Quality of the German State Education System RE: English.

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Quality of the German State Education System RE: English.

Unread postby Professor Snape » 03 Dec 2008, 14:20

Hello, first post.

I’m a 33 year old British expat living in Germany, been giving private English lessons to grammar school and secondary comprehensive pupils for about a year. I’ve come to certain conclusions I would like to share regarding the quality of education here, as far as English is concerned.

Obviously, this quality can be expected to vary across the country, but there arguably is considerably less variation today than there used to be before the introduction of centralised, standardised final leaving exams (‘Zentralabitur’) some time during the last decade. I am basing that argument on two factors:

1. Up to a point, all pupils are using the same textbooks, ‘Greenline’ and ‘Redline’, and are expected to reach certain standards determined by criteria set out therein.
2. The books have flaws. A good teacher would correct such flaws as can be corrected, use the modified version to teach his classes as long as that makes sense, and begin executing his own customised lesson plan where it does not. Because the present education system (special sub-systems such as Waldorf schools excluded) mandates a standardised model, individual modifications and alternate teaching methods are discouraged.

Now, it is one of the most common notions circulated around that most if not all Germans have a good command of English by the time they may decide to enter the higher education system, and indeed a fair number of subjects taught at German universities would appear to require it.

On the other hand, the books used to such a large extent in German Gymnasien and Realschulen are riddled with errors not merely technical, but low level mistakes arising from the authors’ and editors’ insufficient understanding of the English language. The errors go unnoticed by the (German) teachers, and what ends up being assimilated is not actually English but a German’s interpretation of what constitutes English. Based upon numerous conversation attempts with Germans ranging from thirteen year olds to university professors and everything in between, I have come to the conclusion that that ‘Englisch’, whilst possibly adequate for basic communication, is anything but for more complex verbal exchanges.

To put it crassly, they all seem to think they understand the language, but if you inserted any two verbally intelligent native speakers into a crowd of supposedly educated Germans, they would still be able to carry on a secret conversation between each other. Not because they would be using any advanced vocabulary or complicated syntax, but because the Germans around them would automatically misunderstand, misinterpret, and misjudge a significant portion of what they heard. The only ones who would potentially ‘get’ everything including subtext and wit are those who avidly read English books for fun, or have in some other way put themselves through a prolonged deep immersion in an English-thinking environment. (Note that I didn’t say ‘American’, sorry Yanks.)

I suppose that, from an information warfare point of view, you could say this imbalance is a good thing, as it provides native speakers with competitive advantages in the global arena, but as an educator interested in as good as possible communication, I can only cringe.


[/rant]
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Re: Quality of the German State Education System RE: English.

Unread postby Prof McGonagall » 08 Dec 2008, 00:15

Well, Professor Snape, there you go again ... in your usual mood - which we've come to appreciate all through the seven volumes of "HP and X" ;)

There are a couple of things I disagree about.

1. By exclusively naming the titles of two coursebooks published by Klett, you chose to ignore a couple of books by other important publishing houses: Cornelsen, Langenscheidt, Schöningh.

2. You claim that German textbooks are "riddled with errors". This seems to me to be a hyperbole bordering on the grotesque. Would you be so kind as to give us a couple of examples? I'd be most obliged.

3. Your "numerous conversation attempts" (you did try hard, I appreciate that) with "thirteen year olds" (shouldn't there be two hyphens?) and "university professors" showed you that "more complex verbal exchanges" [in English] are impossible with people whose native language is German. I beg your pardon? How complex were your conversations with the teenagers, and what subjects did the professors teach that you talked to?

4. "subtext and wit" would only be understood by those "who avidly read English books for fun". I could have told you that without any need for empirical evidence. It goes without saying, doesn't it?

5. Most importantly: What do you expect English lessons at school to achieve? Have you had a look at what goals the CEFR sets for pupils? (see http://www.coe.int/T/DG4/Portfolio/documents/Common%20European%20Framework%20hyperlinked.pdf )

6. Approximately the top ten percent of the pupils at our school (a Bavarian 'Gymnasium') take (and pass) the CAE exam every year (see
http://www.cambridgeesol.org/exams/general-english/cae.html ). And another ten percent could probably do it, but can't afford the fee or prefer to spend their money on other things. I don't know what you would call that. I'd call it the result of successful language teaching, and nothing to 'cringe' about.
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Re: Quality of the German State Education System RE: English.

Unread postby systematic » 08 Dec 2008, 05:10

With a teaching experience from 1971 to 1989 in Hannover, Celle, Nienburg, Bonn, Koblenz, and Berlin, I easily established one thing:
German aptitude and/or the German education system are far better equipped for the acquisition of any second language than their North American, Australian or (geographical) British friends of any generation.
That said, however, learning heavily inflected languages such as German to exam levels, is certainly a challenge for mono-lingual English native speakers.
At the end of WWII, over 60 years ago, British and American administrators and members of the armed forces of all ranks were astonished at the knowledge of English from Bavarian peasants to Berliner Bonzen.
... the books used to such a large extent in German Gymnasien and Realschulen are riddled with errors not merely technical, but low level mistakes arising from the authors’ and editors’ insufficient understanding of the English language. The errors go unnoticed by the (German) teachers, and what ends up being assimilated is not actually English but a German’s interpretation of what constitutes English...
This is however especially true in Thailand, one of the few countries never to have been colonised and enjoyed the influence of western educational philosophy and methodology. That's why I wrote and published the country's first localised, but error-free series of texbooks.
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Re: Quality of the German State Education System RE: English.

