Scholarly article on topic 'Teaching German Grammar in a University Seminar'

Teaching German Grammar in a University Seminar Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Sarka Hubackova

Abstract Prerequisite is that students have a grammar book of German at their disposal during their home preparation. At seminar lessons they work with worksheets. Every sheet represents a content whole. At the same time it is a basis for linguistic analysis and source material for exercises. The aim of teaching is to deepen student́s knowledge of grammar so that they would be able to formulate their economic needs in writing in a relatively acceptable level of accuracy. Some ways of teaching process are only mentioned, some are described in detail. The teaching focuses on linguistic phenomena specific for German and even in these cases the teaching process and its claims are described in detail and in variant approaches. The checking of studentś activity is also mentioned. The paper is closed by several remarks on evaluating acquired knowledge of grammar phenomena.

Academic research paper on topic "Teaching German Grammar in a University Seminar"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 47 (2012) 535 - 539


Teaching German grammar in a University Seminar

Sarka Hubackovaa*

aUniversity of Hradec Kralove, Rokitanskeho 62, 50003 Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic


Prerequisite is that students have a grammar book of German at their disposal during their home preparation. At seminar lessons they work with worksheets. Every sheet represents a content whole. At the same time it is a basis for linguistic analysis and source material for exercises. The aim of teaching is to deepen student's knowledge of grammar so that they would be able to formulate their economic needs in writing in a relatively acceptable level of accuracy. Some ways of teaching process are only mentioned, some are described in detail. The teaching focuses on linguistic phenomena specific for German and even in these cases the teaching process and its claims are described in detail and in variant approaches. The checking of students' activi ty is also mentioned. The paper is closed by several remarks on evaluating acquired knowledge of grammar phenomena.

© 2012 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and/or peer review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Huseyin Uzunboylu Keywords: German grammar, lesson, linguistic, grammar phenomena, foreign language;

1. Introduction

My place of work is the Faculty of Informatics and Management at the University Hradec Kralove in the Czech Republic. Here I teach Czech students of several study branches professional German in economics. My seminar groups usually have about 15 members. This number is quite customary at the universities in the Czech Republic. Students begin their studies after passing their final exams at a secondary school. They have to do their entrance exams. One part of these exams is the German language. Secondary schools have different levels, some students may fail even if the exam paper is not very difficult. And when failed, the students are of course not accepted. Nevertheless the seminar groups are heterogeneous as far as the knowledge of German is concerned. But they are heterogeneous also in other aspects: in the level of grammar knowledge of mother tongue, in their faculty for languages, in their attitude to learning things. In some study fields, most of the students are girls.

The difference between the both sexes finds its expression first of all in motivation. Age differences are not too vast. The differences in motivation are connected with the choice of university and faculty. Men choose University Hradec Kralove and its Faculty of informatics and management as a prerequisite of their future careers. Women choose their faculty because they try to win their recognition in the sphere reserved to men so far. In my experience the women's motivation is a bit higher than the motivation of men. Beside this fact in each seminar group there usually are two or three students who seem to be sufficiently, sometimes even every strongly motivated by their studies.

*Sarka Hubackova. Tel.: +420493332302; fax: +420493332239 E-mail address:


1877-0428 © 2012 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and/or peer review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Huseyin Uzunboylu doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.06.692

The goal of teaching and the specific aim of seminar exercises is deduced from the syllabus of German as a subject. I may quote for example the main part of the syllabus valid for students of economics in the fifth term of their studies:"Student should acquire the essentials of professional vocabulary of economics, finance, business language of informatics, he should improve his skill of customary conversation, repeat the grammar needed for expression in the field of economics." This syllabus statement is very general. No minimal standard that a student has to achieve in his language learning is stated. It usually depends on the teacher's estimate.

Students are supposed to have at their disposal the textbook of German used at secondary schools. Its parts are also the rudiments of grammar. My responsibility and my concrete task is to remind the students of those grammatical parts of the textbook, to repeat them at work on different learning materials and to consolidate the level of requirement. I must show the students how to work with professional language and point out its special characteristics they may meet during their work.

I subordinate my selection of language source materials used in the lessons to the factors I have mentioned. The materials are presented in the form of loose worksheets, but students have at their disposal also their collection that has been published recently and can be used during their home preparation.

I treat as very suitable to draw students' attention - even several times during a term - to the fact that grammar is not only a subject very difficult to learn, but also a helper. Its function is to help everybody in his effort to speak and write with accuracy. I am open with my students and mention the fact that some lack of precision may be tolerated in oral speech, but in written expression no inaccuracy can be hidden and the level of language knowledge can be seen quite visibly and distinctly.

