Too late to start learning German? Think again…

You may think that once you’ve made a choice not to study a language at school, particularly for A Level, then that’s it: you’ve closed off that option for study at university. However, many university’s now offer the opportunity to study a language from scratch. In this blog post from Adventures on the Bookshelf, Hannah Hodges, a student at Oxford University, writes about her decision to take up the challenge…

Last week, we heard an overview of German at Oxford from Prof. Henrike Lähnemann. This week, Hannah Hodges, a current second-year undergraduate of French and German at St Peter’s College, tells us what motivated her to study German from scratch or ‘ab initio’. The popular YouTube videos “German compared to other languages” didn’t really help…

via Why I chose German ab initio — Adventures on the Bookshelf

Exploring German-language culture with the Olympiad…

Isobel Horsfall was a winner in this year’s Oxford German Olympiad ‘Deutsch(e) jenseits von Deutschland’ – and taking part took her to another land! Metaphorically speaking. You can read her entry here: Runner up Blog Post. This week, she describes how she went about writing her winning entry…

A view of the Dolomites: ‘Hochgebirge mit Firn und See’ by Josef Krieger, ca. 1914.

Starting A-Level German in September,  I am guilty of never having visited a German speaking country. Therefore the task of researching somewhere that speaks German – ausserhalb Deutschland – appealed to me as a way for me to start exploring the deutschsprachige world from the comfort of my own bedroom.  A quick internet search revealed many options for the topic of my entry. However, I decided upon South Tyrol as it presented itself as an idyllic region, nestled in the Dolomites, that I had never even heard of.

As I began to write, I put some thought to what I actually enjoy reading. Thus, my entry morphed into a travel piece for South Tyrol, not because this is what competition necessarily asked for, but because I thought if I wrote something I would feasibly enjoy reading myself then maybe others would too.

Ötzi the Iceman, found in the Ötztal Alps in 1991 (Image © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology)

Through my fact-hunting I discovered many brilliant reasons to visit South Tyrol: from stunning scenery, to incredibly rich heritage, all the way back to 3300 BC (the era of Ice man Ötzi). The region has been disputed by various nations throughout history, resulting in the unique amalgamation of different cultures and languages there today; German, Italian and Ladin shared by the 500,000 inhabitants. Furthermore, my research re-raised a recurrent question to me of how much of our identity is connected to languages, especially in the ever-globalising world. Writing freischaffend also allowed me to be more creative than with my GCSE German, a chance I relished.

From conversations with other entrants at the ceremony, I can safely say we would all recommend the rewarding experience which facilitated using German in a refreshingly different way als im Klassenzimmer! The competition has also kindled my interest in exploring German-speaking regions soon, perhaps with a family holiday…

Isobel Horsfall

Student life in Germany – a post from SoGerman

A new guest post – this time from Southampton University’s SoGerman website and blog. If you’re studying German and planning on spending your year abroad studying at a German university or just want to find out more about uni life abroad, click the link below to read more.

Studentenleben in Deutschland Wie ist es in Deutschland zu studieren? Der Unialltag in Deutschland unterscheidet sich vom britischen Studentenleben in vielfältiger Weise. Lerne die wichtigsten Begriffe kennen, denen Studenten im Land der Dichter und Denker täglich begegnen: Sommersemester Das Sommersemester erstreckt sich von April bis Ende September und ist im Vergleich … The post Studentenleben –…

via Studentenleben – German version — SoGerman

Life after German Studies – Teil 3!

This week, in our last blog post in this series, two more graduates of German Studies talk about their experiences and choices after finishing their studies, which have taken them in very different directions.

20170404_182728 (2)Sarah Sheppard

I chose French, German, English and History for A Level and was completely torn about which combination to choose for university, until I realised that studying modern languages meant I could combine all four quite easily.

Languages beyond GCSE suddenly meant more than vocabulary lists, grammar, food, and trips. It meant studying literature, history, politics, philosophy, culture. I did as eclectic  a mix of these as possible when studying French and German (and a little bit of Dutch) at Cambridge, where I met all kinds of interesting people and also got to spend three incredible summers teaching English at a summer school in rural former East Germany (Sommerschule Wust – see the recent OGN blog post). I spent my year abroad in Vienna, where besides eating cake, I also studied Swedish and History at the university there.

