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Comprehension is a family game

TEACH YOUR CHILD FRENCH. Radio 4 LW. Sundays. 8.30-8.45pm.

TOP! AUF DEUTSCH. Channel 4. Fridays 10.40-11.00am. November 7 - December 5. Block transmission December 3, 4.00-5.40am.

TOP! EN ESPANOL. Channel 4. Fridays 10.40-11.00am. January 16 - February 13 1998. Block transmission February 11, 4.00-5.40am.

With games and songs now occupying a semi-official role in the up-beat secondary language class, pupils are being encouraged to lose their natural inhibitions by participating in a variety of lighthearted activities.

In Radio 4's series, Ted Wragg aims to capitalise on this fun approach by encouraging parents to help their primary age children learn French. Working with Pascale Bizet, teacher of French at James Allen's Prep School in London, Professor Wragg moves in where the national curriculum has so far feared to tread. Unlike in Scotland, where French is an integral part of the primary programme, children in England and Wales only start learning a modern language in secondary school.

The programmes are well structured, combining useful information on language acquisition with advice on effective, enjoyable teaching techniques. In each programme, Pascale Bizet introduces a simple French game which parents could play with their children at home. Listeners then hear one family having a go at the game, giggles, mistakes and all.

By definition, there is no age limit for participation and the games seem to be enjoyed by parents as well as three-year-olds. Throughout the series, it is stressed that parents need not have any ability in French themselves. One father confessed to being "absolutely dismal" at school. The children still obeyed commands whatever the level of their parents' linguistic expertise. Ted Wragg reassures us that it would only be "if parents grotesquely mangle the language" that mischief might be done.

Throughout the series, parents give positive reactions to their new-found role as language teachers and learners. While the rudimentary aims of the series are beyond reproach, a sceptic might question the somewhat squeaky-clean, happy families approach, at which the less motivated or less privileged would surely baulk.

In an ideal world, parental involvement with language learning is undoubtedly to be encouraged. However, the reality of tired primary children squeezing in homework and after-school activities around the television has to be considered. With this in mind, Channel 4 offers a lively compromise: a children's games show conducted entirely in the target language.

The series of five Top! en francais programmes, broadcast earlier this term, is followed by Top! auf Deutsch and, early in the new year, Top! en espa$ol, have the wacky, highly charged and keenly competitive approach of the best children's games shows.

With a spirit of happy international co-operation, the two teams, with two child contestants each, battle for points. While the games are obviously language based, they include much running about and general fun. Essentially, the French, German or Spanish partner either offers instructions to, or ratifies an answer given by the British partner. The games are similar across the three languages, from the quick-fire, buzzer-based, multiple choice, to the perennially popular chasing around games: instructions for finding objects in a room, for giving the weather forecast or for dressing up members of the team's "family". With great audience cheering, and the assistance of extrovert young hosts, the constant repetition of key words and phrases ensures the development of excellent comprehension.

A Teach Your Child French work pack including cassette with series extracts, booklet with photocopiable games sheets and playing cards is available for Pounds 7.99, contact: 0181 746 1111. Top! videos cost Pounds 14.99 from Channel 4 Schools, PO Box 100, Warwick CV34 6TZ. Tel: 01926 436444

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