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Review: Short and sheep

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In a terrifying online world of Peppa Pig porn and terrorist recruitment videos, Learning Time with Timmy is a reassuring YouTube series for young learners of English, Irena Barker writes

Learning Time with Timmy (online tv series),
British Council with Aardman
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Since Aardman’s stop-animation characters Wallace and Gromit first launched their rocket to the moon in 1989’s Grand Day Out, they have become national treasures in the UK and international superstars.

And they have spawned several spin-offs, including the much-loved Shaun the Sheep.

But if you don’t have young children, you may not have heard of one of them – Timmy the Lamb, the loveable star of Timmy Time, a stop-animation for pre-school children.

The aim of the series is to teach children about sharing, learning from mistakes and making friends.

Now, though, Timmy has a new (woolly) string to his bow: teaching English via YouTube.

Earlier this month, the British Council launched its new Learning Time with Timmy animated series on the platform, which aims to teach English as an additional language to children aged two to six around the world. Joining in the global craze for pre-school English teaching, the British Council has developed the series of 26 five-minute episodes with Aardman animations and educational experts.

It is based on the British Council’s Learning Time with Timmy course which it already teaches in venues around the world.

A press release handed out at the launch of the series says that young children’s brains can only properly follow a ‘frame rate’ which is 10 times slower than that of an adult.

It may be exciting and stimulating, but a lot of fast-paced YouTube content is simply too much for early years children to take in properly, it claims.
Learning Time with Timmy, it says, has been specially designed to avoid this problem.

“It is aimed specifically at children, with clear learning goals ”

But is it any good? Well, the launch event was certainly promising, with Timmy himself putting in an appearance. And my kids were instantly entranced by the short clips. The English heard comes via a very clear and jolly female voiceover. As an adult viewer, I quickly found my mind wandering.

I lost the thread of the (very simple) plot and started to wonder how great it would be to work as an animator at Aardman. But my kids, aged three and six, were glued. The very clear language and constant repetition mean the words introduced are imprinted on the brain. The really popular aspect of the YouTube channel will surely be its video clips with learning songs. The first one available, Guess the Colour (60,000 views), is very clear and repetitive, and children will want to play it again and again. I can imagine its lively tones driving parents round the twist from Bordeaux to Bangalore.

Above all, this new YouTube series will mean parents have a new, reliable source of English language content that they know is aimed specifically at children, with clear learning goals. It is harder than you think to find appropriate videos for children where there is a good risk of them actually learning something.

In a world where parents lie awake worrying their children are going to stumble across the dreaded Peppa Pig porn or an Isis recruitment video, this British Council offering is a breath of fresh English air.

As the channel is updated over the coming weeks, it should become a really useful bank of clips to show kindergarten classes and individual children in their own homes.

While I would prefer children to stay off their screens and learn English by playing board games with their au pairs, Timmy might offer the next best thing.