The Methodology of the German Language Courses under European Studies

A. Methodological Principles
    Learner-centredness
    Task-based Learning
    Process-orientation

B. Notes & Recommendations for Specific Aspects of Teaching & Learning
    Learners' Needs and Interests
    Authenticity of Tasks and Materials
    Learning to Learn
    Teacher Learning
    Consciousness-raising
    Inductive Learning
    Cooperative Learning


A. Methodological Principles

Learner-centredness

The learner, and not the teacher, is the subject of the language lesson as he is the one who is striving to acquire communicative competence.

Task-based Learning

As the main objective is communicative competence, learning in the classroom should be based on language tasks which the learner is likely to perform in real life, either in the home country or in Germany. In other words, the learner should acquire the necessary linguistic means (structures, vocabulary etc.) and other skills (discourse skills, communication strategies, sociolinguistic understanding) to convey his intentions in a given situation. Learning activities should be embedded in concrete contexts and not take place merely as an academic exercise.

Process-orientation

The learning process is at least as important as the product itself, i.e. the language. If learners adopt or acquire effective and appropriate learning methods, they will invariably arrive at the desired product. Thus, as much attention should be attached to helping learners optimise their learning as to the acquisition of linguistic items.


B. Notes & Recommendations for Specific Aspects of Teaching & Learning

Learners' Needs and Interests

Topics and activities selected for the courses should be based on learners’ interest as well as their practical value for real life communication. This could mean that some deviations from prescribed textbooks or materials may be necessary. At the same time, it also means that the initial choice of textbooks should be made carefully. Wherever possible, textbooks and other materials used should offer up-to-date information on Germany and her culture.

Authenticity of Tasks and Materials

As learners are to be prepared for communication in the real world, authentic materials should be used for the lessons. In fact, it has been proven that the use of authentic materials will motivate learners more. The teacher should not ‘mutilate’ the text and willfully simplify it to the extent that the language is no longer authentic. Instead, learners should be taught strategies of how to deal with authentic texts and understanding the gist of such texts, e.g. by inferring the meaning of unknown words using the context or knowledge of their mother tongue (if the words are similar). This guideline again implies that the choice of textbooks is of extreme importance to ensure that learners do not learn using texts that are outdated and no longer of relevance in today’s world.

Learning to Learn

A Chinese saying goes: “It is better to teach someone how to fish than to give them the fish.” In accordance with the principle of process orientation, learners should be consciously taught language learning strategies. There are strategies available for improving listening and reading comprehension, learning and remembering grammar, understanding and memorising lexical items etc. Some learners with experience in foreign language learning will already have a repertoire of strategies. These too may be discussed in class so that each individual learner can pick the strategies most appropriate to him from the vast selection put forward in class. The textbook currently used for our German modules, Eurolingua Deutsch 1, places much emphasis on learning to learn.

The use of a dictionary, the most important reference tool available to learners, should be stressed and even taught as part of the course. Many learners do not make maximum use of their dictionaries simply because they are unaware of what these may offer them.

Strategy training will make learners more autonomous, and they will be able to engage in independent learning even outside of the classroom or after the course. This is vital as they will not have a teacher to guide them forever.

Teacher Learning

Teachers must themselves possess or constantly seek to acquire the same procedural competence and qualities of autonomy, reflectivity and creativity that the syllabus has set as goals for the students, for it is unlikely that teachers would fully embrace these goals if their own learning backgrounds and beliefs about education and language learning were in conflict with the philosophy of this syllabus.

Pre-service teacher education must prepare teachers for the new roles that they are expected to play in a learner-centred classroom. For instance, teachers will have to be informed about the theoretical developments and empirical findings on which the current methodology is based and also receive training in the teaching of strategies. Continuous teacher learning and regular in-service training are necessary to constantly upgrade the teaching skills of the teachers and keep them abreast of latest developments. Teachers must understand that their professional development is a lifelong process.

Consciousness-raising

Given the cognitive capacity of university students or adult learners, the teacher can and should adopt a more cognitive approach to teaching. While the language lesson should not become a linguistics seminar, there is the need to explain what, why and how one learns. For example, any strategy taught in class should be identified as such, and its usefulness discussed or even demonstrated as this will increase the likelihood that the learner will employ the same strategy later. As a further example, it is also necessary to explain why certain structures are taught in class to show their usefulness in communication.

Inductive Learning

Research has shown that learners learn more effectively if they are allowed to formulate rules and hypotheses about the language on their own. They will comprehend and remember the structures better and thus develop a better feel for the language. Inductive learning means teachers will have to guide their learners to recognise new linguistic features and formulate their own rules for these features.

Cooperative Learning

In order to minimise inactivity and maximise the effective use of class time, learners should be engaged in partner or group activities for a good proportion of the lesson. The teacher will then move from group to group to monitor their progress as well as provide assistance. Language is about communication, and thus opportunities for communication should be created by getting learners to work in pairs or small groups. Group work is also a social/affective strategy that will help reduce anxiety and fear in class tremendously as the learner will not be left to deal with any exercise or activity alone. There are, nevertheless, occasions when individual work is necessary or more desirable.