Having specialised in German, I then spent a year in French-speaking Switzerland, teaching English in several rural secondary schools.  I was living just half an hour from German-speaking cantons, however, so I got very good at switching between two languages and also picked up some Swiss German. After that I did a Master’s degree in modern languages at Oxford where I got to use my French and German for research, including handling books first published in the eighteenth century.

Eventually I decided classrooms were way more fun than libraries as I spent part of my time as Master’s student helping out at a local secondary school once a week.  So I stayed on at university to do a PGCE (just one of many routes into teaching), which made me think hard about how people actually learn languages and how to inspire the next generation of linguists. I now teach both French and German at a state secondary school, where I get to use both my languages every day, where I am never, ever bored, and where I get to pass on my love of all things Deutsch and français.


20170404_182728 (2).jpgIvo Brook

I didn’t take the what are perhaps the stereotypically expected paths of a language graduate when I left university (I studied History & German at Sheffield University) – neither teaching nor translation work really appealed to me. After an MA in Creative Industries in London, I worked my way through a stint as a researcher for a legal directory and somehow a job or so later found myself working as a B2B conference producer – first in IT and then aviation engineering. But the door to this career was opened by my degree in German. Despite English being the lingua franca of most industries, many events are still conducted in the local language and I started with a focus on DACH-area events [DACH = Germany (D), Austria (A), Switzerland (CH)]. This has led to a career that takes me on trips to various corners of the world each year – and while I may not be using my German on a daily basis, the stereotype of the German engineer is not dead and I have plenty of opportunities to practise.

Many thanks to all of the contributors to this series of blog posts. Have you recently graduated with a degree in German or you took German as part of your degree? Or did you learn German later? Tell us about why you studied German and where it has taken you now – we’d love to hear from you! Comment below or email the OGN team!

More Life after a German degree…

Thinking about studying German at university?  Already a Germanist and wondering where your degree might take you?  Last week we heard from two recent graduates – this week we find out from two more graduates about the importance of German and languages in what they have done after finishing their degrees.  


20170329_115314Sarah-Jane Legge

Studying German at Oxford is challenging. There are no two ways about it.  Or at least that’s what I found in my four years there.  Sometimes I wanted to scream and cry and pull my hair out and quite frankly just pack it in when I just didn’t get it.  But those years were also the best four years of my life where I got to delve into another language’s literature and discover great stories and poems, find new favourite writers (I genuinely still read Rilke’s poetry), and battle (sometimes fruitlessly!) with translations.  It might sound corny but my German tutorials were also somewhere I found great friends, where we supported one another through hard times, both academic and otherwise, came out the other side, and are still going strong.  I also had the chance to call Berlin my home for six of the most amazing months of my life during my year abroad.  Although (sadly) I do not work in a job where I get to use my German, I do work in one where I speak and write French (the other language I toiled away at in Oxford) on a daily basis.  Whilst I may not use German in my day to day life, it is my languages degree that got me where I am today.  It has made me more confident, more determined and taught me to believe in myself so that I finally (and rather tardily) realised that I actually love studying, just in time to embark on another degree.

Alex R.

