The Strange Interactions Between “Sabine und Michael”
My daughter is taking full-year German this year and came home with an odd worksheet featuring very rudimentary cartoon drawings that are used to tell a story. Seems like a good concept but the associated dialogue left us all a bit dumbfounded.
Here’s the page and translation:
Mr. Schmidt: “How old are you, Sabine?”
Sabine: “I am 16 years old.”
Mr. Schmidt: “You are young and beautiful.”
Sabine: “Thank you, and how old are you?”
Mr. Schmidt: “I am 26 years old.”
Sabine: “Oh, you are also young and very handsome. My friend Michael says you are old and ugly.”
Mr. Schmidt: “Michael says that?” Hmmm, interesting!”
Seriously, what is going on here? Is Mr. Schmidt hitting on Sabine? Is Sabine flirting with Mr. Schmidt? Why does he have to bring up her looks? Their interaction seems strange, especially given their vast age difference. If Sabine were just a few years older it might not seem so odd. But making her a minor makes it cringy. Sabine and Mr. Schmidt’s interaction becomes even stranger in the context of another worksheet, where the two first meet and we find Mr. Schmidt kissing Sabine’s hand as she bashfully looks away.
Sabine bumps into a man. “Oh, excuse me!” Sabine says.
“I’m sorry!” says the man.
Sabine looks at the man and asks, “Excuse me, what’s your name?”
“My name is Mr. Schmidt. And you?” says the man.
“My name is Sabine,” says Sabine.
“I am pleased to meet you, Sabine!” says Mr. Schmidt and kisses Sabine’s hand.
“Pleased to meet you, too!” says Sabine.
Now, the dialogue here is fine. I understand the vocabulary this worksheet is trying to teach (ie, “sorry” and “excuse me”) but why have Mr. Schmidt kiss Sabine’s hand? Was that really necessary for this lesson? What is the teaching point here? This is not the 17th or 18th century. Kissing a stranger’s hand is not a normal interaction. And I think it would be an especially unusual occurrence in Germany, where kissing or hugging, especially in public, is generally avoided. A brief handshake would be much more realistic, especially between strangers. So, I was seriously left wondering about this odd curriculum and decided to do some investigating.
It turns out the worksheet is part of a Sabine und Michael series, which is a “TPRS” curriculum developed by a guy named Michael Miller, who has taught German and Spanish at the high school level and now sells his curriculum. I had to look up what TPRS means and found it stands for “Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling.” While I like that concept, the stories/dialogue are poorly executed.
On his website, Mr. Miller sells Sabine und Michael as a “natural, cultural approach” and includes an extensive bulleted list outlining the many benefits of his TPRS materials. One bullet says, “Real treatment of culture. The use of realistic characters in realistic settings lends itself to a consistent stream of cultural customs.” As I already mentioned, the exchange between Sabine and Michael does not seem realistic to me from a culture standpoint, though I have to admit I have not been to Germany in about 20 years. Still, I doubt they have developed a hand-kissing epidemic over there. Furthermore, in today’s Me Too environment, the presented scenarios can be considered downright inappropriate. This series could really use a bit of an overhaul to reflect stories more in line with the times and the culture they’re intended to represent.
That said, I can’t wait to see what happens next, as another selling feature is that this curriculum provides “a serial set of stories that follow characters through two years.” What will Mr. Schmidt’s next move be? Stay tuned!