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German ghost stories

Buecherregal, Radio 3FM, 1.00-1.40am, November 14, 15, 16, 17.

German Key Stage 3.

Available as cassette pack Pounds 35; set of 15 readers Pounds 35, triple set Pounds 85. BBC Educational Development, PO Box 234, Wetherby, West Yorkshire LS23.

Working from the premise that language is better understood when both seen and heard, the BBC has put together this engaging new German series of radio programmes (also available on cassette), and readers, which together expose children to a wide variety of reading and listening materials.

With 15 stories, the series is divided into three ability levels, the five stories at each level providing a different style of story. These include a girls' comic narrative in which bored teenagers eat poisonous mushrooms (you never know when the German for stomach pumping might come in useful) or Der Sportfan, about an obsessive sports fan who bores all around him with his book of useless sporting facts.

The stories are, by and large, interesting, accessible and frequently humorous and should appeal to most pupils at this stage. While it is certainly the case that the written and aural aspects of Buecherregal could be used independently, combining the two provides an ideal medium in which to savour the true atmosphere of the story and to overcome many of the linguistic difficulties encountered when just listening or reading.

Sound quality is excellent and with native German speakers and a high level of input from the BBC sound effects department, the stories become very atmospheric.

This is particularly noticeable in the story Das Gespenst, in which a young woman has a ghostly encounter while driving through Berlin past the old site of Checkpoint Charlie and through the former East Germany.

The music and sound effects here are most effective and give real motivation to understand the story.

The accompanying readers, too, are attractive, with colour illustrations from a range of artists, breaking any uniformity of appearance. Assuming that pupils will be able to choose their own stories, Buecherregal is the latest in the new breed of independent reading and listening laboratory resources which have undoubted appeal to pupils.

This said, compared to the more straightforward listening or reading comprehension materials for this stage, the level of language in Buecherregal is undoubtedly more taxing. However, since the emphasis is less on comprehension of facts and more on gist comprehension and enjoyment, this should not present a problem once pupils have become accustomed to the work.

The follow-up exercises in the readers take a refreshingly new slant, with suggestions, for example, to find out all about castles in the German-speaking countries and then draw and describe them.

As a cross between Jackanory and the talking book, Buecherregal could find itself occupying an important and popular new slot in German language classrooms.

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