Getting to the point
Brennpunkt, By Claire Sandry andJudy Somerville, Students' Book Pounds 12.99. 0 17 449136 0. Teacher's Resource Book. Pounds 30. 0 17 449137 9. Cassette Pack (3). Pounds 50+VAT. 0 17 449140 9 NelsonUniversity of Bath.
Michael Grenfell on new books from Bath University Languages Project. These two courses devoted to post-16 work originate from the BathNelson University Languages Project, and it is clear that the collaboration has been fruitful. Nelson have drawn on all their experience in producing language materials that are attractively presented and very user friendly. The involvement of higher education means that expert opinion has been consulted in order to make use of the latest in language teaching methodology.
In recent years, Nelson have been moving towards a common house style. In the case of Au Point and Brennpunkt they go one step further by producing two separate language courses of identical format: 15 chapters in each, similar topic content, a shared methodological approach.
Both courses ground themselves in pre-16GCSE-type language work. The first six units of each revisit and build on knowledge and skills acquired during previous study. Similarities with past work can be found in the coverage given to French and German in its intercultural context, youth interest, holidays and leisure. These topics are interspersed with extensions into relationships, education and health. Whilst doing this, all the basic grammar is revised: tenses, cases, pronouns and prepositions.
Each page of the Students' Book is awash with materials, exercises, tips and information. The authors deserve congratulations for collecting together such a wealth of texts and recordings of varying styles and levels of seriousness. There is plenty of pop culture in terms of fashion, song and poetry. Graphics are bold. Colour is used judiciously to add variation and appeal where they are needed.
A narrowly defined systematics methodology is avoided. Nevertheless, there is a common rationale: very much student centred, and built on self-help skills as well as specific language components. Regular "boxed" symbols throughout the students' books indicate what the learner needs to look out for. Two lengthy sections in each course book are devoted to a variety of reading texts to support the unit themes. There are also self-study cassettes. Both the add-on recorded and printed materials are informative and entertaining, with optional back-up exercises.
The actual book exercises come in a rapid series. Some of these seem rather one-off and do not obviously build on each other. Oral discussion and written responses are sometimes assumed with a minimum of prompts provided, or organised around the repetition of stock phrases. There will be much for the teacher to do in making the themes come alive in class. The teachers' books are full of the usual support in terms of guidance to the units' contents, transcripts, and exercise solutions. Teachers will have to select and adapt heavily for their own particular contexts.
The latter chapters of Au Point and Brennpunkt develop post-16 language learning in a number of directions. Topics become increasingly philosophical and artistic. Moral dilemmas and social problems are covered, as well as the Arts. Any student working through these courses will encounter a good selection of issues on the history and culture of the respective countries.
The authors have their eye on the pre-vocational market, and so have included regular exercises to develop professional (business) skills such as letter writing, interpreting statistics and presenting cases. Suggestions for IT back-up are made. Grammar is always there in increasing degrees of sophistication to extend and reinforce the framework of competence.
Au Point and Brennpunkt are aiming for a very wide market. Both are value for money and really do deliver what they promise. They set a standard against which other courses will be judged.
Michael Grenfell is a Lecturer in the Centre for Language in Education at the University of Southampton.