Unlike most of the other contributors to this blog, I didn’t take a degree in German. Instead I studied chemistry, though having taken German as one of my A-level subjects and with a longstanding fascination for languages, I made sure to keep developing my knowledge of German during my spare time and I was fortunate to have the option of taking a German paper as part of my Finals. This all came in rather handy when I stayed on for a doctorate and found myself working for a German academic in a field where most of the other leading researchers were also German. Although they (mostly) spoke excellent English and published their work in English, having knowledge of their own native language definitely helped me to win “brownie points” and also made networking at conferences that bit easier!
20170329_115314After my DPhil was over I left academia and qualified as a patent attorney, which is a fascinating crossover between the worlds of science, law, and language.  Much of my work involves corresponding with the European Patent Office, which is based in Munich, to argue the merits of my own clients’ patent applications and to defend them against challenges by the Patent Office or by competitors.  I also advise my clients about the validity of their own competitors’ patents and file challenges against those at the Patent Office.  The three official working languages of the European patent system are English, German, and French and, while it’s not essential, it’s definitely helpful to have a working knowledge of at least two of the three. It’s very common to encounter legal, scientific, or industrial documents written in German and being able to read them without the need for a translation is a real time-saver. As part of my job I also attend oral hearings where the merits of a case are argued in person and, while I will always speak in English, I often find myself up against German attorneys who opt to work in their own native language. To be able to understand their submissions without the need for simultaneous interpretation is a definite advantage.
I should point out that having a science degree is a prerequisite to qualify as a patent attorney.  However, my work also brings me into contact with barristers and solicitors specialising in intellectual property, who carry out overlapping or complementary work to my own and who are not required to have a scientific background. The closely related career of a trade mark attorney is also worth considering if you are a language student interested in a legal career and have less of a scientific bent: this is another truly international field of law, in which knowledge of more than one language is a definite asset. In addition to this, many trade mark cases can hinge on an understanding of the impression or meaning that a particular word in one language might convey to a native speaker of another, and so having a good knowledge of phonology and comparative linguistics can be extremely helpful here.
Check out next week’s blog for more insights into the paths German Studies graduates have taken! Have you recently graduated with a degree in German or you took German as part of your studies – or maybe you learned German later in life? Let us know about your experiences and where it has taken you: comment below or send us an email!

UK-German Connection Trip to Thüringen

The UK-German Connection is an organisation “dedicated to increasing contacts and understanding between young people in the UK and Germany”.  As part of its work there is a ‘calendar of opportunities’ throughout the year ranging from ‘Host a German Teacher’ to ‘Magical Christmas Trips’ and of course longer study trips to Germany.  Why not take a lot at the list of ‘German Pupil Courses’ here.  Ben Bonnici, an A-Level student studying German went on a UK-German Connection trip this summer – here he tells us more.

I found the UK-German Connection trip to Thüringen incredibly useful in helping me improve my German skills, as well as intriguing, as I discovered many interesting cultural quirks during my two week stay.

In my group there were 12 people from all over the UK, including Northern Ireland! We flew to Frankfurt Airport and then drove the remainder of the journey to a small town called Friedrichroda. The town was beautiful, surrounded by verdure and mountains. I stayed with a lovely host family for the duration of the trip, and they were fantastic in the way they completely immersed me in their regional culture. I ate countless types of sausages over the two weeks, but my favourite kind was the Thüringen Bratwurst (which tasted even better with a dash of Senf!).

UK-German Connection enthusiasts in Friedrichsroda!

Every day, I took the bus in to school with my Gastschwester and attended a few hours of German grammar lessons with the group of 10 from the UK. After the morning session, we would then sit in on lessons with our hosts, and it could be any subject. It was quite amusing sitting in on an English lesson, and interesting to see how they taught the language. In the afternoons after eating our packed lunches, that usually consisted of Schwarzbrot sandwiches with all kinds of meat, the UK group would then go on some kind of outing, whether it be visiting a castle, or going to a local primary school to teach English to the children there! My favourite outing was the Erlebnis Bergwerk Merkers, a visit to a salt mine 800m underground, where we got driven around in the endless labyrinth of mining tunnels.

Meeting one of the locals in Thüringen

Due to the constant exposure to the language, I found that by the end of the first week, I had started thinking in German, which unsettled me at first, but was also quite amazing. By the end of the second week, my German had improved a lot and I really felt like I had a much deeper understanding and appreciation of both the language and the culture of Germany.

I would highly recommend this course to anyone who is currently learning German and would like to further improve their linguistic skills, whilst having a lot of fun and making friends in the process.

