Journal of Linguistics and Language Teaching
Volume 2 (2011) Issue 2
pp. 363 - 388

University Language Teaching:

Trends, Requirements, Characteristics -

The First Saarbrücken Conference on Foreign Language Teaching

Thomas Tinnefeld (Saarbrücken, Germany)

 

Abstract

The article reports on the First Saarbrücken Conference on Foreign Language Teaching  which featured the theme “University Language Teaching – Trends, Requirements Characteristics” and took place on November 4th and 5th, 2011, at Saarland University of Applied Sciences (Rotenbühl Campus), Germany. The article represents a complete report of the conference, which was attended by around 130 participants from 20 countries and in the framework of which two keynote speeches and 52 talks were given. The thematic scope of the conference included linguistics, methodology, languages for specific purposes, intercultural learning and e-learning. The conference, which was evaluated as successful, is the first one of a new series of conferences and will be continued in 2013.

Key words: Conference, language teaching, linguistics, methodology, languages for specific purposes, intercultural learning, e-learning.

 

1  Introduction

On November 4th and 5th, 2011, the First Saarbrücken Conference on Foreign Language Teaching took place at Saarland University of Applied Sciences in Saarbrucken (Rotenbühl Campus), Germany, and featured the theme “University Language Teaching - Trends, Requirements, Characteristics”. Hosting two keynote speeches and 52 section talks held in and dealing with different languages, it attracted around 130 participants from 20 countries.

Thanks to the high quality of talks, the participation of leading researchers in their respective fields, the overall organisation and the amiable atmosphere, which served as a catalyst to networking and academic discussion, the conference was very well received and evaluated as a resounding success.

 

2   Keynote Speeches

Holding the first keynote speech, Heinz-Helmut Lüger (Koblenz-Landau, Germany) treated the topic “Communicating Politeness” (cf. also Lüger (22002)).  Politeness – as an indispensable way of maintaining human relationships in every-day communication – follows basic, conscious or unconscious, norms of communicative behaviour. Thus, it creates a common basis of communication which proves to be more manifest in oral exchanges of information like dialogs than in written communication. In the context of pragmatics, Lüger employed Brown’s & Levinson’s (1987) face-saving concept to show to what extent politeness stands for evidence of mutual respect. He exemplified this point in view of concrete forms of linguistic politeness, in the context of which three levels of analysis can be distinguished: the formulation of utterances, the choice of linguistic action, and the formulation of texts on the basis of linguistic action. Among other things, the examples described showed that by means of politeness, interlocutors are possibly incited to provide more assistance and cooperation than they would have done if they had not been treated politely. In this sense, the notion of politeness appeared in a totally different light.

The second keynote speech, held by Veronica Smith (Klagenfurt, Austria) on the topic “Challenges in Tertiary Language Learning” (cf. also Smith 2010), highlighted a largely neglected agent in language: the advanced language learner who has a long foreign-language biography in the context of his or her school life. Learners of this type – mostly general English or ESP majors, who would formerly have been sent abroad to perfect their language skills, often show language ability at the levels of the C1 or even C2 band of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). As Smith pointed out, stays abroad are not always profitable for personal linguistic progress, while qualified teaching may be more fruitful at this proficiency level. What is also of considerable importance in this context is the ambiguous character of the CEFR. On the one hand, it serves as an orientation mark and a qualification criterion for language learners who need to have their abilities officially recognised. On the other hand, there may be a so-called washback effect, i.e. an influence on teaching and learning caused by testing (Gates 1995). On the basis of a three-component model consisting of the activation of cognitive learning ability, individual learning awareness, and individual learning strategies, Smith developed learning objectives in the framework of scenarios which comprised the following elements:

  • developing independent study skills like research or planning,
  • developing a holistic approach to learning, using knowledge to increase knowledge,
  • learning how to structure a complex problem so that resolution is possible
  • using the group for sharing, checking and reflecting ideas, and
  • developing awareness of personal language needs.

These components – stringently used – may be a key to the successful teaching of highly advanced learners.

 

3   Sections

Following the two keynote speeches, five different sections unfolded which dealt with the following fields:

  • Linguistics and language teaching (Section 1),
  • Language teaching and university methodology (Section 2)
  • Languages for specific purposes (LSP) and language teaching – results, challenges, perspectives (Section 3),
  • Intercultural learning (Section 4), and
  • Media and e-learning (Section 5).

3.1   Section 1: Linguistics and Language Teaching

In Section 1 on Linguistics and Language Teaching, presided by the conference chairman Thomas Tinnefeld (Saarbrücken, Germany) himself, the first talk was held by Günter Schmale (Metz, France). In his presentation, he reflected on the role of formulaic expressions for foreign language teaching, pointing to the irrelevance of given morphosyntactic rules for formal idioms and exemplifying this finding by the German auxiliaries sollen (sollte) and müssen. After having defined these prefabs and those types among them which are normally activated in conversations in terms of resources of formulation, he further stipulated that the CEFR be adjusted to these units. Schmale also demanded that the making of textbooks be based on concrete conversational corpora and that the phenomenon of the learners’ linguistic homogeneity be respected.

