Just sail through the story;Reviews;TV
Elaine Caldwell enjoys a soap opera for German students.
Soap opera engages even the least energetic of teenage minds, and BBC Education exploits this fascination with the ups and downs of life by translating the action into German in Susanne.
The series is set in Hamburg. The Susanne of the title is not a person but an old boat, discovered in a family's delapidated boathouse by the central character, Thomas. Hoping to enter the annual regatta, Thomas starts renovating the boat and ropes in three friends to help.
Real teenage drama takes over as the hapless Thomas faces up to a variety of financial, domestic, and emotional dramas. DM7,000 (pound;2,350) is needed to restore the boat. His family's business is failing and the boathouse might have to be sold to raise cash. It belongs to Grossvater who won the regatta cup with Susanne some 40 years before. Thomas is desperate to emulate this feat to please him.
The frustrations of young love add further to the complications as Thomas falls for the glamorous, selfish and unattainable Kathrin, while his faithful friend Monika falls into hopeless, unrequited love for him. All the essential elements of teenage drama are in there and the storyline takes enough interesting twists and turns to maintain attention.
For key stage 4 pupils, the level of language is high. Speed and content, while in keeping with the realistic story line, could prove difficult to follow. Thomas's feelings about one-parent families for example, are expressed in natural but tricky language for this stage: "ich wuenschte ich hAtte einen Vater" and Grossvater's annoyance at not being told he was to be collected from home - "Wenn du mich angeruft hAttest, wAre ich jetzt fertig." The strong storyline does help basics to be understood, however it's unfortunate that many of these comments will probably be missed.
One interesting turn-around for British pupils comes when Thomas and friends are seen in an English class. With such strong and important emphasis now on target language teaching, this offers a nice moment to "cheat" and catch a glimpse of German youngsters experiencing difficulties with English.
The practical success of television language productions is dependent on good back-up classroom materials. The teacher's booklet containing transcripts and three pupil worksheets per programme will not be available until July. Draft copies show a good range of exercises in all skills, with detailed teacher's notes.
For those who were working with the programmes as they were transmitted, this comes too late. Once again teachers were obliged to create their own back-up materials. A complete classroom package is needed at the time of transmission. The BBC also ought to be reminded that the national curriculum does not extend to Scotland. Teachers there would appreciate mention of their own system in accompanying notes.
Despite the lack of worksheets at the time of transmission, pupils should enjoy the drama. Some of the one-liners, generally not found in text books, might come in handy: the haughty and glamorous Kathrin declares herself to be "immer an der Seite des Gewinners", and the gentle Monika reassures a despondent Thomas "du bist kein Verlierer", before falling into his arms at last.
Episode 5 offers a tear-jerking happy ending: financial problems are solved, boy gets girl, and Susanne wins the regatta cup. Ende gut, alles gut.
The teacher's book costs pound;9.99, a video pack of programmes 1-5, pound;45.99 both will shortly be available from BBC Educational Publishing, Freepost LS2811, PO Box 234, Wetherby, West Yorks LS23 6YY. Tel: 01937 541001. The series will be repeated in the summer term of 1999