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Pierre Capretz, creator of French in Action, dies at 89

Pierre Capretz, a Yale educator and creator of the popular language course French in Action, died on Wednesday. He was 89. 

Capretz arrived in the United States from France in 1949 and began teaching French at Yale seven years later. From the start, he strove to incorporate audio and visual elements into his instruction in order to make it more engaging. Word spread of his effective approach to teaching, and after gaining the support of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Capretz launched French in Action in 1985. 

While the language-immersion course includes workbooks and textbooks, it is best known for the accompanying television series, which consists of 52 half-hour episodes hosted by Capretz. The series tracks the fictional romance between an American student named Robert studying abroad in Paris and his French love interest, Mireille. It was originally produced by WGBH in Boston and has been broadcast by other public television stations in years since. 

French in Action was the focus of negative attention in 1990 after three female students at Yale filed a sexual-harassment grievance with the university, alleging the course's content was sexist. Capretz defended it at the time, telling the New York Times that in order to teach French well, "you have to make the students observe the language being used by native speakers, in real situations."

A French Department committee determined that year that the complaints were valid, requiring Yale's instruction of French in Action to be altered.  

Capretz, who received his doctorate from the University of Paris, also served as director of Yale's Language Development Studio and its Language Laboratory. He retired from teaching in 2003. The university held a 25th anniversary celebration of French in Action in 2010, with Capretz and the series' two main actors in attendance.

Capretz's funeral will take place on Monday, April 7, in Aix-en-Provence, France.


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under Pierre Capretz, French in Action
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