From the learners’ perspective, Katja Lochtman (Brussels, Belgium) dealt with error tolerance and norm awareness, using a popular humorous book on the usage of German, recently published by the German journalist Bastian Sick, in her courses of linguistics to Belgian learners of German. When examining students’ attitudes towards this book, she found that around 35% of the student readers saw themselves as language critics, another 35% made judgements about the author himself, around 20% of students defined themselves as linguists, and the remaining 10% saw themselves as learners of German as a Foreign Language (GFL). In terms of intercultural communication, she discovered that students did not find Sick especially funny. In addition, they felt rather confident in view of their own mastery of German. In her conclusion, Lochtman stressed that more attention should be paid to students’ sociolinguistic norms as well as to the definition of language errors.

In a practice-oriented talk, Katrin Ziegler (Macerata, Iitaly) elaborated on collecting, classifying, and correcting language errors, thus exemplifying the teaching of German in Italy. She showed the potential of empirics-based collections of errors to predict translation problems in GSP (German for specific purposes) in an explicitly contrastive approach. In her opinion, it is possible to interpret learners’ errors by observing their  language behaviour. The example she used to clarify her approach was the Italian si impersonale, i.e. constructions like Si balla (German Man tanzt, literal English translation ‘It dances itself’, i.e. people dance / are dancing). Ziegler found three main tendencies of students’ German usage of this construction: over-representations of German man (English: (general) you), of the German passive (Es wird getanzt) and of the German mediopassive (Es tanzt sich gut). She is of the opinion that these over-representations are constant phenomena which can be generalised across different groups of learners.

In a broader approach, Christoph Bürgel (Osnabrück, Germany), presented the intermediate results of a study in progress, conducted by Dirk Siepmann (Osnabrück, Germany) and himself. The study, set in the framework of the language competence of students and teachers of French, examined students’ (and teachers’) vocabulary mastery, oriented towards the B2 band of the CEFR and based on the 20,000 lexical units stipulated by Hausmann. Also investigated in the study was students’ (and teachers’) listening comprehension, with authentic texts being used exclusively. Based on the research results, neither in terms of their lexical command of French nor in terms of their listening comprehension, did students have a lexical range at their disposal which allowed them to understand French novels and newspaper articles or radio emissions adequately. What is more is that teachers’ performance was not truly outstanding as compared to students’ performance.

From a different perspective, Mikaela Petkova-Kessanlis (Sofia, Bulgaria) empirically observed student behaviour, investigated the variation Bulgarian students showed when giving presentations in German and pointed out to the relevant methodological implications. In her study, based on a five-hour-long corpus and aiming at the systematisation of variants of realisation of the text type student presentation, Petkova-Kessanlis found variants referring to the text type itself and those referring to the individuals themselves. With respect to the former, students showed only little interaction with their audience, being visually concentrated on their instructor and displaying some inconsistencies between their words and their visuals which, in their extreme, included a complete lack of reference between students’ texts and their PowerPoint presentations. As methodological consequences, the researcher identified the necessity to improve students’ presentation competence and to identify potential discrepancies between students’ verbal utterances and the visuals they present.

Also in the framework of the teaching of GFL, Ulrike Arras (Bochum, Germany) dealt with the testing of university-relevant speech acts in the field of GFL, examining the language competence students are in need of so as to master their studies in Germany. The Test of German as a Foreign Language, which has been on the market for ten years now, is being empirically reviewed in terms of its validity. The hypothesis of this study is that certain situations of language usage and certain speech acts may, in the meantime, have changed due to the reforms of study programmes, the instalment of Bachelor and Master studies, and the acceptance of the new media. First results of this study have shown that the integration of the basic language skills – rather than their consistent separation – may nowadays be advisable in language testing. In terms of academic situations, the lecture is still the most important one, followed by the work group. Important speech acts presently are: listening, discussing literature, reading flyers and e-mail communication. Intermediate results have shown that the Test of German as a Foreign Language istill appears to be up-to-date and acceptable.

In a rather methodological approach, Sara Vicente (Darmstadt, Germany / Lisbon, Portugal) talked about the language training of future language teachers, covering a research desideratum. Vicente stressed that a mere training of general GFL is not sufficient. The most important target is the development of students’ job-oriented communicative competence, and this in a situation in which the teacher-training student assumes a double role: that of a language learner and a future language teacher.

Another approach to language learning was examined by Angela Weißhaar (Mainz, Germany) who investigated its emotional side. In her study, she dealt with the question of how emotions are expressed in mother tongue and foreign language and found that in the processing of emotions in L1 and L2, cerebral differences play an important role. In the context of asking her informants to tell the same story twice, once in their mother tongue (French or Italian) and once in German, the researcher found that her informants expressed considerably more emotions in the foreign language (German) than in their respective mother tongue. Results suggest that life reality and language acquisition are closely interwoven. As the human brain only memorises content which is emotionally connotated, the consequences for foreign language teaching may be highly promising.

All in all, the talks presented in Section 1, although varying in scope, centred around student competence and student learning and revealed some important components of language acquisition and teaching, one of which states the crucial value of linguistics for the teaching and learning of foreign languages.

