Well, here I am, at the “final” chapter of this project – and yet I still feel that all I have given you, my loyal reader, is two abnormally-long blog posts and whatever ends up in this one. You may be disappointed after this, and some of you may even get to say “I told you so!” Whatever the case, I can sincerely promise you I am not done. My background in Language Acquisition before this project was minimal, in Pedagogy virtually non-existent; thus, I entered this project basically as a student of German, yet feel that my commitment and effort on it speaks to my newfound passion for the former two fields of study. I will not give-up on these passions easily, and thus plan to return to this research, whether it be next summer or as a graduate student.
That all said, for this post I wish to return to a few of the original questions of my research and (actually) summarize my findings in response to each.
Question #1: What changes have occurred in German-language education over the past thirty years?
I feel that I answered this question rather thoroughly in my first two blog posts. Most of the main points and historical changes are hit in the first post – the results of my interviews – and most of my own findings in textbooks and some of my own hypotheses can be found in the second post – the results of my textbooks survey. Two readings that have brought me to an even deeper understanding are Hadley’s Teaching Language in Context and the United States Department of Education’s Standards for Foreign Language Learning.
Question #2: What has caused these changes?
Research. That pretty much sums it up. Scholars of Language Acquisition and Pedagogy have published their research, and educators have reworked their curricula accordingly. I understand that this result is rather anti-climactic, and I admit that more subtle causes of change most likely lie in the woodwork, since my research was primarily at a surface-level; however, my findings show that changes in instruction have been driven by changes methodology, and changes in methodology have been driven by changes in the findings of linguists in the field. I mention motivators of changes in German-specific language instruction later in this post.
Question #3: What are the benefits and drawbacks of these changes?
Again, I also address this question in my two former posts. Over the past thirty years, the changes in language instruction have revolved around two main themes: the goal of growth in communicative proficiency and an even emphasis on each of the four skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening), especially speaking. The “benefits” and “drawbacks” of the latter as a cause for change I feel are obvious. The goal of growth in communicative proficiency as a catalyst for change, though, has a wide spectrum of “benefits” and “drawbacks,” and where one falls on this spectrum depends first on what one has read, and then on what one has experienced. For example, a student learned a language for years in a classroom utilizing the Communicative Approach and many grammar-based supplements would probably scoff at a textbooks written for the Natural Approach, while if he/she had also read an article on TPRS, he/she would be slightly (note the adverb) less skeptical. Overall, the main “drawback” I found most educators felt in changes based on general communicative proficiency (primarily that of changing from a Communicative to a Natural Approach) is that it takes away from grammatical instruction. Whether this is a true drawback or not is a matter of opinion.
Question #4: Was noch? (What else?)
One aspect of language instruction that has been consistently present throughout my research, but unfortunately left unconsidered in my original proposal, is technology. Advances in technology have facilitated large changes in the way languages are taught. Students have gone from listening to teachers/professors speak the language to listening to themselves on tape recorders to listening to themselves and teachers/professors in language labs to listening to themselves and others, including native speakers, on video, CD, and the computer. And not only opportunities to enhance speaking and listening skills have been increased by technological advances; authentic readings and texts on writing in foreign languages are now readily at students fingertips. These advances have facilitated some changes in instruction, but in German-language instruction specifically I have found the greatest changes due to technology to be in cultural instruction; thus, today’s German students are much more culturally proficient than those 30 years ago.
Besides technology, there have been, are, and always will be historical events that influence language instruction; however, I did not truly find much in my research. For instance, I found that the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent reunification of Germany to (obviously) appear in textbooks after these events, and in some cases this topic would be a chapter’s major theme, but this change was at the surface-level simply a content change – I did not see any changes in methodology due to historical events.
This project has been, for lack of better words, fun and rewarding. It has been fun due to my interest in and passion for the topic, and rewarding due to my gained knowledge thereof and experience in research. I would like to thank all of the excellent educators who allowed me to interview them for their time and patience. I would also like to wholeheartedly thank the Roy R. Charles Center at the College of William and Mary for funding the project, and my advisor, Jennifer L. Taylor of the Modern Languages and Literatures Department at the College for her never-ending support and input from beginning to end. Vielen Dank!!! 😀