A good way to get to Leipzig
Michael Grenfell recommends an advanced level German course. Durchblick and Uberblick are German versions of the two-level, post-16 French course - Tout Droit! and Droit au But! - published last year. The same language teaching philosophy is behind both books: style and layout are identical.
As with its sister publication, Durchblick begins at GCSE Grade C or national curriculum level 67; in other words, the projected national average. The objective in this first book is to take learners through to a point where they can tackle A-level standard. Not quite a bridging course - there is too much here for that - but a careful build-up from intermediate to advanced levels over the eight chapters.
It now seems to be standard practice to have young faces smiling out at you on the first pages of course books and Durchblick is no exception. Topic content is founded in youth culture and experience; even to the point of having the learner tackle the "Gute Fahrt" chapter at a time when the authors assume students will be learning to drive.
A communicative approach is adopted. English is absent apart from mini translation passages and vocabulary support. However, the authors believe that "success at an advanced level depends essentially on a firm grasp of grammatical structures". There is a hefty grammar section in the book which cross-references with individual chapters.
This approach is continued in Uberblick with increasing range and sophistication. Topic content gets down to the nitty gritty: drugs, the economy, stress and the like. The seriousness of these pressing themes is enhanced by the monochrome printing. However, the appearance does become rather drab and dreary as one packed page is followed by another. There are moments of humour, and both the supplementary printed and recorded material has been well selected and clearly presented. Coverage of German song and cinema is excellent. The final chapter also presents a case study of Leipzig, which must now surely await an invasion of English adolescents keen to see for themselves. These chapters are obviously designed with a certain A-level syllabus in mind.
In both books the authors take a pragmatic approach to methodology. Some activities seem ad hoc: insufficient support is given to pair and group discussion. Favourite exercises such as word tables, truefalse sentences, and gap fill texts can become a little predictable after a while. Teachers will therefore have to work hard in firming up grammar without losing the creative aspects of language. Uberblick claims to be vocationally relevant, but this is only true in broad terms. This is not a German-for-business course.
The post-16 market is hotting up. This two-book response to the wide range of student needs means that either one, the other or both can be chosen by teachers as needs be. This, their generous content and well-structured format, will make Durchblick and Uberblick a popular choice among students and teachers in an expanding sector.
Michael Grenfell is a Lecturer in Modern Languages at the University of Southampton School of Education.