3.2    Section 2: Language Teaching and University Methodology

Section 2 on Language Teaching and University Methodology, presided by Hans W. Giessen (Saarbrücken, Germany), was opened by Thomas Vogel (Frankfurt/Oder, Germany). Thomas Vogel talked about a prognosis of the teaching of foreign languages at universities in the year 2020 and specified this topic by focusing on the curricular integration into university study programmes foreign languages may enjoy by then. On the basis of the positive outcome which multilingualism on the one hand and the Unicert® certification system on the other have on students’ chances on the job market, Thomas Vogel shared his experience gained at the language centre of Viadrina University in Frankfurt/Oder in terms of the integration of their foreign language programme into the curricula of the different study programmes. Highlighting the potential transferability of this model to other universities, he outlines a future university system in which students’ multilingualism will be a key factor.

Also referring to future developments, Isabelle Mordellet-Roggenbuck (Duisburg-Essen, Germany) elaborated on the tasks and targets of foreign language courses in university teacher-training programmes, featuring French and Spanish. The researcher emphasised that future language teachers need to be acutely aware of the fundamental mechanisms of interaction in a foreign language and, hence, to acquire knowledge in communicative orientation and task development. In addition to that, constant pursuit of knowledge in topical developments of evaluation and self-evaluation is also necessary. Furthermore, the language training they receive at university level should reflect the methodological principles they are taught in their methodological courses. The restructuring of teacher-training programmes, which presently happens in Germany, should be taken as an incentive to optimise and harmonise the contents relevant in foreign language methodology and language courses, which would lead to an increased coherence of the teaching and learning principles used both in methodology and language training, a higher student motivation, and higher student success rates.

Describing a widely recognised model of language teaching and testing, Bernd Voss (Dresden, Germany) dealt with the Unicert® certification system on the background of  its university specificity. After defining the term university specificity in foreign language teaching, he gave some insights into a soon-to-finish research project on complementing the CEFR with (calibrated) university-specific descriptors.

Véronique Gola (Berlin, Germany) and Christophe Hohwald (Lüneburg, Germany) worked on language testing as well and explored the field of standardised texts and the examiner’s self-image. In their talk, the extent to which reflecting on standardised tests and the descriptors of the CEFR can change (or not) the self-image of examiners was highlighted. Employing an example taken from a training course of future DELF/DALF examiners,  they pointed out that models of student testing and evaluation are rarely put into question. In spite of the harmonisation of the certification of foreign language mastery in the contest of the CEFR, the presenters saw the danger to belittle the CEFR as an instrument of reflexion and have it replaced by traditional testing formats, which would otherwise strengthen the examiner’s self-image as an expert in his or her field in a doubtful way..

Also taking notions of self-reflexion into account, Ina Karg (Göttingen, Germany) elaborated on students’ change of perspective - from learner to teacher – as a methodological task. Ina Karg made this change of perspective comprehensible to the audience by inciting the audience to perceive their own language competence on the basis of some short texts featuring various languages, she made this change of perspective comprehensible. She then identified some crucial steps and components by which this change of perspective became evident and insisted on language methodology as being more than just a collection of methods of classroom organisation. On the basis of theories of language in general and of language acquisition in particular as well as of strategies of reading comprehension, some advice was given as to how learners – in all their individuality and their different approaches to language – can be effectively assisted to develop their own language competence.  

Elisabeth Venohr (Tbilisi, Georgia / Saarbrücken, Germany) dealt with the teaching of scientific textual competence in GFL, textual competence being highly marked by the socialisation acquired in schooling. As was pointed out, the rank attributed to written language in a linguistic community is regarded as decisive for the development and diversification of text types. It is therefore of importance that epistemic writing also represents a challenge for the native writer because he/she, too, has to learn it in the course of his/her studies as it is not always explicitly taught. In view of an improvement of this situation, Venohr investigated the native textual competence of French natives in a scientific context and their writings in academic GFL and pointed out relevant links between these two areas.

Referring to the number of languages which students master, Jacqueline May (Stuttgart, Germany) presented the PLUS project targeted at multilingual students. The speaker reported facts and figures on her project whose aim is to positively influence students’ total linguistic repertoire by sensitising them accordingly in order to increase their learning rate and success. Although rapid and convenient access to (the learning of) foreign languages is presently by far more disposable than was the case some years ago, learning materials rarely offer opportunities for students to raise their awareness of existing phonetic, lexical or syntactic references between languages. They also rarely equip students with the knowledge and skills of how to recognise linguistic regularities. A central issue in this case is that individual language learning strategies cannot automatically be considered as multilingual  competence.

Adriano Murelli (Mannheim, Germany) and  Rosanna Pedretti (Freiburg, Germany) reported on the language interaction going on between the partners in an e-tandem held via Skype at the universities of Freiburg (Germany) and Pavia (Italy). Concerning this type of communication, which at times appears to be similar to the interaction of natives and non-natives in traditional face-to-face tandems and / or the interaction between the participants in a conversation course for native speakers, two interactional aspects are of special relevance to this research area: the role of the interlocutors and the length of utterances. These utterances are longer in students’ foreign language than in their mother tongue. According to the intermediate results of the two researchers, the general conditions of  e-tandems are similar to those of face-to-face tandems: learners fulfill a broad range of communicative tasks and receive immediate feedback on the accuracy of their utterances. These findings will, however, have to be confirmed in the further course of the project.

