CHANNEL HOPPING AUF DEUTSCH. Channel 4. Video pound;19.99. Study guide pound;4.95. Age range: 14-19
Germans laughing at Germans - whatever next? This series, like its French counterpart, has a gentle giggle at its subject. German pop music, Lederhosen, and even the former DDR are lined up for a ribbing, more usually the prerogative of the country's critical neighbours.
The sparky young presenter, Patricia Pantel, wearing, at times "dieses dumme Kleid mit Herzchen!" introduces the series as a "simple, funny, painless" way of learning German. Comedian and former teacher John Moloney, presenting a regular slot, Deutschland - seltsam aber wahr, talks in German and English about the "weird and wonderful world of the Germans".
The unlikely subject of outside loos features the hitherto unknown Cafe Klo in Berlin and the world's only museum of chamber pots in Munich. The perennial problem of wild boar attacks on gardens is also investigated, as is the Germanic penchant for creating clubs of all sorts - from Donald Duck clubs to gnome appreciation societies.
The programmes are structured in five sections. In addition to the John Moloney slot, Patricia Pantel introduces features on a range of subjects from relatively ordinary topics - the development of German folkrock music and a soccer training centre at FC Bayern in Munich, for instance, to the bizarre but potentially fascinating subject of preserved corpses found on moorland.
As always in Channel 4 language productions, humour abounds, and pupils should particularly appreciate sections on dealing with puberty and parental punishment.
With such a huge range of unusual topics, there is naturally an equally wide breadth of language. The programme's strong visual impact should offer younger pupils at least a good basic understanding. Short extracts from some sections are repeated with written text on screen, and a few key words and phrases with pronunciation precede some sections. But the language is fast and furious and would not work well with less able learners.
A regular photo love story animates the familiar photo story of many textbooks. Themes are up-to-date and familiar to young people. Unrequited love is explained by one boy's admission that he is gay. An Internet blind date leads a girl back to her previous boyfriend. A young offender fears losing his new love by admitting to his crimes. Combining still photos with speech bubbles and filmed action, the stories provide a good balance of language support.
Another welcome small addition to the end of each programme is the Geheimtip, a quick lesson on seriously useful language. Kohle, Das ist mir Wurst, and, best of all, Dingsbums, frequently elude the textbooks and are integral to German chat at all levels. Drawing attention to the precise nature of German, teachers will enjoy the reference to JFK's famous speech when he declared himself to be a citizen of Berlin and a doughnut.
The study guide provides taxing exercises with a strong grammatical input - word order, tense practice and cloze work, in addition to varied listening and writing exercises.
Given the commendable inclusion of aspects of Austrian and Swiss culture, it is unfortunate that the Channel Hopping auf Deutsch audience is addressed and referred to throughout as Englander - a linguistic and cultural inaccuracy that constantly rankles in Derry, Swansea and Aberdeen. But like its French predecessor, Channel Hopping auf Deutsch is bright, pacy and at times refreshingly risque.
A new series of 'Channel Hopping auf Deutsch' will be shown on January 20-February 17, 2000. Thursdays 11.40am-12.00