Tag Archives: second language acquisition

“I Accuse…!”

posted by Wolfgang Butzkamm, Aachen University (RWTH), Germany

Why do so many asylum seekers fail the official German courses, among them even highly qualified, highly motivated and hard-working migrants who are keen on starting a new life in Germany?

I accuse…
all those who have been teaching German as a foreign language according to a monolingual German-only approach, to the detriment of their clients. These are notably teachers and teacher trainers

  • of the Goethe-Institute
  • of universities and academic language centres
  • of various language schools offering official German courses

I also accuse various publishers of textbooks and the BAMF (Federal German Agency for Migration and Refugees). Because they all should have known better and reacted more appropriately to a difficult situation.

I claim:
The German-only approach  (or, for that matter, the English-only policies worldwide) is self-crippling. In our digital age it is a patent absurdity and a cause of unnecessary misery especially for speakers of ‘remote’ languages. Many refugees fail the monolingual German courses. Clearly defined and brain compatible bilingual teaching techniques in conjunction with monolingual activities empower the students and enrich the teachers’ repertoire.

I propose:
– Textbook publishers offer bilingual word lists of words and phrases in many languages. The lists should be arranged in three columns and ordered according to lessons – this is standard practice in German coursebooks of English. These lists can be printed separately or downloaded freely from the internet. Bilingual classroom phrases for beginners should also be available.
– Teachers allow a ‘time-out’ to help learners who speak the same language clarify comprehension problems among themselves. Learners use dictionaries and smartphones and share the information gained.
– Teachers select and present Youtube videos on special German grammar topics to groups of students who share the same language. As they watch and learn, the teacher continues working with the rest of the class. German grammar videos are provided free of charge by bilingual native speakers and have often been clicked more than a million times (see, for instance, Deiaa Abdullah for Arabic and Almani be Farsi. For students who come equipped with a good knowledge of English smarterGerman.com is a great help.)
– Teachers ask former students who have become proficient bilinguals to provide them with parallel translations of selected texts which they will use time and again with new students.
– Contrary to what the BAMF recommends, homogeneous classes where all students share a language will be formed wherever possible. For them special textbooks such as Hossein Tavakkoly’s “Deutsch für Perser” could be used alongside traditional German-only textbooks. These textbooks are written in the learners’ own language, and it is possible for them, wherever necessary, to provide word-for-word translations of unfamiliar and ‘bizarre’ German constructions. Here are four examples illustrating this technique, also called mother-tongue mirroring, for English speakers: In many languages the phrase “Do you have a passport?” is rendered literally “Is to-you passport?”. In Twi, comparisons such “Kofi is bigger than me” are expressed  by means of a verb: “Kofi big exceed me”. In Mandarin, the plural of nouns is not marked by an ending, but by inserting a special measure word: “two books” is literally “two volume book”, “two knives” is “two grip knife”, somewhat similar to ”two pieces of soap” or ” two bars of chocolate”, etc. In the Ponca-language “I have a sister” is something like “I am sistered”. – In this way, languages can become transparent for one another.
– In the long run, teachers could make themselves familiar with salient grammatical peculiarities of their students‘ languages. They may record files of recurring errors from speakers of these languages and develop strategies to deal with them. Even a little knowledge of students’ languages will go a long way.
Textbook lessons for advanced students usually deal with certain topics such as ‘trade unions’. Teachers should point out to their students that there could be Wikipedia articles on the same topic in their own languages. Reading them will certainly help them to understand the foreign language text better. Comprehension is the key to language.
– Since students come from varying school cultures, they should be taught effective learning techniques such as the read-and-look-up method.

Our digital age provides many opportunities to tailor the teaching and learning of foreign languages to the individual needs of the learners. (See  also chapter 13: “Ideas for multilingual classes“ in Butzkamm & Caldwell, 2009, pp.229ff.)

The situation is complex, and the bilingual approach is no cure-all against failures. Teaching migrants remains a difficult job. Students differ significantly according to their origins, cultures, languages, ages, talents, motivation, and previous knowledge.

AAAL 2011 Annual Conference

Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

The 2011 conference of the American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) will be held March 26 – 29 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, Chicago, IL. The 2011 AAAL conference will serve as a meeting place for applied linguists to generate ideas, cross disciplinary boundaries, and disseminate research about issues and concerns in language policy, second language acquisition, language pedagogy and assessment, discourse analysis and other areas of applied linguistics.