Ben Bonnici, Magdalen College School, Oxford

Still searching? How to find that elusive first German flatshare

So it’s time for your year abroad or you’re moving abroad for your first job. The thought of trying to find somewhere to live in a foreign country – and then also having to grapple with that country’s bureaucracy can be pretty daunting, especially if you’re having to do it on your own. Knowing that you can’t open a bank account or do anything else involving a contract for services until you have registered a local address with the Einwohnermeldeamt or Bürgeramt (citizens’ registration office) only adds to the pressure. So, following on from Francesca’s post earlier this summer, we (OGN Coordinators Madeleine and Nicola!) have got some tips for making the process easier and at least more predictable, if not actually completely stress-free. The experience of finding somewhere to live will vary from place to place and your options will depend on your own situation. So we aren’t going to be able to cover every eventuality or permutation, but we hope these hints and pieces of advice will provide some good general starting points for your search!

  1. Getting started – when and where to look, and what to look for

Now, of course, you may already know people in your destination country, or know people who know people – that’s great! Spread the news of your upcoming move, let them know that you are looking for somewhere to live so that they can ask around as well. Even in the age of the internet – or perhaps most especially in the age of the internet – word of mouth is a valuable tool.

If you’re a student, then the most obvious thing to look at is university accommodation. The Studentenwerk (also more inclusively known as Studierendenwerk) in a university town provides a range of rooms at cheap prices for students, as well as meals, kitchens, laundry, and socialising facilities. As soon as you know that you’ve been accepted by a university, check the incoming international student and staff pages of its website for contact details and the application process.

Nicola View WG Abroad
The view from Nicola’s WG room on her year abroad

However, you might prefer a flatshare (Wohngemeinschaft or ‘WG’) or even living on your own, although of course the latter option will be more expensive. This might go without saying, but it is infinitely easier to persuade somebody of your cleanliness, friendliness, reliability, and general viability as a potential housemate or tenant in person. You may well find that any enquiries you make via email while still in your home country fall on deaf ears. Nevertheless, it is advisable to start your search early – if only because it will give you a reasonable idea of what is available, where, and for how much.  Try also to balance the desire to have everything organised in advance with having somewhere you’ll be comfortable living for a year – having found a year abroad WG online, OGN Coordinator Nicola had a beautiful fully furnished room, but  this came with a whole string of flatmates during the year, including a very large dog called “Kaiser”….

Online listings are plentiful, so here are some sites that we’ve found most useful:

For general searches:

Mitwohnzentralen and Mietwohnzentralen offer a free search service for long and short-term lets of furnished rentals to a range of tenant types, including families and businesses.

For flatshares:

Demand in some cities (e.g. Munich, Stuttgart, Vienna) is exceptionally high, so be prepared to send a lot of enquiries and not get very many responses in return. Decide what requirements you have (location, rent range, amenities in the area, etc.), but be prepared to be flexible.

Do also check listings in local newspapers (many will also have an online presence). Many will simply contain listings already advertised on the main online search sites, but are worth checking nonetheless.

  1. Temporary accommodation

It isn’t always possible to find somewhere to live before you’ve arrived in your destination country. If it looks like you’re going to find yourself without a home when you arrive, plan ahead and set up temporary accommodation for yourself so you have a place to lay your head while you hit the internet and the streets hard in your ongoing search. OGN Coordinator Madeleine spent six weeks in places varying from a hostel dorm to an Airbnb sublet before she found a flat to move into when she recently moved to Germany. Or maybe you’re only going to be in the country for a relatively short period anyway. Fortunately, there are plenty of inexpensive options for finding temporary accommodation in addition to the usual youth hostels, youth hotels, and couchsurfing.

  • Student dormitories may hire out rooms during vacation periods for short lets. Check university pages and the Studentenwerke.
  • Kolpinghäuser. There are a few hundred of these organisations spread throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Originally set up by the Catholic Church to cater for the needs of apprentices, they are open to all regardless of religious or political affiliation. In addition to providing support and accommodation to young trainees and apprentices, many also offer short-term accommodation at reasonable prices to all comers.
  • Airbnb is now widely used in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and can offer options for stays of a few nights to a few months. Airbnb lists subletting options (Zwischenmiete), and many similar Zwischenmiete listings can be found on the other flat-hunt sites, as well. One of the benefits here is that many of the additional costs of renting (heating, electricity, etc.), will be covered in the fee for your stay.
  1. (Online) safety first!