Unread postby Professor Snape » 13 Dec 2008, 14:55

Prof McGonagall wrote:Well, Professor Snape, there you go again ... in your usual mood - which we've come to appreciate all through the seven volumes of "HP and X" ;)

There are a couple of things I disagree about.


Firstly, that should be ‘disagree with’.
Secondly, ‘a couple’ means ‘two’. Since you appear to disagree with six of my points, you ought to have written ‘several’.

You claim that German textbooks are "riddled with errors". This seems to me to be a hyperbole bordering on the grotesque. Would you be so kind as to give us a couple of examples? I'd be most obliged.


Not only did I find grammatical errors on almost every other page, there are also higher level errors. One example that comes to mind is a fill-in-the-blanks events description where the children are supposed to learn about the differences between simple present and present progressive tenses. The book tells them to look for trigger words to change from one tense into the other, as a consequence of which they change tense at an absurd point in the text where no native speaker ever would change tense. The girl I was attempting to teach kept pointing at ‘trigger words’ because the book encourages mechanical response. Another example would be the descriptions of British culture which amount to tourist guides and ridiculous clichés and generalisations. People across Britain do not act or think as is being suggested. A third example would be the pathetic overuse of contractions in the books which lead to lazy speech and thus thought patterns in the pupils. By the way, it is just ‘hyperbole’, no indefinite article. You clearly are not the real Minerva McGonagall, but some Bavarian impostor, and - meaningful conversation between us being impossible - I am therefore ending this conversation here, having more than satisfied your request for a couple of examples.
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Re: Quality of the German State Education System RE: English.

Unread postby Chocmonster » 02 Mar 2009, 13:08

BUMP.

Can I just add to this discussion in absolutely no useful way by saying that I partly agree with both of you?

Yes, some Germans learn and speak bad English, some of it learnt from poor books (and some from poor teachers).

But also, for 'Germans' in the above sentence, you could equally insert 'French', 'Italians' etc.

Edd

English tutor in a Private professional school in Brandenburg.
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Re: Quality of the German State Education System RE: English.

Unread postby SunShine » 03 Mar 2009, 23:43

I would add "Dutch". Their English is so basic it is comical. You cannot use any phrasal verbs, they take them literally, such as when you ask them to look something up in the dictionary, they turn their heads towards the ceiling. Then we were trying to explain to someone that a lot of Dutch windows don't open, ie. have hinges but are just made of one pane of glass, he thought we meant that because of the rain, the window had swollen. Then husband asked one person what size bed linen they use, meaning is it 140 x 200cm, or what, and she thought he was asking if they use any. Doh??????????

I was told by a comprehensive school teacher, when I asked if they needed teachers, that there is no English being taught at comps. What? No wonder they are so blinking insular, arrogant and downright rude.
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Re: Quality of the German State Education System RE: English.

Unread postby max_bt » 18 Mar 2009, 03:06

It is quite interesting what English teaching is in certain areas of the world. In Québec (Francophone province of Canada) most teachers are not native speakers and it is reflected in the English of the community. Expressions that are directly taken from French are used in English. However, these expressions would never be used yet understood by Anglophones. For instance, the use of “close the lights” instead of “turn off the lights”. We have created our own dialect of English. What teachers should keep in mind is that their students are going to use English to communicate internationally. In order to provide them with the best education, teachers should try to teach the most versatile English dialect that exists on this planet: Canadian English. It has been proven in many studies that Canadian English is indeed the most versatile type of English and it is the dialect that creates the least confusio9n between speakers.
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Re: Quality of the German State Education System RE: English.

Unread postby systematic » 18 Mar 2009, 04:15

There are many established versions and dialects of English that differ considerably from British and American English.

In India, for example, where perfectly fluent English is spoken by tens of millions of people and is the official language for nationwide communication, the language has developed it own distinct idiom; in particular with its use of the present continuois tense instead of the present simple.

It has been proven in many studies that Canadian English is indeed the most versatile type of English and it is the dialect that creates the least confusio9n between speakers.
This is very interesting- could you please post the details of the research paper.
I offer any information or advice 'as is' and hope that it has been of help. I am not an admin of this board, and my postings do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the board management.
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Re: Quality of the German State Education System RE: English.

Unread postby systematic » 31 Mar 2009, 12:57

That was a very bold statement you made Max, and we're still waiting for the details. In the meantime, while you're looking up the references, it would be great to get your opinions in this Ultralingua American English/British English debate
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