Learning parrot fashion
The computer animated characters of the BBC's new French language series Salut Serge! are set to become household names to learners as young as five, from Friday March 14 when the first episode will be watched in primary schools, language clubs and family homes across Scotland.
Produced at the Queen Margaret Drive studio in Glasgow, in conjunction with the Norwich-based company Televirtual, the series, which is also available in video, breaks new technological ground with its "virtual actor" or "vactor" system, creating the "first live real-time performance animation drama in the UK".
The stars of the series are Serge the monkey and his friend, Pascale the parrot, who live in a tree house in the jungle. In each 15-minute episode a new language topic is introduced in the dialogue between Serge and Pascale, and developed in the cartoon animation of the jungle animals' football team FC Coco. There is also a chance in each programme to see young French children in real-life situations, and to hear them using the language which has been introduced in the cartoon story.
Catchy songs, fun storylines and brilliant animations combine in each episode to guarantee children's enjoyment of the series. The writer, Sue Finnie, is well known for her entertaining approach to language learning, and her scripts, in conjunction with the screen visuals, are designed to minimise comprehension difficulties. Introducing Pascale as an English-speaking parrot who uses French to communicate with Serge is a neat way of providing English explanations where necessary. Thus the series avoids a didactic approach and introduces young children to French in an entertaining and fun way.
The book and audio cassette which accompany the series contain activities based on the vocabulary, stories and characters introduced in the TV programmes. The book includes games and puzzles such as "join the dots", "spot the difference" and a board game "A travers la jungle". There are also things to make (badges and a shoebox theatre). The language practice sections are best used in conjunction with the cassette to improve pronunciation and comprehension, and to practise specific vocabulary.
The audio cassette contains all the songs and stories from the series (side one) and further games and language practice (side two). The printed words of the song and key vocabulary will prove useful to non-specialist teachers or parents, and enable older children to follow the words for themselves. Everything about this series suggests that it is going to be a winner, set to capture the attention and imagination of young learners of French, either in a classroom or at home.
Carolyn McInnes is assistant principal teacher of modern languages at Eastbank Academy, Glasgow