Over the language barriers
Eleanor Caldwell reports on a simple but effective video course in German. With the eventual acceptance of languages for all at secondary level, a re-defining of the term incorporating the primary curriculum is now called for. This, in itself, is something of an issue namely which language and at what stage? The general premise on which current curricular planning and training have been based is twofold: the language is usually French and the stage is usually upper primary.
While the immediate practicality of these decisions is understandable, the underlying logic is not always clear. Why not teach German? Why not start in Primary 1 or 2? Learning a second language in tandem with English, using pictures, games, videos and drawings for youngsters who have few pre-conceived anti-European, anti-language ideas, might actually overturn British obstinacy towards languages for good.
Anna, Schmidt und Oskar is a refreshing new resource which tackles these very issues head on. The course is based on two videos with 13 programmes in total. If a school were to go no further than to invest in the videos alone, they would be providing pupils with a thoroughly enjoyable introduction to the German language.
The success of the videos lies in their uncomplicated simplicity. Anna, an 18 or 19-year-old student, befriends Herr Schmidt, a slightly grumpy, but lovable old man who adopts Oskar, everyone's idea of the perfect stray mongrel.
The only other constant supporting actor is the ubiquitous Tuerspinne which irritatingly always reminds Anna and Herr Schmidt to close the door. The total effect is one of a "re-humanised" cartoon and it is precisely this which makes it so completely accessible. The characters are instantly likeable, the story lines are simple and rely largely on visual understanding, with the net result that the comprehension of German is a by-product of the whole viewing experience.
This passive absorption of the language, for example, creates an excellent basis for accurate accent and intonation. Words with obvious English equivalents such as Haus, Oskar and Bus are most impressively reproduced by even the youngest pupils.
Taking the series one stage further are the pupil's workbook and accompanying audio cassettes. Going beyond gist comprehension, these two concentrate on language recognition both aural and visual. Speech bubbles with accompanying pictures from the video are to be filled from a selection of phrases, words are to be matched to pictures. Even writing skills are introduced with invitations to talk about yourself or write a short poem. With songs, puzzles, things to make and even recipes, it would be absolutely essential to have individual copies of the workbook for all pupils and in the economic reality of today, this could prove difficult.
So who is Anna, Schmidt und Oskar actually aimed at? The level of language is certainly high and many of the workbook exercises are demanding enough for young secondary pupils.
The story lines are simple, the language is "visually" comprehensible and the characters are lov-able, so the videos at the very least would get primary pupils off to a great start in German. But when a four-year-old pleads to see "that great German video" again, it seems that Anna, Schmidt und Oskar could set a trend for teaching German in Primary 1.