Beginning Language, Complex Topics: German 101

1 November 2021
By Juliane Schicker

Each new fall term, I welcome around thirty students in GERM 101, our beginning German class. Most of you are first-year students, and some have never had any exposure to the German language or cultures before. You want to fulfill the language requirement here at Carleton, or you have been interested in German for a long time but couldn’t take it in high school. Others just want to explore a new subject area. 

When I meet you, I ask about your expectations for taking German. Often, you are anxious because you heard the language is hard to learn (spoiler alert: don’t worry!), or you want to use German for graduate school in engineering and are ready to dive into the sentence structure. Some of you want to be able to communicate with your grandparents or other loved ones who speak German. One or two of you are always interested in German history or eager to learn more about Germany’s environmental impact, about German music, or about politics, hear more about the history and present state of antisemitism, or you are wondering if—when you go abroad—you will face racism. 

We fully revised our beginning sequence (GERM 101-103) to account for all of the above and more. The new curriculum is focused on content, so already in GERM 101, you will indeed learn something about history, politics, cultures, and other issues that German-speaking countries grapple with. You will do so while learning a new language! By the end of GERM 101, you can be at around the A2 level of German. This means that already after one term of German at Carleton, you can become a strong, capable communicator in another language. 

In our small classes of around 16 students or less, you get to know your fellow German-speakers well. Communication and collaboration lie at the basis of your learning. In our revision of the beginning sequence, we made the assessment structure reflect our goals for the class: while we do check grammar, vocabulary, and fluency in short weekly written and oral quizzes, we do not have the typical grammar exams. Instead, you will work on meaningful weekly projects together with other students where you discuss real-world issues that matter to you! The comprehensive trimester-long project in 101 integrates many themes of the course, which are centered around an interest in diversity, social justice, and reform in German-speaking countries. Your German language proficiency will develop throughout the course when you engage with these topics, based on best practices and current theories in language pedagogy. You will develop intercultural awareness and the ability to analyze texts critically. Besides your communication and collaboration skills, you also practice skills in self-management, independent work, time management, studying and critical thinking. Part of learning a new language is always dealing with frustrations and some set-backs, so your frustration and ambiguity tolerance as well as your creative thinking are honed in this class, too.  

To achieve the above-mentioned goals, you can explore the following topics and gain these new skills in GERM 101 with me and your fellow students:

Diverse Identities and Communities: We discuss how a person’s various identities intersect and influence the person’s position and accessibility in and of social spaces (that can be in Germany, Austria, Switzerland or elsewhere in the world, for example Carleton). How does language affect these intersections? The pretty “harmless” looking question “Woher kommst du?” (Where are you from?), for example, gets more complicated and interrogatory when it is repeatedly asked of People of Color. The little word “wirklich” (really) makes this even more obvious. In this context, we touch upon the experiences of migrants in Germany and their path to integration into German-speaking society. We will also read about experiences of transgender and homosexual people and discuss what inclusive pronouns we can use for people in German. You can explore more topics in your weekly projects and learn about certain organizations and institutions in German-speaking countries that work with specific issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity. 

Rethinking Relationships: What words does the German language have to describe relations between people? Is “mein Freund” (my friend) the same as “ein Freund von mir” (a friend of mine)? To whom can you have a “Beziehung” (relation) and why are there so many words for “mother” in German (Mutter, Mutti, Mama, Mami)? How do the media represent families and how can we read this family make-up critically? You not only learn the vocabulary that is connected with this topic but you also become aware of various relationship models and how these relate to your life. 

Cultures of Food: What does food mean to you? What traditions do you connect with a meal? We discuss how different groups in Germany and Austria use food to connect people with each other. You can explore how food is intertwined with a person’s culture and can be part of one’s feeling of belonging or exclusion. The Carleton German program always shares meals together twice a week (during Tuesday’s and Thursday’s Mittagstisch at common time), so you can use your new vocabulary and food-related knowledge and skills each week with other German speakers.

Critical Approach to History: We will learn how Germany was “many” and maybe is not one today, and encounter the consequences of colonialism and how different institutions grapple with this history. Did you know that Germany has a colonial past? Many German-speakers don’t know this (either), but colonialism still affects the lives of many Germans today, particularly People of Color. When you work on your weekly and final project(s), you are encouraged to look up the street names of your city tour—in Berlin, for example, streets named after colonizers are slowly being renamed. The museums you would send your imaginary tourists to often exhibit artifacts that were taken from the colonies. How can you read this museum culture critically? What do we encounter in museums around us (the Perlman at Carleton, for example)?

These are only some of the aspects you will work with in GERM 101. Beyond this beginning class, you will encounter many more topics that may interest you. Check out our course list and write us professors with your questions about a specific offering. All of Carleton’s German classes follow the approach of intertwining language learning with cultural learning. If you want to find out more about this, come chat with us! We are looking forward to working with you.