We live in an age of media diversity and heterogeneous learning goals. Which German is best-suited to which context? And how does teaching of German as a foreign language need to respond to changes in communication culture and linguistic style? Some suggestions.
Nowadays there is no straightforward answer to the question of which German should be taught to GFL learners, nor to the question of what can be considered “right” or “wrong” in this respect. It goes without saying that the standard written and spoken German, in all its national variants, that is codified in grammar books and dictionaries and widely used in important texts, should continue to play a major role in language teaching, as it is still regarded as appropriate in many more formal contexts such as in schools and universities, as well as in many professional and specialist contexts. What is more, this is the language that is to be widely found in print media.
On the other hand, these more formal contexts are generally becoming less common in public discourse. Even today, they already face competition from a whole host of dynamic and more varied “biotopes”.
TAKING STYLISTIC DIVERSITY SERIOUSLY
Nowadays, for example, many different kinds of blogs are increasingly assuming functions that were formally the exclusive domain of print products. There are cookery blogs, political blogs, sport blogs, literary blogs and satirical blogs, to name but a few. The styles in which they are written are more varied, frequently more informal, and in some cases more playful and creative. The same applies to the social media. Stylistic diversity is becoming the norm.
It is precisely these new forms of communication that are also of great interest in general language teaching, however, for they hugely expand the possibilities for direct exchange with other learners and German speakers. As a result, the spectrum of linguistic registers and communication styles that also has to be taught in GFL lessons has become confusingly broad. The consequence in language didactics cannot be to ignore the new styles and forms of communication, dismissing them as “contrary to the norm” or “bad”. Instead, teachers must address the new communication forms in an appropriate and explicit manner, take their peculiarities and their communicative and symbolic value seriously – and use them accordingly.
Blogs and social media for instance allow communicative practices that are highly interactive, cooperative and multifunctional. They enable learners to participate much more fully, to act meaningfully in an authentic and realistic context and to become involved in a lively communicative exchange.
GIVING CONSIDERATION TO PLAYS ON LANGUAGE AND COMMON PARLANCE
Frequently, plays on language, changes in style and code switching are used in these new communicative spaces to create particular effects. GFL learners should be sensitized to the possibilities available here: which linguistic devices can be used to achieve which effects, which degree of proximity and which kind of irony or emotionality?
Regional language and dialects are also becoming more common in this context, especially in the southern part of the German-speaking world. This kind of language use is entirely functional and appropriate in such contexts and should not be denigrated by measuring it against the “correct” formal standard. These oral styles and registers (be they more or less formal) must also be addressed in GFL lessons by using audio texts and dialogues in which realistic language is used.
In the German-speaking world, however, more formal oral styles are also frequently coloured by regional influences. This is evident from the vocabulary used (“Samstag” versus “Sonnabend”, “Brötchen” versus “Semmel”, “Aprikose” versus “Marille”), in some cases from the gender (“das” versus “die” Mail; “das” versus “die” Cola) – and very often from the pronunciation. In addition, the near-standard spoken language is distinguished from the written language by a whole series of characteristics, for example a reduced emphasis or omission of final syllables (“das könn’ wir mach’n”; “ich mach’”), a contraction of articles and pronouns (“ich hab’ ’ne tolle Nachricht”; “ich mach’s später”) and sometimes also a “more verbal” word order, such as in sentences containing the word “weil” (“ich kann das jetzt nicht machen weil das würde zu viel Zeit brauchen”). Such oral characteristics can even be found in fairly formal contexts, such as in academic lectures and oral examinations. Learners should be provided with authentic material to sensitize them to these characteristics. When it comes to language acquisition, the reduced emphasis of endings also means that certain grammatical differences such as adjectival endings are fairly difficult to hear and thus require particular attentiveness. In informal conversational situations, such characteristics should by no means be regarded as deviations, and certainly not as errors.
These days, many compilations of oral language are generally available. They contain audio samples with transcriptions that can be used as the basis for authentic exercises. These include the “Research and Teaching Corpus of Spoken German” (FOLK) compiled by the Institute for the German Language (IdS) in Mannheim and the “GeWiss” corpus of spoken academic language compiled by Leipzig University’s Herder Institute.