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Learning English with Tingo the monster

By Vereba Dobnik
Courtesy of CTW
July 9, 1999

He's smart, exuberant, a fabulous chef, and he speaks 4,000 languages. And he's single.

The trouble is, Tingo is a monster -- a new Muppet character who will teach children around the world English. He's the star of ‘‘Sesame English,'' a multimedia television program that entertains kids into learning the language.

A tiger-like creature swathed in purple, green and yellow feathers, Tingo is the picture of sartorial splendor -- if you can ignore that long, hairy, unruly tail.

‘‘Excuse me, pardon me, bon jour, ciao, hola, shalom, guten tag, jambo, konnichi-wa. Grrrrr. That's right, I'm an international cat; Berlitz me, baby!'' Tingo said at a Manhattan news conference. His languages also include his native ‘‘Tingoese.''

Children's Television Workshop, which produces the educational series ‘‘Sesame Street,'' is developing 52 15-minute episodes of ‘‘Sesame English.'' Live action and animation will bolster Tingo and other Muppet characters as they debut next spring in Japan, China and Taiwan.

The show will then be introduced in Europe and North and Latin America at as-yet unspecified dates.

By the end of this year, Berlitz International Inc. will offer private classes based on the program to children in Japan, Mexico, Brazil and Germany, said Hiromasa Yokoi, president and chief executive officer of the language school that operates in more than 50 countries. Berlitz is spinning off the show into books, video and audio material and CD-ROMs.

But never mind Berlitzing the world -- Tingo started blitzing his first audience already on Thursday. He was rapping, singing and swinging his way through his personal debut, interrupting everyone and, in short, shmoozing his way into the limelight.

Tingo was the brainchild of Cheryl Henson, daughter of the late Jim Henson, who created the original Muppets.

Curious about everything and ever hungry as he roams the world, he's an instinctive chef who makes international meals without cookbooks or measuring cups.

He comes with a sidekick, Niki, a typical American teen-ager whose passion is music. Sophisticated and sassy, she has her own rock band.

Together, they'll highlight shows aimed at the 3-to-11 age group. ‘‘Sesame English,'' which cost millions of dollars to develop, will be customized to fit various cultures and television markets.

At least 10 percent of what Tingo says ‘‘will be in the native language of the country where the show is broadcast,'' says executive producer Lewis Bernstein. ‘‘That way, he holds the child's hand, reassuring the kid to feel, 'I'm here, and you can always fall back on me.'''

‘‘If you wanna talk to me, you just turn on your TV, follow everything I say, and you'll be on your way!'' 

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