Mr. Smith’s secret vice

The Assimil courses for language learners were started by Alphonse Chérel in 1929 and remain popular today. The first sentence of the first lesson of Anglais sans Peine was ‘My tailor is rich’ and has become, arguably, the most well-known English sentence in the French-speaking world. Each lesson in the book begins with a set of sentences, accompanied by pronunciation notes and translations into French, and followed by a practice exercise. Occasionally, the sentences form a story, as in this example from Lesson 80 of the 1948 edition.

Mr. Smith’s secret vicedominoes

1 It was only five forty when Mr. S. left his office. 2 He could easily get the five fifty-seven train, and arrive at Bromley before half past six. 3 Do you remember that he had told his wife not to expect him before seven, 4 because he would have to work late? 5 This was not true; Mr. S. knew perfectly well that he would be free from half past five as usual. 6 Once or twice a week the same thing happened: 7 Mr. S. returned home late, although he left his office at the regular time. 8 What did he do in the interval? 9 Let us follow him and learn his secret. 10 Instead of taking a motor-bus, he walks down the street, 11 as fast as the crowd allows him. 12 After about three hundred yards, he turns into a little tea-shop. 13 There are only a few customers inside, and several tables are vacant. 14 Mr. S. crosses the room, and goes down to the basement. 15 All the tables in the basement are vacant, save one, and there we see Mr. Carter 16 whom we met in the train, coming from Bromley. 17 – Come on! Let us begin! he says. 18 Mr. S. sits down opposite him; they order two bottles of lemonade, and have an exciting game of dominoes.

There are occasional jokes, too, such as these gems from Lesson 27:your cigarette is finished

Can you lend me five pounds?

But I do not know you.

That is just why I ask you.


This piece is a symphony by Mozart.

I suppose it is something new?

What! Do you not know that Mozart is dead?

Excuse me, I never read the papers.

But not everything is quite so innocent. There are cartoons for each lesson, and these were drawn by Pierre Soymier, a well-known illustrator of the time. And, as we have seen in previous editions of ELT News, the sense of humour and the sense of what learners might enjoy is very different from what we find in today’s language learning material. We share a few of these with you here and hope you like them!not yet threeI like the winefather and mother drink beerdrink before dinner

this will do you good

Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>