Nigel Norman on a trio of GCSE German courses for a variety of learning levels.
Each of these three German courses caters for a quite different type of learner: Mach's Gut! is a three-stage course from beginner's level to GCSE Standard grade with an optional differentiated fast-track system. Klartext is a two-part course, part one of which covers the equivalent of a GCSE short course; and Trans-Europa-Express: Deutsch is more suited for the able linguist starting a second language in Year 10 or the sixth form, or a further education beginner.
Mach's Gut! has many of the familiar hallmarks of current language courses for teenagers - the strip-cartoon story, the colourful and varied range of tasks, the double-page spread with a specific language focus, additional worksheets and listening material for more independent work. But significant new features reflect changes brought about by the national curriculum and the new GCSE. Target language rubrics and classroom language are a major feature, although English is used to explain grammar points, and, interestingly, there are also translation exercises.
Differentiation relies on some activities in the pupil's book set at two levels, and through two separate resource and assessment files with worksheets, vocabulary, photocopiable overhead illustrations and ready-made assessments - although this all comes at a cost, of course.
Teachers will welcome the many useful ICT suggestions, as well as the tips on how to learn ("Aus der Trick-Kiste"). Less impressive is the absence of a checklist at the end of each unit; nor indeed are any learning objectives stated at the start of units. But there is solid grammatical progression, clear explanations and useful practice on three grammar worksheets. Cassettes are clearly recorded.
Klartext 1 also has the picture cartoon, interspersed with photos of five characters who are followed through the book. It also has the colourful and varied tasks, the double-page focus, the target language rubrics and the supplementary worksheets.
Each grammar point is explained in English in a coloured box, so there is no grammar section at the end of the book. Instead a full index allows pupils to look up under grammatical term or language function. As Klartext 1 is a two-stage course, the learning demands are much steeper than in Mach's Gut! - this is an intensive course, more suited to the abler pupil.
The pressure of work is eased by the many imaginative and motivating tasks, including extensive classwork, homework and revision worksheets supplied in the teacher's resource file. Study skills and vocabulary help are provided in "Hilfe" boxes and each unit ends with a useful checklist of what pupils have learned.
Importantly each unit has clearly identified tasks on word-processing, database use and desktop publishing, and an accompanying PC disk contains ready-made files for pupil use. The cassettes are clearly spoken, but will prove too fast for some.
There are some inconsistencies - the photo of Bettina (page 2) shows her with dark hair, the cartoon strip with blonde hair. The picture story (page 6) says Bettina often goes to the sports-centre and plays badminton, but on page 8 we read "sie ist nicht sportlich und nicht fit".
Nevertheless, for those seeking an up-to-date, intensive course, Klartext is a traditional grammar-based course in modern dress.
Trans-Europa-Express: Deutsch shares few of the above features, opting for a no-nonsense approach for its older target student. It groups the units under topics (home, school, food, health) and follows an English schoolboy's stay in Germany, but the emphasis is squarely on a structured progression of grammar and vocabulary, with detailed and demanding explanations using traditional terminology.
This course pre-supposes a high level of competence. The student's book alternates black and white with colour, but is text-heavy. Accompanying worksheets show a more graphic approach, and pair and groupwork exercises ensure solid communicative skills.
The photocopiable assessment sheets are based firmly on current GCSE practice, and the cassettes are clear, but again very fast, and just a little too studio-bound. As with the other two courses, this one follows the new spelling system, but also deals with Euros as well as Deutschmarks.
Nigel Norman is a lecturer in education at the University of Wales Swansea.