This is a guest post by our PhD researcher, OGP coordinator Heike Bruton, who is investigating motivation for German learning. You’ll know her as the author of our ‘Joining up German teaching in the UK’ newsletters, top tips, events and resources from the world of German teaching (to sign up for the newsletter click here; to see past newsletter editions click here).
German is like a mushroom
The year is 1994. In a comprehensive school on the outskirts of London, a newly qualified German teacher takes up her first job. She’s brimming with plans and enthusiasm, and she’s looking forward to her many questions being answered. How do students in this country feel about learning German? What makes some people here just take to all things German, and what’s the best way to share the love?
That teacher is me. Two decades later I’ve taught countless numbers of students in a wide range of set-ups, and my questions haven’t really been answered, in fact, I’ve got even more now. People will usually be quick to tell you why German just doesn’t seem to be popular any more: at school level because of its competition with ‘easier’, ‘more useful’ or ‘more fun’ languages, and for the wider picture due to negative media coverage, overshadowed by the sinister past and/or fearmongering around EU issues. But is this really true? One way to find out would be to study press representations of German, and to talk to the people who deal with this every day: students, German teachers, and head teachers. And this is why twenty-odd years after my NQT year I find myself walking the corridors of my very first school again, this time as a student myself, on a mission to get to grips with this slippery thing that’s a major part of me: German in the UK.
Memories flood back. The Language office is now shared with the PE department, but apart from that, things seem the same. A pile of orange exercise books on a desk, decorated in yellow, black, red, blue and white: a happy melange of French, German and Spanish flags. Back in the day, at this same school I had asked a student to please explain the red, black and white motif he’d taken care great care over on his ‘Heft’ cover. He looked at me as if I was stupid. “It’s the German flag, Miss!” Only it wasn’t. It was a swastika. There was work to do here, and I did my best to help do it. What I’d really like to know is: has anything changed?
If German was a food, it would be toast. Or a mushroom, or a chocolate orange, or a beer-flavoured sausage with a chilli centre and a peeling black outer plastic bit. I was floored by some of the learners’ answers. At a closer look, it all makes sense: German is like toast because “it isn’t the most fancy food but is always dependable and goes well with many other things”. Of course! The metaphor tasks on my questionnaire seem to be helpful for drawing learners’ conceptualisations of German. Now all I need to do is evaluate all of this and bring it together with what teachers and head teachers say, and of course with the wider press discourse around German, done.
If you suspect there’s a bit more to it, you’d be right. But, in a nutshell, that’s it… or should that be a coconut shell…, because my questionnaires say German is like a coconut… I’m getting carried away, so time for a break now, but just one more, for the road: “German is like a pineapple”. If nothing else, German has gone exotic, and to that, let’s raise a pina colada. Prost!
Curious why German might be like mushroom?! To find out, and to learn about what motivated key stage 3 learners to choose German for GCSE, watch this short video.
Would you and your school like to be involved in Heike’s study? Contact Heike by email.
You can find out more about Heike’s project and follow her PhD journey on her blog, Germanintheuk.com.