Authentic challenge

14th June 1996 at 01:00
Cambridge Express German, Klassentreffen, By Paul Webster, Cambridge University Press, Pupil's book Pounds 7.95, Teacher's Book Pounds 35 Cassettes (set of four) Pounds 45 + VAT, Age range 11-16

Nigel Norman and Eleanor Caldwell assess German textbooks for highly motivated and able GCSE and Standard Grade students. Cambridge Express German is specifically aimed at students learning German as a second foreign language in a two or three year course to GCSE or Standard Grade. Klassentreffen is the first of a two-part course which combines up-to-date methods with materials that go beyond the excessively transactional and deploy language that is authentic and clearly structured.

The enforced minimalism inherent in an express course is more than compensated for by several ingenious features. The first of these is the use of a parallel peer group, 8b at the Luisenschule in Essen, who, by talking about themselves and their lives, provide the teaching input and act as models for learners to copy and adapt.

Learners identify with the content, which affords scope for cross-cultural comparison. Moreover, they do not merely "rehearse" and transform predictable language patterns, but, in following the young Germans' model, are able to personalise the material and genuinely express themselves.

This finds its outlet in the form of a second novel feature, a "dossier", or language diary, which learners are encouraged to build up from the start, and which consists of precisely these adaptations of the original model. This makes an invaluable record of language learned.

The topics themselves are familiar enough and the admirable integrated-skill approach produces many activities of the listen and respond, read and respond type required by the national curriculum. There is a refreshing lack of "clutter" in the layout of the chapters in the Schulerbuch - full-colour photographs are strategically interspersed with line drawings, cartoons, extracts from magazines and genuine handwriting.

A useful feature is the written form of page numbers. However, exercises themselves are not numbered, and teachers will need to be well organised to spot the relevant symbol requiring the use of the Schularbeitskassette, for example, particularly where there are no accompanying instructions (see Schulerbuch, page 21: Die Telefonnummern der Klasse 8b).

Having said this, the tape itself is another desirable feature of the course, providing opportunities for homework tasks and extended listening in more individualised learning circumstances, often a feature of more intensive language courses.

This is not a course for the inexperienced language learner as directions are not always evident and precise - perhaps a disadvantage of target language resources? However, it makes a much-needed contribution to the German textbook market. N N Nigel Norman is a lecturer in education at the University of Wales, Swansea.

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