All used language source materials can be generally described as follows: Every specimen represents a content whole. This makes possible to base the linguistic analysis on the extract's content. No specimen or extract is longer than one page in the worksheet. It allows to work on one or two important phenomena at one seminar lesson. The specimens are manifold in their topics to reflect young intelligent people's different interests. The specimens are increasingly difficult. The abstracts must contain the phenomena reflecting contrast grammar of Czech and German. These phenomena represent in particular: usage of passive voice, impersonal speech, usage of verbs in negative forms, usage of infinitives and participles, building of sentences with subordinate clauses etc. Never I incorporate into one lesson too many phenomena which I want to go over more comprehensively. In the following explanation I give only a short survey of my work with the specimens to illustrate my teaching process in separate lessons. The illustration corresponds to the forth term of the process which is divided into six terms.

The aim of lessons oriented towards the text analysis is to strengthen students' ability to express themselves first of all in their written speech with adequate accuracy. Students preparing such a task at home are supposed to have at their disposal a good dictionary and ample time to be able to take heed of it especially from linguistic point of view.

I must take reader's mind back to choosing my language source materials and tell him that my choice of linguistic phenomena often serves me to find out which learning material has a relevant student to repeat, to really acquire his knowledge of certain grammar rules. I for example simply assign a student to learn prepositions with certain case, I ask another one to memorize the forms of irregular verbs etc. To practise such things without relevant knowledge I take for wasting time. It is true that individual students usually don't wait until they are censured, but they do such extraordinary tasks without being invited to do so.

On the other hand, I remind my students of the new enlightenment which can be generalized into certain rules and I permit them to formulate such rules in Czech. Neither I insist on an accurate textbook wording of such rules. I prefer their simplified form which emphasize the basic grammar facts and leaves out some circumstantial details that students need not to know for their next communication praxis or for their future professional correspondence.

My brainwork with rules is based on students' language knowledge. If they can formulate a certain rule, I exploit it. According to my home preparation I introduce further examples to the one which occurs in the text. My examples are usually even more important, because they are more typical than the ones in the text. This progress saves a lot of time. In another case I draw a certain rule until the students read the text. I work with it in the way that makes it possible for students to manage formulating the rule or to remember it if they had known it before. This process is a bit more difficult, it demands more time. Its indisputable advantage is that it ends in better and long-

standing remembering of the rule in its basic components. Whenever I use this method, I demand students' own examples, even though I have in my home preparation a lot of specimens which can illustrate the respective rule. These examples of mine are always typical and I dictate them to students. Their notes are very useful during the revision of learned material.

In the distribution of my texts to students I am always ahead of schedule. They get the specimens on their worksheets several days before the seminar lesson in which the extracts will be worked on. Students are recommended to read the text widely to familiarize themselves with their contents during their home preparation using their dictionaries. They are recommended to concentrate on the grammatical features of the text, but firs of all on their vocabulary. I follow the principle, tat without adequate knowledge of vocabulary you cannot deal even with basic grammar.

My approach to every text is given by the aim of teaching. While in the lessons devoted to reading skills I work first of all with the content of the relevant text rather in its coarse features, in seminars devoted to grammar analysis I check precise understanding of the text and often employ its literal translation focused on grammatical phenomena. That means that every seminar lesson directed to the grammar analysis has this introductory part. At the very beginning of a sequence of seminary lessons I give my students a survey of technical words I will use, so they could understand what I speak about. I remind some more important technical expressions in Grammar occasionally later on. After this introductory part, follows the selection of grammatical points illustrating and reminding some rules. The next stretch contains the completion of grammatical phenomena with some more examples, a short practice of them follows, them a brief test (most often in writing) and the analysis of frequent mistakes in grammar.

I don't test the total knowledge of the text. I myself do the selection of linguistic phenomena that I shall deal with in the seminar. I proceed from the most complicated and the longest ones to the simpler and shorter ones. I usually start with a longer compound sentence. I proceed to its kind that means to its meaning, especially to the meaning of its subordinate clauses. I pay extraordinary attention to conjunctions and their functions. Also the problems of word order have here their important place. The students follow with interest the syntactical exercises to see the meaning change of a subordinate clause if I change its conjunction. They realize that it is impossible to begin a compound sentence with a certain kind of its subordinate clause. I invite them to read and then to repeat a longer complex sentence. They usually make two or three mistakes and can see that it is not good to write too long sentences that can be hardly remembered or even understood. In this way I try to discourage the students from writing too long and complicated compound sentences with high possibility that they may make some mistakes in their formulation. I always must spend some time dealing with compound sentences whose subordinate clauses are not introduced with conjunctions, but only with articles.

