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Auf wiedersehen BBC

Deutsch Plus BBC1 10.30 - 10.45am from Sunday September 29

Rpt BBC2 The Learning Zone 4.00-5.00am November 25 and December 2,9 Course book Pounds 12.99; 4 Audio cassettes Pounds 12.99; 4 CDs Pounds 35; Activity book Pounds 5.99; 4 Tutor's audio tapes Pounds 14.99 Book and cassette pack Pounds 39.50 Tutor's guide Pounds 19.99 TV Study Guide Pounds 4.95

Deutsch Plus is the latest, and almost certainly the last major BBC television language series for adults. After a long and distinguished history spanning more than 30 years the new business-like BBC is retiring from the linguistic fray for the general television audience.

In today's Europe, German is a must. Spoken by more than 100 million people both in and outside Germany, it's the lingua franca of middle and eastern Europe. The makers of Deutsch Plus know all this, and the result is state-of-the-art German learning. What's more it carries the student along in its stride with verve and vivacity.

The television series marks a radical departure from a decade or more of documentary-based approaches with a new soap opera format. It features a fictionalised television station, Deutschland Plus, and the adventures - both amorous and vocational - of young Romanian refugee Nico Antonescu. As Nico's German improves, so too does his confidence and ability to make it in the tough competitive world of post-unification Germany. He reinforces his own and the viewer's language learning with regular sessions at a computer terminal. The language presentation is convincingly integrated into the storyline.

Nico's daily scripted story is interwoven with real-life extracts from German television. Though true beginners may have difficulty with these (even with the help of English sub-titles) their perseverance will be amply rewarded, since they and the story lead the viewer into important areas for understanding life in Germany today: housing shortages, drug trafficking, immigration, the role of women, ethnic discrimination, racism, violence. This makes for refreshingly bold and intelligent television. It's not a series for the German Tourist Board, but it makes you want to learn German. It also cleverly re-cycles basic language without ever becoming repetitive or dull - no mean feat at this level.

Deutsch Plus is for absolute beginners and aims to take the learner up to NVQ Level 1 accreditation (equivalent of GCSE grade C). Much of the language in the television series, and in the other course components, probably exceeds this, however. Deutsch Plus is demanding stuff.

Those more used to a traditional approach may at first be thrown by such apparent complexity, but in fact it's a very practical way of dealing with the reality of learning and the amount that true beginners can take in at any one time. There are constant language learning tips, and regular checks on understanding, memory and self-assessment.

The linked resources all contribute to an impressive learning package and in most respects the series is hard to fault. There are irritating mismatches of detail between book and audio and a failure to explain less than obvious terms such as Wissenswert and Speichern, but all in all Deutsch Plus ensures that television-led BBC language learning for adults goes out on a high. The pity is that such an accessible format gets such poor transmission slots and, apparently, tolls the knell for one of the BBC's most successful educational endeavours: learning languages by television.

A radio series of Deutsch Plus is broadcast on Radio 4 LW at 8.00 - 8. 30pm on Sundays from October 6

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