Although most adverts will be from genuine landlords and tenants, online accommodation search sites are a perfect hunting ground for scam artists, many of whom are operating outside Germany, so be vigilant at all times. Good accommodation search sites do monitor for hoaxes, but may not be able to react fast enough to remove suspect adverts.

If an offer seems too good to be true, then you’ll probably be best advised to give it a wide berth. Poor German or English in their written communication is often a good indication of a scam, but is by no means a certain identifier.

Under no circumstances comply with any requests to pay money as a deposit or rent through a third party or if you are not given bank details (e.g. scams frequently use Western Union and similar money transfer services). Make sure you have met your landlord, viewed the room or flat (or asked a trusted friend to do this on your behalf) and signed a valid contract before you hand over any money. The reverse is equally true: landlords in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland generally won’t make contracts with people they haven’t met and whom they know nothing about. So although you should never give out any personal information (the same naturally applies to any copies of your passport and your bank information), being able to name an institution or official person to whom they can turn for more information or a reference may be useful.

Hoax landlords often claim to live abroad and that it is impossible for them to come to the country of their property (Madeleine saw a lot of versions of this story – frequently using almost identical phrasing and layout, the difference between them was often only in the quality of the English or German!). Note that genuine landlords living abroad would usually have an official agent working on their behalf. So keys should not be sent in the post to you, but should be given to you in person by the agent on behalf of the landlord.

Madeleine Brook & Nicola Deboys, OGN Coordinators

Psst… More tips to come next week – stay tuned!

How to start reading Kafka?

This week, ahead of the third OGN reading group, Karolina Watroba thinks about how to tackle one of the most famous German writers of the early twentieth-century: Franz Kafka.
Franz Kafka in 1906

Franz Kafka is probably the most famous German-language writer, and he has certainly been one of the most influential authors of world literature in the twentieth century. His unique style has even given rise to a brand new adjective, ‘kafkaesque’ – so if having one’s name turned into a common word is anything to go by, Kafka has really become an inseparable element of our culture. It might seem overwhelming to actually have a go at reading something written by a literary legend like Kafka, which is why I want to share five ideas for how you can start reading him!

1. Translations of famous opening lines – different every time!
The first of Kafka’s texts I read in German, and in fact one of the very first pieces of literature written in German that I decided to tackle in the original language, was a novella called ‘Die Verwandlung’ – ‘The Metamorphosis’. It later turned out that I would study this story in my first year at Oxford – it is one of the prose set texts for first-year students here. ‘Die Verwandlung’ was originally published in 1915, and it begins with one of the most famous opening sentences in the history of literature:
‘Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheuren Ungeziefer verwandelt.’
In Ian Johnston’s translation: ‘One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in his bed, he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.’
You’ll find eight other English translations of the opening sentence to compare in this fun article from The Guardian. Kafka’s works are in the public domain, so you can find them online for free. Check out this bilingual edition of ‘Die Verwandlung’.
2. Expect the unexpected!
Perhaps the best-known, and the most influential of Kafka’s texts, is his unfinished novel Der Prozess The Trial. He wrote it at about the same time as ‘Die Verwandlung’, but it wasn’t published until 1925, a year after his death, when his lifelong friend, Max Brod, decided to go against Kafka’s will and start publishing his hitherto unpublished texts, rather than burning them. Der Prozess boasts another unforgettable opening sentence:
‘Jemand mußte Josef K. verleumdet haben, denn ohne daß er etwas Böses getan hätte, wurde er eines Morgens verhaftet.’
In John Williams’s translation: ‘Someone must have been spreading slander about Josef K., for one morning he was arrested, though he had done nothing wrong.’
Even in this opening sentence, it is already evident that, in many ways, Der Prozess is written like a detective story. So if you like suspense and investigations, you’ll find Der Prozess very interesting – partly because it reverses the conventions of this genre and constantly challenges your expectations of it.
3. Short forms for the short of time
If both ‘Die Verwandlung’ and Der Prozess seem too long to start with, why don’t you try one of Kafka’s many shorter pieces? He wrote numerous little texts that range in length from just one line to one or two pages. Those published during his lifetime are conveniently collected in one volume, Ein Landarzt und andere Drucke zu Lebzeiten (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1994). There you’ll find such little gems as ‘Wunsch, Indianer zu werden’, or ‘Der neue Advokat’, as well as ‘Die Sorge des Hausvaters’, which will be the text for our reading group next week. These texts are very brief (‘Wunsch, Indianer zu werden’ is just one sentence, six lines!), but also incredibly intriguing – and simply unlike anything you’ve ever read.
4. Get an introduction to the critical debates
While having a go at reading Kafka is definitely the best way to get to know his works, at some point you might feel like having a look at some secondary literature on him. A great starting point would be Kafka: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: OUP, 2004), written by Oxford’s own Ritchie Robertson. This little book is accessible and thought-provoking, which makes it an ideal place to start exploring broader themes and concerns running throughout Kafka’s work.
5. Get an introduction to the critical debates (Teil 2!)
Another place to go if you’d like to discover new ways to approach Kafka, is a series of documentaries and drama called In the Shadow of Kafka, produced by BBC Radio 3 in May 2015. You’ll hear there, among others, German poetry expert Karen Leeder talking about meaning and communication in Kafka’s works, or Margaret Atwood – a famous Canadian writer – reflecting on what Kafka’s texts have meant to her since she was a teenager.
I hope that this post has given you plenty of ideas about how to approach Kafka yourself. Go explore!


