Confidence in beginners

7th March 1997 at 00:00
321 LOS A German language course for young beginners by Invicta Media Productions Ltd, Kent County Council, and the Goethe-Institut Pounds 40 + VAT and Pounds 2.35 postage per pack This three-part, video-based German language course is designed for the primary- school class teacher who is not a foreign language specialist. Each of the three teaching packs contains a video of about 30 minutes in short sections filmed in a town in the Black Forest.

There's also an audio tape for teachers on key phrases and pronunciation; flashcards and photocopiable worksheets for pupils; teacher's notes with explanations, activities, ideas for integration into other areas of the curriculum, and a cultural section on life in Germany. There are also assessment sheets and a list of classroom management language.

Topics include personal information such as name and age, pets, brothers and sisters, asking directions, telling the time, buying cakes and ice cream, and likes and dislikes around what activities to do during free time. Language is presented in some original ways and in a range of authentic communicative situations.

Graphics on the video clips are extremely lively and interesting and should appeal to young learners although the worksheets appear rather dull and are almost culturally neutral. The video itself, however, does offer a wealth of cultural data for exploration, although it is quite likely that most of this will be through the medium of English.

However, the presentation of new language material does not always progress from the simple to the more complex. The topic of pets, which requires the use of three genders, for example, is dealt with before that of brothers and sisters requiring only two, while the unit on free-time introduces several structures at once, including separable verbs and the dative tense.

Plurals are frequently just thrown in and mixing these with genders is bound to cause some confusion.

In the hands of the less experienced teacher, who might find it difficult to judge when and how to teach a structure, this could lead to much context-bound rote learning at the expense of understanding and progression.

Many opportunities for recycling of language material could have been better exploited and topics more logically sequenced. "Asking the way", for example, is followed by "telling the time" rather than by "understanding directions".

321 LOS would have benefited from giving more prominence to reading and writing skills which are crucial for success once learners have moved past the initial stages. Maintaining confidence while teaching and learning get progressively more demanding is difficult.

Nevertheless, in the hands of a skilled teacher with the linguistic competence to adapt, restructure and supplement the course in line with children's needs and interests, 321 LOS could well achieve its aim to develop learners' confidence and enjoyment in language learning. It is, in any case, a welcome addition to materials.

Beate Poole is a lecturer at the University of London Institute of Education

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