As the overall level of education across the world rises, the pool of talented young people becomes much deeper, wider and more competitive. Consequently we've seen a general increase in home tutors, after school classes and educational software. Of this latter method of out-of-school learning, very few have the capacity to grab the attention of the participant with a true alternative to the tried and tested route of studying from a text book.
German publisher Tivola are no stranger to the interactive learning space, with a catalogue of titles aimed at primary and junior school pupils and their no doubt well-wishing parents. Having already put out a physical release of Successfully Learning German, the company has broken up the title into several downloadable releases on WiiWare, each focused on a specific class year and the level of Deutsch they should be comfortable with.
Successfully Learning German: Year 4 is now out and once again stars Freddy The Little Vampire, an inoffensive but utterly characterless guide to the exercises on offer. SLG:Y4 (as all the cool kids are calling it) is presented in very much a BBC children's television manner, replete with sugary sweet enthusiasm rewarding success, and almost patronizing encouragement when you've not done so well in a round of questions. Following the cheery and colourful style of the series predecessors, menus are basic and largely intuitive for a generation of children raised hand in hand with technology. Some selection buttons could have done with being larger and dragging and dropping answers sometimes requires a little too much accuracy, but its systems are otherwise functional.
For the cost of entry you're given access to a good selection of exercises, including making words from syllables, mutated vowels and diphthongs, words featuring “tz” or “ck”, verbs in the past, lexical fields, correct punctuation and sentence creation. Within each are a varied mix of problems centred on reading, writing and understanding speaking, with success prompting the sound of a rather delightful ditty.
As with previous titles in the series, an additional reward comes in the form of accumulating time to play an included bonus game, usually dispensed in minute long chunks depending on whether an exercise is finished with a one, two or three star rating. SLG:Y4 comes with access to a Breakout clone for your troubles and is, like the title that contains it, largely competent. Holding the Wii Remote as one might a NES pad and tilting the controller left and right controls the horizontal movement of the paddle, the A button handling the launch of the ball. With more patterns of blocks unlocked through the acquisition of crowns from the learning portion of the game, it's a neat way to dangle a carrot in front of its younger participants. If there's a potential issue with this inclusion, it's that once the earned time is spent the mini-game boots you out in the middle of play, which feels very much like removing the carrot mid-munch.
As with previous releases, this is not an educational title suitable for those hoping to learn German from scratch; you will need to have a grasp of the language to gain any benefit from the experience. Finally, buyers should be aware that this title isn't afraid to use complicated language when describing the goal to a player. Parents may want to monitor their children's first couple of plays to explain what the phrase "to which lexical field do both of the words belong?" means, a sentence that feels at odds with the childlike visual style.
Though this isn't a revolution in extra-curricular learning, it is an absolutely serviceable aid to encourage children to improve their understanding of the German language. Best enjoyed in sessions of one or two activities at a time, it's unlikely that kids will be picking this over Super Mario Galaxy, but it succeeds in making studying that little bit less dull.