Background Proposal Excerpts

The full text of this Report, entitled “The Future of German in American Education: A Summary Report,” is published in Die Unterrichtspraxis 29.2(1996):251-59. Excerpts from its Curricular Recommendations:

Replace a mastery-oriented, additive model of language learning with a holistic model that integrates linguistic and cultural knowledge right from the beginning in a fashion that is appropriate to the educational level/age of the learner;

Provide for multi-year, long-term integrated sequences of instruction across instructional levels that aim at usable, preferably advanced, German language abilities

Create high-quality programmatic linkages across the curriculum/discipline which consider the student population of a given institution;

At the graduate level, assure that all students, irrespective of program emphasis, attain high levels of German language ability and differentiated cultural knowledge and insights (“multiple literacies”); reconsider the near-exclusive focus on Ph.D. studies and create multiple exit points (diverse M.A.s) by making connections with a variety of professions and employment opportunities; for the Ph.D. include non-academic career paths as a deliberate option; consider a loosely coordinated effort aimed at developing different emphases in different Ph.D. programs.


I. Departmental Mission

The German Department at Georgetown University seeks to serve all students at the University, not only the potential future majors. Such a comprehensive mission requires the creation and delivery of curricula that accomplish seemingly disparate goals. Our programs must be open, accessible, academically and personally appealing and “useful” to the entire university and they must reflect a clearly defined identity that will make educational sense at Georgetown University. These seemingly dichotomous demands must be creatively addressed for practical enrollment reasons, but to avoid disintegration into “service department” status in relationship to the other programs whom we are eager to serve they must be reconciled through an intellectual approach that substantiates our academic presence and contribution on its own merits.

… two different student populations …

Though these two student groups will naturally reach different levels of ability in German, they do not differ with regard to the intellectual merits with which we shape their study of German, no matter how long or how short that is. …

The departmental faculty has agreed in principle that one key way in which to arrive at such an intellectual mooring for its program is to leave behind a thinking and a practice that distinguishes between “language courses” where language is taught and learned without any readily discernible connection to content, and “content courses” where content is taught and language is presumed to be known. To be more specific, perhaps our students, irrespective of program or school affiliation, do not really differ with regard to the content that we can and should teach them or the pedagogies that we employ through the proposed “Level III” courses. Only beginning with “Level III” will we see differentiation, and that is a differentiation that is largely based on student choice as to content focus, not with regard to intellectual and linguistic goals and demands. In sum, language and intellectual content are learned/taught concurrently throughout our undergraduate curriculum.

Such a reorientation has far-reaching consequences. Internally these are primarily concerned with a rethinking of curriculum and pedagogy. Externally, we must assure that we carefully follow a host of administrative steps all of which are intended to implement this shift smoothly and in a timely fashion, and to we must inform the University community of this curricular reorientation and explain its potential significance to diverse programmatic components and, ultimately, its students.

We note particularly two areas of change for the curriculum:

first, such an approach requires us to come up with content areas that we can profitably pursue right from the beginning of instruction;
second and equally importantly, all faculty will have to assure that language acquisition at higher academic levels, i.e., academic literacy in German, is addressed in all courses, including particularly the 3rd and 4th year courses.

If we look at larger implications (including pedagogy, materials, and administration), we are aware of important changes being required at least in the following areas:

course offerings/titles,
the pedagogies and levels of engagement with our students that we must demand of all of us, materials being used, both textbook materials and others that we assemble within the department, faculty development, particularly in the area of second language acquisition that must have long-term consequences and lead to a different culture of teaching; such an approach would be more akin to a “scholarship of teaching” (see the influential Boyer Report), rather than the “skill” of teaching language “skills,”
the use of technology;
“care and feeding” of all our students, including advising, and
public relations and student recruitment within the university.
To succeed, such a shift requires a maximum of cooperation among all parties who make up the department, faculty, graduate students, undergraduate students, administration, and staff; the pooling of departmental resources and capabilities and their optimal use (which may require some reassessment of practices and reassignment of teaching staff); securing additional funding from outside the department during the first implementation phase; a certain level of coordination of the diverse efforts; periodic reassessment during the implementation phase; summative assessment at the end of the implementation phase, at the beginning of 2001.

II. Departmental Goals and Approaches

1. General Considerations

All curricula and courses offered by the German Department intricately link learning about the German-speaking world (e.g., its intellectual history, socio-political and economic realities, and its culture and literature) with acquiring the German language. Indeed, the order of priority lies with intellectual content and not initially and in a separatist fashion with the language. In other words, this approach contrasts in fundamental ways with the more customary division of a curriculum into language courses–usually the first four semesters– and content courses, the so-called upper level classes. It emphasizes facility in the use of a language in a variety of communicative contexts and situations and, therefore, differs in important ways from a one-dimensional and normative approach that often unduly privileges knowledge about the rules of a language over saying something meaningful in and with a language. We hope to foster such differentiated meaning-full language abilities through a coherent, and well-sequenced program of study that extends over all four undergraduate years and carefully incorporates all modalities of language, reading, listening, writing, and speaking. We refer to this as an approach that aims at reflective MULTIPLE LITERACIES in our students.

