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Culture

English for German Kinder

As English continues to forge its reputation as Germany's number one foreign language, an all new media package is set to boost German children's lust for learning the lingo.

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Animated rat, Marvi Hämmer will present the new show

"Discover the world and get into English!" Forget the dry school books and repetitive language tapes, now there's a new fun way for German kids to learn English and discover a bit more about the world around them.

A clever rat named Marvi Hämmer has the key to the new edutainment package designed to give budding 8-12 year old linguists a chance to practice the target language while reading, watching television and surfing the Internet. The all-around media foray -- set to hit German screens next month -- is a joint venture between the German children's television station KIKA and the children's magazine "National Geographic World."

"Marvi Hämmer Presents National Geographic World" explains the world to children through the eyes of the rodent protagonist who lives in a television studio, where he nurtures his greatest desire to become a TV presenter. As soon as all the human journalists have left the studio for the day, Marvi turns the spotlight on himself and presents his very own science and nature show for children.

But Marvi can't do it all himself, and relies on his rat-pack of polyglot reporters who roam the globe, picking up great stories to feed back into the studio. Jaycee from Africa is the one who knows everything about animals, Roberto from America specializes in the world and its phenomenon, and the token female on the team, Chinese Mingh focuses on people and technology. Not only do these roving rats get the best scoops -- especially selected for the young audience -- but they repeatedly lapse into English, giving their viewers little chance but to try and learn the vocabulary in order to keep up.

Nature's best

But the KIKA program is more than just a television show. It's uniqueness lies in its inter-mingling of media. Articles which run in "National Geographic World" (a juvenile offshoot of the long-established nature magazine "National Geographic") are subsequently turned into TV reports. The story material is colorful and diverse, and covers such topics as close encounters with hurricanes, the amputation of an elephant's foot, film star bears and reports on volcanoes and dinosaurs -- the kind of stories kids like.

The media partners reckon that a child's natural curiosity will drive the viewers to want to understand what the rodent reporters are talking about even when they slip into their perfect English. Therefore each report on the weekly show is backed up by online material on the "National Geographic World" Web site, which is chock full of word puzzles, pictures, stories and memory games to make the learning experience fun and effective.

Immersion methods

Gila Hoppenstedt of the German Institute for Immersive Learning believes that children should be immersed in the language and be given the chance to learn it in a playful way. The language institute played a role in developing the multi-media concept which leaves little room for the traditional methods of memorizing vocabulary and verb tables. The aim is much more to confront the children with content over and above what they learn at school.

By the summer of 2004, primary schools across Germany will start introducing English classes in the third grade. KIKA and the production company responsible for Marvi Hämmer are planning to work closely with the educators, in order to bring the likeable host to classrooms everywhere. There are even plans to export the rat to Poland and Mexico, and with a nomination for the coveted Adolf-Grimme Prize already in the bag, the production company, Youa, is certain that Marvi and his entourage will be a big hit wherever they go.

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