From the problems connected with complex sentences I proceed to simple independent clauses. As opposed to main explanations on compound sentences I begin with the grammatical characterization of a customary German clause of formal explanatory style. It is specific for German that every clause has to have its subject explicitly expressed by a noun, a pronoun or an article. For grammatical reasons I mention also the word order and the first position that the subject usually occupies in an indicative clause. The important part of my explanations is illustrated by examples of clauses with a different position of the subject. I always connect my explanation of a grammatical phenomenon with an instruction on its meaning. I clarify this as an important element of passive language knowledge, as the chief factor of understanding a technical text. I formulate and put down one or two sample sentences as a part of my home preparation. I sometimes refer to them several times in the lesson. I want my students to hear these sentences more often and to remember them as a kind of model clauses aptly illustrating a relevant rule. I prepare also my sample compound sentences in this way. However, I condense and abridge them as much as possible. I therefore can emphasize the context need to highlight the linguistic feature. Both the model clauses and the sample sentences are dictated to students and they write them down in their note works.

In the following process of my teaching I pay attention to collocations of words and turns of phrases. I always try to have at my disposal - and therefore I seek out during my home preparation - both types of these items. The first one is with a verb and its finite forms as a dominant element. I practice some concrete cases to mention the pattern

schemes used in context. I want students to remember some customary but typical patterns or structures. (At least one example: verb meets with dativ in German: jemandem begegnen.)

The second type is such a structure in which the head element is a noun. I deal with nouns from the morphological point of view (that means with their forms) but also from the point of syntactical view. I explain the way in which a noun binds another substantive or an adjective. Especially prepositional phrases are the most important and also most difficult points in German grammar of syntax; not all German prepositions govern the same case. I do not incorporate more detailed syntactic exercises (defining subject, object, complement etc.) in seminar lessons.

I presume that a variation of activities is an important factor in class teaching. But from my own experience I also know that a teacher hardly ewer manages to alternate the single parts of teaching process evenly. Nevertheless I try at every of my seminars devoted to the grammatical analysis of a text to reserve some time for developing writing skills. I try to alternate my explanation of linguistic phenomena with the phase when students themselves seek out such elements in a text. At every lesson I give some time to students' entries next to quoting my examples. Almost into every lesson I incorporate a short test. It has no connection with checking or evaluating, it is followed by the analysis of possible mistakes. I always manage to convince the students that the test is a mere part of the lesson which shall contribute to my orientation concerning the effectiveness of my teaching methods. The test indicates the mistakes of different kinds. I approach them trying to make distinctions between them. Although I correct subsidiary mistakes interconnected only accidentally with the written text, I pay more attention to mistakes interconnected with subject matter I have just learnt. Let's have an example: A student introduces a prepositional phrase with the correct case of the noun, but instead of masculine article he puts down the feminine one. I evaluate such a task as a successful one. If another student makes a mistake in the case, I refer him to the rule. The analysis of mistakes proceeds as a discussion. If for example a student introduces a longer compound sentence with a certain grammatical mistake, my evaluation appreciates first of all the fluency of his performance and I am tangential to the mistake. I always try to say more positive remarks, less negative reproaches. The lesson of grammatical analysis should meet with a favorable response. It should not look like a systematic unfavourable students' work criticism.

I do not insist on absolute accuracy of phenomena the test contains neither in these intermediate examinations nor in the final exam. I highly value students' performances even with smaller mistakes in them. This attitude of mine has proved successful. Students become conscious of it after some time, they accept my tolerance. But I must say they never take advantage of it.

The German language is renowned for its grammatical peculiarities and irregularities. They cannot be left out in any teaching of this language and I neither leave them out. The irregularities concern verbs and nouns. My approach to these learning contents is the following: there are some phenomena, for example so called strong verbs, that students have to know. If they do not, they must learn and memorize them immediately. In this given case I am very strict and consistent. Most irregular items I take over only occasionally. If such phenomena are important from the view of language usage, I devote more time to them and I alert students to the fact that they will be included in the final test. I never devote to any irregularities a whole seminar. Such a lesson should bore the students and me as well.


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