2. The Department’s Curriculum in the Context of Georgetown University

By putting the focus on language in use– that is, on meaning, context, and content, and connecting meaning with accuracy, fluency, and complexity of expression in German as a second language–we not only incorporate the best knowledge in second language acquisition research and pedagogy; we also respect our unique student population and the kind of education it seeks.

Our program is located at a highly selective university which, furthermore, draws on a student body with extensive international experience and interests. Consequently, we have shaped our curricula with the assumption that students choose to study German based on certain intellectual motivations and expectations, but also with certain practical goals and ambitions:

Though they may be able to express the following insight only after extended study of the German language, our students desire to touch and be touched by its formational role, its potential for helping them cross those borders that inherently limit the monolingual and monocultural person.

Alongside these formative experiences they, of course, wish to learn to use German and learn to use it well, enabling them, as much as possible, to use the language in scholarly, professional, and public contexts. They are interested in gaining access to knowledge in diverse academic fields (e.g., literary studies, history, philosophy, psychology, the arts) that is available in a German linguistic/cultural context, and they want to facilitate their work in a range of professional environments (e.g., the international arena in business, trade, policy making, consulting, management, foundation work, the media).

Because we are a university-level program our emphasis on language in use is not limited to assuring that students are able to handle simple communicative needs. On the contrary, we engage students in literate language behaviors right from the start: the language of public discourse in public places and not only the language of private and personal feelings; the language of the text, in reading and writing, and not only oral, highly situated language; the language of special purposes (e.g., in the academy, in the business world, in international relations and diplomacy), as contrasted with only cotidien communicative needs. In other words, right from the beginning students’ interests and background knowledge (in subject matter areas and in native language abilities = L1 abilities) are deliberately incorporated into the curriculum and our pedagogy.

We believe that both aspects can be combined into a formational experience for the whole person by taking an approach that

savors the language, in its sounds and rhythms, its stories and poetry;
exemplifies that meanings are situated and contextualized and are shaped dialogically through ways of being in relationship to others, ways of telling a story, interpreting an event, organizing a discourse, referring to other texts of the culture, in what is assumed as given, therefore remains unexpressed, and what is being expressed– all of which is manifested in choices of language forms, words and their arrangement in syntax;
deliberately and unapologetically connects L1 knowledge (usually, but not always, English) with the learning of German, e.g., through additional readings in English for background knowledge in history, and through a choice of topics that are appealing to our students;
continuously invites students to compare and contrast their native language and cultural assumptions with those that mark the German-speaking world as both similar and different.
In sum, the program hopes to…help students understand their own positionality in terms of the other.

3. Implications for the German Department’s Program

All four language modalities–reading, listening, writing, and speaking–are fostered right from the beginning in an intricately interrelated fashion. The previous order indicates a slope of likely intellectual engagement and performance: reading comprehension can be constructed in such a fashion that it is closest to their current behaviors as L1 readers — speaking is furthest from their L1 capacity, nevertheless need not lack intellectual merit.

The curriculum focuses on content and makes intricate content/function to language form connections, rather than following an approach which implicitly assumed that students first learn, in an additive fashion, the formal inventory with the goal of accuracy, and THEN use it to access and express content. Unfortunately, all too often, by the time the “THEN” finally comes around, many students have given up on their study of a foreign language.


Emphasize “Communicative Competence” rather than formal knowledge
This requires a performance and use orientation

Shift from a product focus to an elaborated interrelatedness of product and process
Context, situatedness, contingencies, choice, creativeness, and variation not merely nice “add-ons” that can be attended to after the “norm” has been established.

Variation motivated by communicative context is the norm

Language acquisition, too, needs to be understood contextually
It is a highly complex long-term developmental process in which new meaning-form connections are established. Situatedness of the learner, of language learning, of the learning task, of the modality, of language register, of genre.

Centrality of the notion of interlanguage

The pedagogical approach is neither heavily analytical nor primarily experiential/natural
Use to advantage the performance aspects and the pedagogical implications of two kinds of processing: Syntactic/analytical and collocational/memory-based

The classroom is not a deficit environment

Consider a “Focus on Form” approach that makes meaning central (FonF), rather than a focus on formS
The multiple relationships of accuracy/fluency/complexity need to be considered, in the curriculum and in individual courses, in pedagogies and in assessment

revised July 2011