Isabelle Kross (Hildesheim, Germany) presented a new approach to language teaching which consisted in the transfer of traditional methods - like problem and task-oriented learning and case studies - to the beginners’ level so as to strengthen students’ analytic thinking, their linguistic knowledge, their social competence, and their team spirit. A crucial task to be fulfilled in the foreign language classroom will then be to explore the language to be learnt, to find hypotheses and to deduce rules. Kross exemplified this inductive approach, giving a report of the practical application of the phonographic method.

In her presentation, given in French and analysing the present situation in her own country, Batoul A. Muhaissen (Yarmouk, Jordan) reflected on the training of future teachers of French as a Foreign Language (FFL) in Jordan. Although French is prominently learnt and taught in Jordan, teacher training has been a rarely explored and even less evaluated area. The context being clarified, Muhaissen further raised several relevant issues such as the problems of future teachers of French and their potential solutions, the proficiency level of Jordan students of French, the theoretical and pedagogical competence teachers need and the “ideal” teacher training to be realised in Jordan. According to the presenter, instructors are, in some respects, not always able to apply their theoretical knowledge to real classroom situations, and the instruction does not always correspond to the objectives of the universities’ and students’ needs and desires. In order to improve the given situation, a closer link between teacher training on the one hand and pedagogical practice on the other will have to be established. In addition, more (authentic) texts should be used in class, and the variety of teaching methods should be increased.

Also describing the situation in his own country, Mohammadreza Dousti Zadeh (Tehran, Iran) treated the problems of teaching GFL at Iranian universities and their potential solutions. The results presented were based on practice-oriented studies, the institutional framework and curricular aspects. On the basis of typical examples, the researcher pointed to the ways the L1 and L2 cultures are dealt with in class as well as the attitudes of teachers and students, and showed in how far teaching problems may influence the identity of German as a university subject. Eventually, he pointed out that  practical teaching is not possible without any institutional guidance.

On the whole, the talks given in this section of the conference mostly focused on the desires and needs of students and the institutional integration and organisation of university language teaching, with several highly topical aspects of foreign language instruction, which are of relevance both at a national and international level being covered.

3.3   Section 3: Languages for Specific Purposes and Language Teaching

Section 3 on Languages for Specific Purposes (LSP) and Language Teaching, presided by Ines-A. Busch-Lauer (Zwickau, Germany), was unfolded by Micheál O’Dúill (Rosenheim, Germany), who elaborated on teaching content and students’ learning needs with regard to the teaching of English in study programmes of industrial engineering. The issues he raised referred to the question as to who generally determines the content of English courses - language instructors or content teachers - and who explores the learning needs of students in this field. These issues were related to the heterogeneity of first-year students and the tensions existing between written examinations and oral assessment. The researcher also underlined the importance of teachers’ own learning experiences for their choice of teaching methods and their impact on interaction and content in the classroom.

Marion Werthebach (Bochum, Germany) also laid the focus on the language teaching in engineering, concentrating on machine construction and mechatronics, and partly raised questions similar to those discussed by Micheál O’Dúill. Starting from the discrepancy between students’ estimations concerning the importance of foreign languages for their future professional lives and their real mastery of foreign languages at the end of their Bachelor studies, Werthebach exemplified two concrete university courses of the study programme machine construction at Bochum University of Applied Sciences. In her presentation, she gave a general description of the concepts and methods employed in these courses, defined the learning objectives from the perspective of teachers and students, then identified the personal and professional traits of students of machine construction, reflected on the potential integration of the respective science into language teaching, and finally described the challenges for instructors resulting from this highly complex situation. As a conclusion, the presenter  expressed her opinion that a lof of improvement for language teaching in the field of engineering is still required so as to functionally prepare students for international job markets.

Ines-A. Busch-Lauer (Zwickau, Germany) also analysed the teaching of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) in study programmes of engineering, describing the situation at her university in fields generally marked by information growth, a speedy development and an increasing use of English in communication. Although the relevant textbook market has become highly developed in the past few years, the textbooks presently available have not been able to correspond to the special needs of ESP teachers. ESP teachers are confronted with constant challenges in the way that they have to adapt their course structures to the rapidly changing professional demands in terms of students’ linguistic and expert knowledge, their language skills and their intercultural competence so as  to foster students’ learning motivation.

In a rather concrete approach, featuring her own multimedia language learning programme TechnoPlus Englisch, whose second edition has recently been published, Christine Sick (Saarbrücken, Germany) presented the changes having been made from the first to the second edition and pointed to the fortes of the programme. Its concept is a comprehensive one and characterised by a demand- and need-oriented language training in terms of blended learning, which presents elements of e-learning that are usable both in the classroom situation and in self-learning contexts.

Kerstin Steinberg-Rahal (Ilmenau, Germany) raised the provocative issue whether translation skills and sound grammatical knowledge are no longer modern in language teaching. Students, when entering the university, are insufficiently prepared for their studies and their future jobs because of a lack of readily available grammatical knowledge. Problems arising from this situation become especially clear when students are requested to do spontaneous translations (i.e. without prior preparation). On the one hand, schools do not provide students with sufficient knowledge of English grammar nor with sound translation skills. On the other hand, these deficits can hardly be compensated at university.  

Monika-Dorothea Kautenburger (Ulm, Germany) further specified the scope of the section by featuring medical French taught to students of medicine at her university. Addressing teachers of LSP in general, the presenter followed a practical approach, describing the making of teaching materials and the execution of teaching as well as the analysis of forms of classroom interaction, relevant methodological steps and student assessment. In this way, she showed how functionally a specific language can be taught if the teacher turns out to be a (self-made) expert.

