about four or five concepts, and the chapter itself is only about five pages long on average, so they are admittedly pretty brief. There are no frills in the book – no pictures, no colors, nothing like that. It gets right down to business with explaining in a few sentences how the concept works, conjugates a new verb if need be, and gives an average of about five example sentences to demonstrate how the word or phrase is used. A short vocabulary list finishes the chapter along with a page of questions you can use to test yourself. All in all the chapters are laid out nicely, logically flowing from one topic to the next. Perhaps the best part is it presents the ideas in a way that is not boring. It succinctly explains the concept without getting bogged down in heavy grammatical rules. This makes it an “easy read”, I guess as far as a language textbook can be. It's not dry or tedious, like other sources I have since read.
Though this book covers a wide array of subjects, it is designed primarily for people either completely new to the language or those looking to brush up on their skills after years of neglect. The downside is that some of the more advanced concepts are just given a brief mention in the later chapters. Tenses like the pluperfect, conditional, and subjunctive are hurriedly thrown into the final handful of chapters and don't get as much attention as they deserve. It gives you enough information to get a handle on the concept and get started, but there's a lot more detail you would need to know in order to feel confident in actually using these. For example, the future tense is introduced on page 290, with an explanation of how to conjugate it, a list of the irregular verb stems, and a few examples. Then on page 293 the book jumps straight into the future perfect tense and gives only three example sentences for how to use it, then the chapter ends, with the following one diving straight into the conditional tense. I think something like a new compound tense warrants more attention, and certainly more examples. It's not that it's a hard concept to grasp, but it is difficult to really get a feel for its proper usage in only three sentences. Likewise, the use of the present participle barely receives two pages. This is enough to where I can recognize it and translate the meaning while reading it, but I wouldn't feel ready to use it on my own yet.
But when all is said and done the main question you probably want to know is: “Will I really be able to speak fluent French after reading this book?” The answer, of course, is no. Unless you are John Travolta's character from Phenomenon you are going to need to seek other sources that cover these subjects in greater detail. And of course, spend years practicing. But this book will give you a very solid foundation from which to start. It touches on a little bit of everything so you will at least have been exposed to the ideas, even if you don't yet fully understand them. If you do go on to read a book written in French afterward you would likely be able to understand a great deal of it just by being able to recognize the tenses shown to you here. And of course having a good dictionary helps.
I read through this in a month, felt I understood most of the concepts, and decided to give an actual French novella a try: Le Petit Prince. I struggled at first, since French uses a tense only found in literature (which actually is briefly mentioned in chapter 40 of this book, so that was very helpful), but I was able to complete the story. I may not have understood every single word or usage of tense, that’s true, but I was still able to get the essence of what the author was saying. I think that speaks volumes for how much this book taught me. I had help from a French dictionary (Larousse’s) and a little bit from Google now and then, but otherwise I feel this textbook taught me what I needed in order to understand Petit Prince, and believe me, I put just about every grammar lesson to use. But after two weeks of effort I did it and it feels like a huge accomplishment to have actually completed a nearly 100 page French story when just a few months ago I wouldn’t have been able to get beyond the first few words, if that.
Just know that one cannot realistically expect to be taught an entire language in only 430 pages – probably not even 4,300 pages would be enough. This book does an excellent job at introducing a concept succinctly and summarizing it, but sometimes more examples are needed. I would of course recommend using all the resources at your disposal and not trying to rely solely on this book to learn from. The website About has an excellent French language section with a lot more examples (many with audio) and alternate explanations, in case the ones in this book still confuse you. But if you are serious about learning the language and are motivated enough to teach yourself, this book is an excellent place to start.