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Italian teachers have more fun

CI SIAMO. Heinemann Pupil Book Pounds 14.99. Workbook Pounds 6.50Cassettes Pounds 49.99.

FORZA!. Heinemann Pupil Book Pounds 9.99. Workbook Pounds 4.99Teacher's Guide Pounds.

29.99Cassettes Pounds 49.99 The atmosphere at an INSET meeting for teachers of Italian is refreshingly different from any other subject meeting.

The majority are native speakers and even in the uninspiring surroundings of an EdExcel conference room, you could almost believe yourself in Italy. As the subject specialist leading the meeting did not speak Italian, this also led to moments of near-anarchy as the whole room rebelled against how we were being told to mark sample scripts. Che giornata!

There are some serious points arising from this. Italian is still a minority language: last year there were 5,575 candidates for GCSE with either the Northern Examinations and Assessment Board or EdExcel, the latter's statistics showing that of their total 2,024 candidates only 1,299 were in schools. At the meeting I attended there were about 45 teachers, of whom 20 were from the independent sector and 22 taught Italian only at 16-plus - as indeed do I.

It is pleasing, therefore, to be able to welcome two new publications from Heinemann to broaden the choice available. For those 16-plus and adult students, Ci Siamo is a one-volume functional, activity-based beginner's course. An important part of each chapter is the fotoromanzo, which forms the basis of activities. These encourage the student to use the language productively and each chapter has exercises and supporting vocabulary.

This course aims to prepare students for GCSE in two years and moves at a fairly brisk pace. There is a good deal of reinforcement and the grammar sections at the end of each chapter give all the information that is needed in a clear format.

As well as a bilingual vocabolario at the back of the book, there is also a useful index for quick reference not only to grammar points but also to topics and cultural information. The cultural background of the country whose target language students have chosen is an important as well as enjoyable aspect of study. This book covers that particularly well, not forgetting those gloriously tacky pop songs you hear in Italian bars which appear on the accompanying cassettes. The Teacher's Book and Student's Workbook support the aims of the main textbook with ideas and activities.

For younger students there is the all-singing, all-dancing production of Forza!, a three-level course also leading to GCSE. This follows a similar format to Ci Siamo but is, if possible, even more upbeat in its presentation. The author is anxious to emphasise that this is a topic-based, not grammar-driven course, and that one should not expect to follow the book page by page. This means considerable preparation for the teacher in making sure that he or she has all the relevant sections of the chapter being studied, the workbook and the cassette in the right places. Again, there are brightly-coloured fotoromanzi and fumetti which form the basis of exercises and activities. There is a strong communicative emphasis, but I am glad to see that the importance of learning vocabulary is not shirked with the section Impariamo le parole at the end of each chapter. The colour-coding of the chapters is a nice idea and works well.

The jazzy interludes on the cassettes are fun and the whole book has clearly been planned for its approachability in presenting Italian as a bit different and enjoyable.

My only quibble with both books is a budgetary one. It is difficult enough to find the money to buy a textbook for each student, along with the accompanying teacher's manual and cassettes. A separate workbook for each student is an excellent idea but will be expensive for a whole class.

Bridget Patterson teaches modern languages at Northgate High School, Ipswich

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