Another specific language – that of legal French – taught to German law students was featured by Sybille Neumann and Cornelia Gerhardt (both Saarbrücken, Germany). In this field – CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) -, the researchers set their background in the context of FFL so as to indicate that this concept also functions for languages other than English. In the French context, CLIL is called EMILE (L’enseignement d’une matière intégrée à une langue étrangère). According to the results of the researchers’ empirical survey, students estimated their knowledge of French as sufficient to follow the lectures, which were supported by summaries in German, a slower speaking rate and an intensive application of PowerPoint presentations. The survey also revealed that students, especially in internationally oriented study programmes, would like to be offered more lectures in French instead of being exclusively immersed in an English-only language teaching environment.

Felicja Księżyk (Opole / Polen) presented a new development of language policy in Poland which will have a direct impact on the teaching of German in her country where universities are presently expected to design their study programmes, enjoying greater freedom than before. One of the most important priorities will be to adapt university education to the changing demands of the job market. As students’ interest in doing traditional studies of German has been on the decrease in the past few years, German studies in Poland will have to find new ways to remain competitive. These new ways consist in greater cooperation among neighbouring and applied university subjects. In this situation, the teaching of a so-called “supportive vocabulary” will be of special importance for students, for its acquisition – besides the mastery of terminology – will be the prerequisite for developing and employing productive skills.

Karl-Heinz Eggensperger (Potsdam, Germany) remained in the field of LSP and reported on an explorative study of his own on Internet-based teaching and learning materials for the mastery of language-oriented situations in a university context. For this purpose, first-year students were asked to evaluate digital materials designed for fostering language-oriented subject-related competence. One of the findings was that for first-year students, who were on the threshold of becoming self-organised learners, the use of Wikis should be re-thought. Student feedback showed that, to enhance students’ learning competence, both reflective phases, including oral instruction and feedback as well as materials for action-oriented phases should be provided. Generally speaking, the acquisition and fruitful use of learning strategies requires long-term adaptation, not just a short-term strategy training.

Ronald Kresta (Nuremberg, Germany) examined the (provocative) question whether it is possible to prepare students for giving English presentations in their future jobs. Due to the overestimation of the importance of written communication, oral communication has long been neglected – a statement which is especially true for study programmes in the field of engineering. In the classroom situation, students often stay passive and silent instead of taking active roles. Therefore, there is a desire for language courses in which spoken English is taught. Based on his experience gained with students of electrical engineering, process engineering, and informatics, the researcher developed a concept for the adequate teaching of presentation skills in content courses which, among other things, addressed the most important forms of linguistic interference.  

Setting her research question in the context of the Bachelor study programmes Machine Construction as well as Food and Agribusiness, Steffi Konzalla (Köthen, Germany) dealt with issues on reading comprehension - especially selective reading skills. In these study programmes, students are first instructed in terms of basic reading-comprehension skills and textual analysis, followed by a special training on their selective reading skills so as to assure their survival in their future professions. As a side effect, specialised texts prove to be useful with respect to the extension of students’ knowledge, their expectations, the quality standards of the university and the future linguistic and academic requirements for students.

Michael Szurawitzki’s (Regensburg, Germany) talk was on an empirical survey of his own on student term papers on academic German which had been written at Darmstadt University (Germany) in 2009. The centre of his interest in this research was the text type conclusion and its evaluative style. With respect to their proportionality, conclusions are either clearly positive or clearly negative in terms of the judgement they contain. In case they are neutral, this neutrality is realised by a total lack of judgement, by a presence of positive and negative judgements or, alternatively, by a consideration of the pros and cons of the results given.

In this section, a general, yet well-known, phenomenon could be observed: LSP is not only a rewarding field of research, but it is also of special interest at universities of applied sciences. It provides students with excellent chances on the job market since it equips them with language skills which they do need in their future professional lives as these skills go far beyond a general mastery of the respective language.

3.4   Section 4: Intercultural Learning

Section 4 on Intercultural Learning, presided by Adelheid Schumann (Siegen,Germany), was opened by Claudia Wunderlich (Kufstein, Austria), who dealt with intercultural pragmatics in university foreign language teaching. Cultural aspects have become increasingly important in English language teaching and therefore, intercultural pragmatics, which have always been present in the teaching of languages like Chinese or Japanese, have gained considerable importance in the English language classroom as well. In general, students have to be capable of communicating not only with representatives of states belonging to the Anglo-American world but also with speakers from any country in the world, who will then interact according to their own culture. The phenomenon of pragmatic failure, which is then likely to happen, can pose a considerable danger to business success. Pointing to various factors which play a role in this context, Wunderlich drew a conclusion by stressing the importance of establishing a corpus of critical incidents to help raise students’ intercultural awareness and to integrate intercultural aspects of multimodal discourse analysis into language teaching.

An approach of critical incidents was also described by Adelheid Schumann (Siegen, Germany), who, in the framework of a project, is developing a training concept based on such critical incidents. This corpus focuses on the development of discourse strategies which are characteristic of student life. The data, retrieved at Siegen University, comprise misunderstandings in communication occurring in university courses, office hours, student work groups and in student residences. These materials, flanked by reflexion questions and accompanying exercises, will constitute an intercultural training programme, which addresses students from Germany and other countries, and will be employable in methodological workshops held at university level.