The submission of abstracts and the refereeing process will be carried out through the AAAL web submission system. Abstracts for all presentation formats should be submitted for blind peer review at:

The proposal submission deadline is August 15, 2010.

International CLIL Conference 2010

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

The International CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) Conference 2010 “In Pursuit of Excellence: Uncovering CLIL Quality by CLIL Practitioners – Evidencing CLIL Quality by CLIL Researchers” will be held September 30 to October 2 at the University of Eichstätt in Germany. For more information, including the call for contributions, see the webpages of the CLIL Consortium.

AILA 2008 Research Symposium

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

The 15th World Congress of Applied Linguistics will be held in Essen, Germany from August 24 to 29, 2008. The conference theme is “Multilingualism: Challenges and Opportunities.” The congress is organised by the German Association of Applied Linguistics (GAL e.V.), the University of Duisburg-Essen, Congress Centre Essen (CCE), and further partners.

On behalf of the German Society for Foreign Language Research (DGFF), Prof. Dr. Karin Aguado (University of Kassel, Germany) and I will be co-chairing a full three-hour research symposium which is scheduled for Tuesday, August 26, 16:00-19:00.

The symposium is intended as a forum for dissemination and discussion of current empirical research on foreign/second language learning and teaching in Germany. Its main objective is to present the breadth and diversity of large-scale, medium-scale and small-scale quantitative and qualitative research in this area to an international audience of experts.

The symposium will have three main sessions. Each session will be scheduled for a one-hour time slot. The individual sessions will be facilitated by renowned scholars as well as early career researchers and devoted to the following issues (arranged in the following order):

Current Research on Teaching and Learning Foreign/Second Languages in Germany

Session 1
Prof. Dr. Günter M.J. Nold (University of Dortmund, Germany) (60 minutes)

Sociopragmatic and grammatical awareness – findings from the DESI project

DESI (German-English-Student-Assessment-International), a large-scale assessment study commissioned by the German federal board of education, was designed and implemented by an interdisciplinary consortium of applied linguists and educational researchers. Two of the tests in the test battery that was developed were sociopragmatic and grammatical awareness tests (N=11.000; ninth grade students). The empirical results of these tests will be discussed both with an emphasis on theories of language awareness raising and on questions related to theories of second language acquisition in the fields of sociopragmatic and grammatical development.

Session 2
Prof. Dr. Marita Schocker-von Ditfurth (Freiburg University of Education, Germany) / Prof. Dr. Michael K. Legutke (University of Giessen, Germany) (60 minutes)

Task-based language learning in EFL classrooms

Research on task-based language learning has been running strong for 20 years now, but has been dominated by a psycholinguistic research paradigm for a long time. While some of these research findings have been important in terms of learning about the mental processes involved in second language acquisition, they were largely focused on isolated tasks of individual, usually adult learners, and therefore did not take into account the complexity of the contextual factors that influence learning in the foreign language classroom. The presentation focuses on the complex issues that arise when researching the methodological implementation of a task-based approach on the classroom level as well as on the level of teacher education.

Session 3
Prof. Dr. Grit Mehlhorn (University of Leipzig, Germany) (30 minutes)

Learning a foreign pronunciation – evidence from individual pronunciation coaching

Individual learner coaching focusing on pronunciation can reveal interesting insights in individual language acquisition processes. This talk reports the results of a longitudinal study with foreign students at a German university. It will be shown that the following factors influence the learner’s progress: first, an individual diagnosis of the deviations in the target pronunciation; second, an increase of the learner’s consciousness with respect to the foreign pronunciation and the choice of individual learning strategies; and third, permanent feedback on learning progress. These factors lead to an increased self-reflection on the part of the learners regarding their learning process, language awareness, and they also serve to foster learner autonomy.

Sevilen Demirkaya M.A. & Nazan Gültekin M.A. (University of Bielefeld, Germany) (30 minutes)

MIKI – Research of the pre-school language support program for ethnic minority children in Bielefeld, Germany

Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, this project focuses on examining the second language development of ethnic minority children who participate in a support program at the pre-school level.