Karolina Watroba, Magdalen College, Oxford

Multilingual Drama in Schools – a new project!

The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities’ Multilingual Drama project is now up and running! Supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council the project is supervised by Oxford German Network director Katrin Kohl and planned, conducted, and evaluated by me, Ben Schaper.

The project is designed to enhance knowledge exchange between the University and its wider cultural context and provide an educational opportunity for young people interested in drama and languages. The project is based on the belief that drama provides a valuable educational medium in itself and that it interconnects excitingly with multilingualism, opening up spaces for articulating personal identity in new ways and providing an opportunity to experiment with language skills in stimulating ways.

The project aims to develop closer ties with local Oxfordshire schools, link them with local cultural institutions – especially theatres and arts centres – and provide a case study collaborative project for engagement between researchers, teachers, and performers.

So far we have established close ties with both the Oxford Playhouse and the North Wall Theatre. We are particularly pleased that both have also offered collaborations in the future so that the project will have a sustainable impact beyond its four month timeframe. The schools’ projects are shaping up very nicely. Most excitingly, a huge majority of schools are keen to produce their own adaptations or even completely original scripts. The variety of ideas goes from adapting Grimms’ fairytales to writing and workshopping narratives such as a travel idea that will enable the pupils to integrate as many languages as possible. At the moment we have at least six different languages involved and are still working on the fantastic prospect of involving some non-taught community languages.

At the end of April the first of two planned workshops will be held at the Oxford Playhouse. The Playhouse’s Participation Programme Leader Mezze Eade will provide the teachers with practical skills to teach theatre with a special focus on language acquisition. The second workshop will be held at the Playhouse in a month’s time and will get the teachers together to reflect on the process and give us a push for the last weeks until the final performances in June. We are aiming to create print as well as audio-visual materials that can be used in the future, and will be made available online.

The existing basis of the OGN proved very useful for getting this project going quickly and efficiently: of the eleven participating schools ten are OGN regulars from both the state and independent sector. Furthermore, we are very happy to have won the passionate and ambitious teachers from the Europa School in Culham as additional participants in the project.

Ben Schaper, OGN Graduate Assistant

If you want to find out more about the project and getting involved, you can contact Ben via email:

German is like a mushroom…

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 mushroommushroom (2)

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?

mushroom (2)
Deutsch ist wie ein Pilz. Oder ein Champignon. Oder doch ein Schwammerl?

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,