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Mystery to mastery

CONTES MYSTERIEUX; DIE SCHNUFFLER USW. Age group: 12 -14 BBC Radio 3 FM, May 23, 24 and June 5,6 1.00-1.40am. Student's workbook Pounds 6.25. BBC Educational Publishing, PO Box 234, Wetherby, West Yorks LS23 7EU.

Adopting the mode of the Famous Five-style adventure, the BBC has produced a series of programmes targetted at 12 to 14-year-olds. In the two-part German series, Die Schnueffler usw, Tim and Tina are archetypal Blyton mini-detectives, hot on the trail of cuckoo clock thieves and transvestite bank robbers. True to form, the team are constantly on the look-out for mysteries to solve and are despised by the local police Kommissar Grimm, whose cases they hijack.

With thrilling 1950s-style adventure music, the stories unfold in a level of German which, for comprehension of the storyline alone, would stretch the average beginner. For the most part, however, the language is contained in clear dialogue with only a few supporting actors who, unfortunately, tend to have rather stilted and unnatural-sounding voices. The super-critical, sophisticated teenager might also be irritated by the childishly vigorous tones of Tim and Tina. However, this is off-set in the second set of four programmes featuring Julia and Markus, whose father is a source of continual embarrassment due to his predilection for beer, football and general sloth. The story lines here have a considerably more contemporary feel, losing much of the Blyton atmosphere.

It's interesting to see the difference in approach with the parallel French series, Contes mysterieux. Stories are introduced with a set of anticipatory questions about key aspects useful as an audio-based focus for class work. Making considerably more use of music and song, the French stories, in two sets of four programmes, feature the teenagers Christelle and Guillaume respectively. Humour and imagination are the basis of these stories and the fact that they are narrated by the main characters themselves gives them a more personal and direct feel.

In terms of the radio programmes on their own, it might be difficult to find an appropriate niche for them in the teaching week. With the accompanying workbook however, a whole range of language tasks provide a practical function.

Again, the approach in each of the two languages is different. In the German series, the range of activities is very wide and includes more attention to the practice of related grammar points. The French workbook relies more on straight-forward gap-filling, comprehension and language recognition work.

While the level of language in the broadcasts is undoubtedly quite high, use of the workbooks in both languages will allow for a wider ability range to benefit from the series: simple pictureword matching and word unjumbling at one level and preparation and recording of dialogues at the other.

Perhaps the single greatest advantage of all is the fact that all worksheets in the workbook are photocopiable, making it a financially-viable proposition. With such easily-accessible working materials, it's the type of resource which would mature and develop with familiarity and use.

On a purely nationalistic level, it's also to be applauded that the BBC, in addition to guidelines on the programmes' use within the national curriculum, has included advice on levels of activity within the Scottish national guidelines.

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