As I have been studying German lately and taking teacher improvement classes here at BYU, I have been thinking a lot about this question: How do we teach foreign languages (especially German) better?
I also work tech support for a large global organization, and so I would consider myself a litttle more than average when it comes to tech-savvyness. I have been thinking a lot about how to combine these two interests of mine. One thing I have been thinking about and have been working on is what I have been calling Open Source Education, or Open Source German. As I create lesson plans for teaching and learning German I am going to host them online so that anybody can have access to this knowledge. Knowledge is best when it is shared, and I want to share the knowledge that I have.
I am also thinking about how to help students best learn a language. In my opinion, the best way to learn a language is to learn it the same way that native speakers do: by being immersed in the language. Do little German kids sit down and learn the gender of nouns from a list of words any more that little American kids sit down and diagram sentences? No, at least not anymore. How, then do American kids learn English? How do German kids learn German? They hear it spoken all around them, they see it written on all of their signs, they see and hear it on their television and movies and their books.
To learn German one needs to be as immersed in the language as native speakers are. One should read books, watch movies, hear music, speak and converse with others. I have heard it said that the best way to learn a language is to read in that language. When I look at my own English skills I see that this is true. I read a lot when I was kid, I read large novels, a large variety of novels and through reading I was exposed to many different ways of using the English language. I learned different writing styles, sentence structures and syntax. When I think about how well I speak and write in English, I realize that it is because I read a lot.
I want to foster that same language learning skill in my German classroom. And one way I have thought about is by writing simple novels in German. I want to write short little novellas, using German that is simple enough for students to understand while still introducing them to new vocabulary and grammar constructions. I would also like to expose them to German culture through the novellas. Something like a mixture of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and Angels and Demons is what I had in mind. I loved playing those Carmen Sandiego computer games as a kid, they were fun and entertaining, while still teaching you a lot about geography and history. I also recently watched the movie Angels and Demons again with my wife, and was fascinated with how it taught both history (if at times somewhat inaccurately) and the geography of Rome. I would love to write some kind of simple German novella that takes place in a German city, where the hero, in order to solve some great mystery, or maybe catch a thief, has to travel all across the city looking at landmarks and using the history of the city and Germany to get one step ahead. That could be a fun way of helping students learn the language and culture at the same time.
I think this could be a lot of fun to write, and could be a lot of fun to use in a classroom. But as of right now, this is just a great idea. I should be writing more, and maybe I’ll post what I’ve written here, or maybe over on my German blog.