Tongues loosened

Language World, the Association for Language Learning's annual conference, is one of the best places to find out about new materials. The exhibition at the University of Keele earlier this month included publishers, examination boards, educational institutions and some technology suppliers.

It remains a source of wonder that there are still new French courses after so much recent publishing, but this year also saw a welcome improvement in the range of German and Spanish materials and further support for other languages. Japanese entered the arena, with Obentoo and Isshoni, two Nelson imports from Australia; there is a new version of the Russian course Iskra from John Murray; while Italian has Ci Siamo and Forza from Heinemann. This is all healthy for teacher choice.

The new courses tend to be geared much more specifically to their target audience. For French, there is Nelson's new four-stage course Passe-Partout, aimed at middle and lower ability learners, while Oxford University Press's Envol and Essor cater for high ability students in the 14 to 18 age range. At key stage 4, Heinemann has Rendez-Vous (and also Treffpunkt for German), aimed at less able learners, while Collins's French Plus is for learners aiming for the Certificate of Achievement.

Mary Glasgow's Entre Nous also serves that market, but describes itself as suitable for GNVQ French units as well. Finale is a stand-alone key stage 4 course or revision aid from Hodder amp; Stoughton; while Cambridge Express German, published by Cambridge University Press, is specifically for second foreign language learners.

A new venture for many publishers is the exam practice book. This is important at the point of changeover from the old to the new GCSE format. Heinemann, Collins, John Murray and MGP all offer materials in French and German. Language Centre Publications also has a full range of examination help in French, German and Spanish. Longman has Help Yourself to Essential French and German Grammar.

The BBC showed a welcome update of Quinze Minutes Plus, which has an interesting activity book, and the forthcoming German series, Susanna. Together with Nelson, it has added a Spanish reading resource, Liberia, to its French and German titles.

Smaller publishers often deal in skill-specific materials, which have been thoroughly tested in the classroom: the advanced level magazines with cassette accompaniment, for example, from Champs Elyses; the reading and dictionary skills materials from Language Centre Publications; and the lively Right-on-Role-Plays from Miniflashcards Language Games are all worth looking at.

Language learning technology is still seriously under-represented. Coomber and Drake demonstrated their latest audio-lingual classroom equipment, while at the more expensive end of the range, Sony, ASC and Tandberg had computer-driven language laboratories and video-conferencing equipment on display.

The big gap was computer-based materials. Macmillan's CD-Rom range, Realtime and the forthcoming Breakthrough Interactive titles were on show and a number of other publishers had a token CD-Rom on their stand, but software producers were noticeable by their absence.

Philip Hood is a lecturer at the School of Education, University of Nottingham

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