Maria M. Marchwacka (Paderborn, Germany) presented a study of her own on intercultural competence in university teacher training in Poland, where intercultural training is predominantly taught in terms of cognitive knowledge instead of social competence. This situation set as a research background, the understanding of intercultural competence among students was investigated, and discrepancies between theory and practice were revealed concerning the expectations of German business people with regard to the intercultural competence of young Polish graduates. Another focus of the talk was the importance attached to intercultural competence by university students on the one hand and by high school and university teachers of GFL on the other. Whereas graduates need key qualifications and social competence, teacher training programmes mainly focus on cognitive knowledge and tend to neglect social competence, which means that teacher training in Poland does not meet the requirements of the job market. Marchwacka stated that methodologically, theatre pedagogy and the use of videos can be rather constructive to originate a change in perspective concerning the understanding of the Other and a sensitisation which could enable students to gain some distance from their own perspective, to put themselves into the other’s shoes and, thus, to recognise and employ a double perspective. On this basis, they will be able to cooperate and solve conflicts, to negotiate rules and to develop strategies in their interactions with German business people. These methodological principles may, in a further step, be applicable to teacher training.

From a university perspective, intercultural learning also represented the centre of interest in the presentation given by Andrea Rössler (Hanover, Germany). Her research focus lay on linguistic mediation, which has been considerably revalued in the past five years as a consequence of it being included in the CEFR and the curricula of modern language teaching and being presently used as a testing format in secondary-school and A-level examinations. In university teaching, however, these two skills have so far been widely neglected although they could complement the translation which is widely used in this context. The presenter saw a great methodological potential in the two aforementioned skills, especially with respect to the development of intercultural competence: linguistic mediators between two languages and cultures can only work successfully if they are aware of the conventions of discourse structure, styles of politeness, taboo zones and culture-specific connotations of lexical items. Rössler consequently pleaded for the use of linguistic mediation in university language teaching.

A concrete example of intercultural training was presented by Camilo Porras Pinilla (Siegen, Germany). In his talk, the presenter overcame the traditional borderline between intercultural trainings (which aim at the learners’ development of intercultural competence) and foreign language teaching (which aims at the learners’ development of linguistic competence). Pinilla underlined that neither the one approach nor the other sufficed for achieving truly satisfactory results. In his presentation, he therefore pleaded for the synthesis of teaching intercultural competence and linguistic competence so as to follow a comprehensive approach.

Corinna Koch (Bochum, Germany) investigated the issue on metaphors as a means of (intercultural) language learning. Metaphors generally represent a domain in which the thinking, acting and speaking modes of any target culture find their expression. Understanding metaphors, prevalent in the target language, correctly and reacting to them adequately in every-day situations therefore represents an enormous challenge for learners, especially when these metaphors have been lexicalised in the case of which learners cannot refer to any counterpart expressions in their mother tongue. Koch hence called attention to the consideration of metaphors in university language teaching so as to raise learners’ awareness of the general principles applicable to them and of the cultural preferences of the respective linguistic community: especially students enrolled in teacher training programmes are in need of developing comprehensive competence in understanding metaphors so as to be able to teach the very language adequately and in its full scope, and, last but not least, to open up the respective target culture to their future pupils or students.

In her presentation, Nadine Rentel (Zwickau, Germany) stressed the importance of newspaper and magazine advertisements for the teaching of intercultural competence in the foreign language classroom. Advertisements reflect cultural values in a condensed form as they manifest culture-specific communication styles in the domain of marketing. On the basis of five German-French comparative analyses taken from the domain of automobile advertising, the researcher exemplified her teaching model, derived from the aforementioned principles and applicable to students from the B1 band of the CEFR upwards.

In her talk, Yun-Young Choi (Seoul, Korea) proposed a new approach to intercultural literature to open up intercultural learning, elaborating on four advantages of this approach. For this purpose, she brought in the writings of Vladimir Kamier and Yoko Tawada as examples. In her opinion, this literary genre firstly lifts the discrepancy between students’ intellectual level and their language level: intercultural literature proves to be a genre which is not too demanding, easily understandable and which corresponds to the intellectual level of students. Secondly, students are sensitised in terms of their feel for the language: authors of intercultural literature are sensitive towards the differences existing between their mother tongue and the respective target language, their intercultural experience being their forte. These interests are shared by students. Thirdly, there is sympathy for the perspective of strangers; the writers of this genre consider the German society from this perspective. With their status as foreigners and their firm intention to stay in Germany, they can objectively observe the country from an intercultural viewpoint. In this very perspective, the perception of what is “strange” or different in the other culture is positively influenced. This effect is not produced in the same way by literature published by German writers. Fourthly, this approach provides motivation for students to write (literary) texts of their own: most learners believe that they will never reach a native level in German and therefore think that they will never be able to adequately understand nor produce literature in this language. According to Choi, students are, however, motivated to become writers by the experience they gain when reading intercultural literature. Students’ active writing skills are therefore fostered.

