Action-Based / Action-Oriented Foreign Language Education

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlruhe University of Education, Germany

Handlungsorientierung is a core concept in foreign language education in Germany today. Generally speaking, the term refers to developing the ability to use the foreign language as an instrument of action in a variety of communicative contexts. Methodologically, it is closely related to task-based instruction, to product- and process-oriented, participatory, inductive and experiental learning in foreign language classrooms. On the whole, Handlungsorientierung focuses on the psychosocial dynamics of language in action, and not only on the cognitive processes involved in individual target language reception and production (see, for instance, Bach & Timm 2003).

In a recently published article in the inaugural issue of INNOVATION IN LANGUAGE LEARNING AND TEACHING (ISSN: 1750-1229), van Lier (2007) uses the terms ‘action-based’ and ‘action oriented’ teaching and learning to refer to Handlungsorientierung and / or Handlungsorientierter Unterricht. The paper is available online (click on link below), and I highly recommend reading it (especially, but not only because of his brief discussion of (un-)predictability and improvisation; van Lier 2007: 53).

I would like to add, perhaps, that in order to fully appreciate the historical context from which the overall concept (or approach) has emerged, the European Modern Language Reform Movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century should not be left unmentioned. In particular, I wish to refer to the important works of Max Walter (1857-1935) in this context. 

Bach, Gerhard & Timm, Johannes-Peter (2003). “Handlungsorientierung als Ziel und Methode.” In: G. Bach & and J-P. Timm (Eds.). Englischunterricht. Grundlagen und Methoden einer handlungsorientierten Unterrichtspraxis. Tübingen: Francke, 1-21 (first edition 1996).

Van Lier, Leo (2007). “Action-based Teaching, Autonomy and Identity”. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 1, 46-65.

Walter, Max (1931). Zur Methodik des Neusprachlichen Unterrichts. [On the Methodology of Modern Language Instruction]. Marburg: Elwert (first edition 1908).



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