Research Project

What are qualities of a "foreign language teaching TV soap opera"?

What does the viewer expect of school television? He does not want to be lectured. This is a result of the European IZI conference on educational TV programmes (Meyer 1997, p.20). What are the implications for educational TV programmes directed at adults?

Research on media effects of "Learning by means of film, TV and video" shows that teaching efficiency of audio-visual media depends on affective factors such as the viewer's attitude towards the medium. Apart from the offered contents these factors are responsible for accepting or rejecting the learning stimuli (Strittmatter/Niegemann 2000, p. 93). For many viewers watching TV is emotionally connected to recreational activities and should therefore not establish a classroom teaching situation. This is why modern educational TV programmes attempt to combine entertainment with delivering a curricula and social attitudes via popular genres like TV series or radio plays. Effects of the strategy of merging entertainment and education to form edutainment have been the subject of recent media research (Singhal/Rogers 1999, Singhal et al. 2004).

DEUTSCH KLASSE (German class) is a language learning TV series in 13 episodes produced by BR-alpha. Considering the series as an example, to what extent does this strategy contribute to the imparting of German language skills to foreign fellow citizens? The TV series is being broadcast on the educational programme of channel BR-alpha as well as on the Third Programmes of public service broadcasting. Each 30 minute episode is based on the principle of a soap opera: diverse plot lines, the dramatisation of everyday life and a cliffhanger at the end of every episode. Moreover, the TV series is embedded in a multi-media system including written material, grammar tests on the BR-alpha website and a language course at an educational institution where a language certificate can be acquired.

The TV series DEUTSCH KLASSE will serve as an example for the analysis on how an entertaining language learning programme is judged by the audience. In addition to this, there will be a data collection concerning the acquisition strategies that viewers use to obtain knowledge from this series.


In this project, the quality criteria of a "foreign language teaching TV soap" will be evaluated on the basis of DEUTSCH KLASSE (on the air since 2003). For this purpose, opinions on the series and acquisition strategies by the target group will be collected from learners of German as a foreign language as well as from producers and teachers. These judgements on the language learning TV programme will be contrasted with statements from research literature on the "soap" genre and on the effectiveness of audio-visual media in classroom teaching.

Data collection

Qualitative inquiries of learners of German as a foreign language, producers and teachers who have seen at least one episode of the series. In total, there will be interviews with 50 foreign adults of different countries of origin from the target group who are participating in a German language course in Munich and surrounding area. Every German language course will watch a video-taped episode of the series. In a questionnaire, information about gender, age and length of stay in Germany will be collected as well as a short evaluation of the programme in note form. This is followed by a group discussion with all participants.
In addition to that, one-on-one interviews will be conducted with about 6 foreigners with a migration background who have watched several parts of the series, as well as one-on-one interviews with the producers and teachers/disseminators about their estimation of the "foreign language teaching TV soap" DEUTSCH KLASSE.


The one-on-one interviews and the data collected during the group discussions will be qualitatively analysed in a content analysis in respect of the evaluation criteria. Besides quality criteria such as appeal, learning benefit, interpretation and attentiveness/arousing curiosity for the next episode. Further criteria will be developed from the comments of the respondents. Subsequently, the assessments of the target group will be compared with those of the teachers/disseminators and producers. On the basis of these statements and in comparison with research results on the use of audio-visual media in class, the quality of the TV-series for "German as a second language"-learners will be discussed.


The results were presented at the annual meeting of the GMK (association for media pedagogy and communication culture) in Bielefeld, November 2005.

Project manager: Elke Schlote


Meyer, Manfred: Sind Bildungsprogramme für das große Publikum noch aktuell? In: Meyer, Manfred (Hrsg.): Bildungsprogramme im Fernsehen: Was wollen die Zuschauer? Beiträge zu einer europäischen Konferenz. München: KoPäd, 1997, S. 16-29.

Strittmann, Peter; Niegemann, Helmut: Lehren und Lernen mit Medien. Eine Einführung. Darmstadt: WBG 2000.

Singhal, Arvind; Rogers, Everett M.: Entertainment-education. A communication strategy for social change. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum 1999.

Singhal, Arvind u.a. (Hrsg.): Entertainment-education and social change. History, research, and practice. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum 2004.