The Korean perspective was also taken by Sunyoung Yun (Bonn, Germany), who investigated the necessity of teaching cultural grammar (Korean – German) - in terms of ‘direct’ vs. ‘indirect’ cultural grammar - for an adequate understanding of target-language texts by students. In this context, it is of importance to go beyond the visible items of a culture such as cuisine, clothing or music, and to also teach those items which are not directly accessible such as communication styles, values or patterns of perception.

Ana Stipančević (Novi Sad, Serbia) presented the findings of a one-year-long experiment at the German department of her university, in which German pop music was integrated into courses of German. According to Stipančević, a basic problem which GFL faces in Serbia is that the language, in spite of its long tradition there, does - due to various reasons which include old-fashioned teaching methods - not enjoy a positive reputation and is not really appreciated by students. The integration of pop music into the German language classroom, if realised in a functional manner, can produce positive effects on students’ attitude and motivation.

In Section 4, then, a sufficiently broad range of issues and topics were elaborated upon so as to represent a thorough approach to intercultural learning. The talks given presented fruitful approaches to teaching and learning and could therefore be considered to be methodologically precious.

3.5   Section 5: Media and E-Learning

Section 5 on Media and e-Learning, presided by Michaer Langner (Fribourg, Switzerland / Luxemburg) was opened by César Diego Rexach (Osnabrück, Germany). In his talk, given in Spanish and covering literature as a medium, he presented an alternative approach to literary texts (short stories and novels) in the teaching of Spanish as a Foreign Language (SFL). Whereas students are traditionally asked to closely examine literary texts in various respects and to write literary analyses, reviews or summaries, they have rarely been requested to transform a literary text of a given genre into another literary genre such as comic strips. Comic strips, although having been employed in language teaching in various ways – mostly as introductions to new topics dealt with in class - have never really served as a target genre. Rexach thus proposed a new way of using comic strips in language teaching, sharing with the audience his experience about how to linguistically, socially and graphically transform a short story or novel into this genre.

Opening up the e-learning part of the section, María José Ruis Frutos (Bayreuth, Germany), also giving her talk in Spanish, showed the wide opportunities of the Internet for learners of Spanish by following a comprehensive approach which included the four basic languages skills as well as grammar and culture, of which the following parts may be mentioned here. In the area of writing, she pointed to eTandem websites; to boost students’ reading comprehension, she hinted to several on-line newspapers. For speaking the presenter recommended VoiceThread, a website in which students can make audio or video-recordings of their own language production so as to observe and analyse their pronunciation and intonation. For listening comprehension, Ruis Frutos mentioned the variety of radio and television programmes available on-line. She rounded off her presentation by hinting at websites by means of which students can improve their grammatical competence interactively and to those websites which help students to get closer insight into the Spanish-speaking world.

In their presentation, Peter Tischer and Carla Sofia Amado (both Saarbrücken, Germany) first elaborated on the considerable potential of the new media in and for language teaching, pointing to some opportunities they present for learners. In this sense, their talk can be taken as a continuation and a complement to Ruis Frutos’ presentation. In the second part of their talk, however, they took a further step, analysing which prerequisites have to be fulfilled to realise this theoretical potential of the new media in concrete language teaching. The presenters described some determining factors which have to be respected so as to make working with the new media a success in the classroom situation and which go far beyond the mere technical side of the matter.

Mario Oesterreicher (Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany) looked into learner-oriented dictionary work by means of handheld dictionaries. As it has traditionally been considered the school’s task to educate students how to use dictionaries this domain has, thus, been widely neglected in university language teaching. In this context, the question arises whether the school does a good job in terms of teaching students the efficient use of electronic dictionaries – especially in view of the numerous versions of them available on the market. According to the presenter, it is nevertheless the task of the university to teach students the functional use of handheld electronic dictionaries as they bridge the gap between a mere learning instrument and an individual learning tool and – last but not least – represent a resource of vocabulary extension which includes languages for specific purposes.

Eva Schaeffer-Lacrois (Paris, France) elaborated on the methodological use of on-line tools for the preparation of the CLES2 Certificate (Certificat de compétences en Langues de l'Enseignement Supérieur) in GFL which students are required to hold in France from the academic year 2011/2012 on and which certifies the B2 mastery (CEFR) of a given foreign language. The researcher described a teaching unit, held at the UFM (Institut universitaire de la formation des maîtres) in Paris, which comprised a 60-hour course of GFL in the form of blended learning. The principles of this course, based on the theories of Demaizière (2004), Springer (2005), Mangenot & Nissen (2006), Nissen, Poyet & Soubrié (2011) and Rivens Mompean & Barbot (2009) consisted in an access to a variety of resources, students’ initiative, and high-quality supervision. The on-line tools, which assured the realisation of the course on this methodological background, fulfilled the following criteria: they technically diverted students’ attention as little as possible so that the latter could concentrate on the tasks to be fulfilled; they were free, aesthetically attractive, and did not pose any greater problems of instalment and handling. Moreover, they offered students the opportunity to publish their content themselves and supported collaborative work. The presentation showed that this methodological and technical background is of a highly promising character

Ines Paland (München, Germany) also explored the field of blended learning – i.e. the combination of classroom teaching with the use of the new media and the Internet - in courses preparing students for study abroad in Germany in the context of mobility programmes. By means of illustrative examples, she examined the surplus of this combination as compared to traditional teaching, such as the opportunity of reviewing themes on-line which were dealt with in class beforehand so that in the classroom situation, there was more time for communicative tasks. An important advantage of blended learning is that switching between different teaching and learning modes motivates students and boosts their progress.

Verena Heckmann (Saarbrücken, Germany) investigated to what extent Moodle can be of help as a means to increase grammar-schools pupils’ quantitative oral performance in language teaching. In the general classroom situation, the pupils’ oral production is often limited to reading aloud their written homework or textbook texts or to answering questions of their teacher on written texts; phases of discussion are rather rare. Moreover in an average 45-minute-lesson, every pupil only has a speaking share of around half a minute. In such a situation, the Web 2.0 can be of help as on platforms like Moodle, it provides opportunities which can help to solve the problems described and to elicit pupils’ utterances in authentic and meaningful ways. In her talk, Heckmann reported a four-week-long project based on an asynchronous learning platform in Moodle, in the framework of which pupils recorded oral utterances of their own and up-loaded them so that any of the other pupils could listen to and comment on them. The presenter came to the conclusion that this approach may give students a subjective feeling of an improvement of their speaking skills - a potential finding of the project, which is still in progress.

Thomas Strasser (Vienna, Austria) gave two presentations in the first one of which he elaborated on the role of self-organised EFL-learning in the context of the Mahara ePortfolio in the framework of a scientific project whose target consisted in implementing a regular use of the portfolio in EFL teacher-training courses at Vienna University of Education. The presenter pointed out the extent to which students’ personal development, their social skills and their professional attitude can be positively influenced by the ePortfolio. The same is true for students’ self-organised learning as well as their creativity in inciting their pupils to learn in a collaborative way.

In his second presentation, Thomas Strasser dealt with the Web 2.0 and the learning platform Moodle Deluxe in EFL courses offered for teacher-training students at Vienna University of Education. The presenter highlighted potential uses of Moodle and stressed that for employing this tool, methodological talent and creativity was by far more important than technical knowledge and competence. On the basis of empirical data, he showed ways in which learning goals can be achieved by means of this tool. He also pointed to pupils’ high acceptance of teaching sequences, based on Moodle and made by student teachers. This acceptance is, among other things, based on the fact that Moodle can easily be combined with platforms like Facebook and Twitter and can in this way be used to plan blended-learning sequences. Additionally, he analysed web tools like Wordle, openetherpad and bubbl.us, which have a high constructivist potential. Finally, he described some practical applications for their use in the English-language classroom and pointed to the role of the teacher who, in a learning environment like the one presented, works as a communicative collaborator.

In his presentation Michael Langner (Fribourg, Switzerland / Luxemburg) described the hype of electronic learning and digital media. He made some critical remarks as to this euphoria. Taking recent findings from cerebral research into account, he demanded  a (more) realistic estimation of the opportunities which digital media open up for the learning of foreign languages.

Hans Giessen (Saarbrücken, Germany) also elaborated on some critical points in the context of media-assisted learning. In the framework of a project he coordinates, he emphasised that media-assisted learning is not by definition efficient. In fact, it is necessary to take several variables into account such as the medium itself, the content to be learnt and the type of learner a student is. Only if all these variables are taken into account in terms of their mutual interaction can the question be answered under what circumstances media-assisted learning makes sense or under what conditions it may even be counterproductive.

 

4   Conclusion

All in all, the First Saarbrücken Conference on Foreign Language Teaching saw inspiring presentations in a highly academic atmosphere in which the gap between theory and practice was bridged in a diversity of ways. In bridging this gap, the conference has reached its ultimate goal. It was the first one of a new series of conferences which will be continued in 2013. In the future, it would be desirable for the attendees to enjoy even more talks given in English, French or other target languages, with German being one of the conference languages, but not the predominant one. After the positive experiences gained at the first conference of its kind, we are, already now, looking forward to the Second Saarbrücken Conference on Foreign Language Teaching in 2013.

 

 

References

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Nissen, E.,  Poyet, F. & Soubrié., T. (2011). Interagir et apprendre en ligne. Grenoble: Ellug (Editions littéraires et linguistiques de l’université de Grenoble). Collection Didaskein.

 

Rivens Mompean, A. & Barbot, M.-J. (dir.) (2009). Dispositifs médiatisés en langues et accompagnement-tutorat. Lille : Collection UL3, Université Charles-de-Gaulle, Lille 3.

Sick, B. (2004/2005/2006): Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod. Köln: Kiepenheuer & Witsch.

Smith, Veronica. (2010). Tertiary Language Learning. Changing Perspectives and Practical Responses. Tübingen: Narr.

Tinnefeld, Thomas (Leiter) (2011): 1. Saarbrücker Fremdsprachentagung: Hochschulischer Fremdsprachenunterricht – Anforderungen – Ausrichtung – Spezifik. (Tagungsprogramm). Saarbrücken. (https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0BzmcrYpJDjW9ZTI0NWQxNjItYWRlMC00YTgwLTg5OTQtMGQzMGVjZDhiODQx&hl=en_US&pli=1; 22.12.2011)

 

 

 

 

Author:

Prof. Dr. Thomas Tinnefeld

Saarland University of Applied Sciences

Business School

Chair of Applied Languages

Waldhausweg 14

D-66123 Saarbrücken

E-Mail: thomas_tinnefeld@htw-saarland.de

 


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