Experiences of a German teacher

Learning German together is fun, says Gisela Breuker. The language teacher at Bonn’s Goethe-Institut explains what exactly happens in a language course and also shares tips and tricks with which you can improve your language skills on the side.

Why should professionals moving to Germany learn German?
How important is the language?

Language is the ticket to culture. If you can’t speak a language, you can’t immerse yourself in the culture. It’s not just about talking while shopping. You have to express your feelings, communicate, express yourself in a differentiated manner.

What is the first thing that
beginners learn from you?

It starts with speaking. I come into the room and say “Hello”. Then I am happy when someone replies with “Hello”. It continues with “Hello, my name is …” and “I’m from …”. After two lessons, the course participants can introduce themselves and say what their job is. You can also respond, “How are you?” “Thank you, fine. And you? ”Then you can also turn to others.
It really is a sense of achievement: the participants go home and know that they can now introduce themselves and react when they are spoken to. Moving from not speaking to speaking – this is why learning success is so great, especially in A1 level courses. I have great respect for these students because they achieve tremendous achievements.

How many participants does
your course have?

Up to 16 participants of many nationalities sit in a course. We train listening, speaking, reading, grammar and pronunciation in all courses, regardless of the level. The courses last five hours a day, so we try to keep the participants motivated. They walk around the room a lot, they create a lot of their own content, they react. You work with cards, CDs, a textbook. We strive to constantly change methods. Sometimes the students forget the time because we address them in very different ways over the course of five hours.
Besides, we’re going outside. For example, I accompany the participants to a museum about German history. Or I assign research tasks, for example on the subject of bread: A lot of vocabulary is collected, the participants then visit various bakeries and complete tasks. Then they come back, report on their experiences and write a short text. Together this results in a package in which participants also have the feeling that they are taking something home with them: they have learned something about bread, they have learned words – and they know where to buy their bread tomorrow. There is something “German” about it.

And when can the students find
their way around in everyday life?

After a four-week A1 course for beginners, I can have coffee with them and we can talk about everyday topics. At level B2 you have already completed seven or eight courses. Then you can take entrance exams at universities in Germany or start a job.

When should you start
learning German?

If you have the chance, you should perhaps start in your country of origin as well. It makes a lot of things easier if you at least know the letters. Those who already speak a foreign language have advantages: They have already experienced the shock of what it means to have to learn every word. We often experience that students from Asian or Arab countries have taken a preliminary course. This helps.

Are there techniques or tricks
that you can use to learn German
remarkably quickly?

We are very concerned with that. There are people who say “show me a picture and I will understand what you mean”. Others say “I need to hear you”. Still others say “Show me the word.” We try to serve that. We show techniques for learning words, techniques for practicing pronunciation at home. We have a media library, we have young people who help the schoolchildren to get to know German culture.

Our courses are called “Learn German, get to know Germany.” We try to introduce the participants to German culture. This doesn’t just happen in the classroom. We also encourage them to buy a coffee at a stand, to experience “real” communication. Sometimes I give something like that as homework. The next day I am happy when the participants say “I got my coffee.”

What else can you do outside
of the course to learn German?

When people have been here for a long time, I often tell them that communication in Germany works a lot through clubs. If you have a hobby, such as playing an instrument, this is your entry point into this social network. Many young people also do sports, log into the gym and meet up. That is the real communication, they don’t even need us for that.

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Are there areas in which speaking
German is a particular challenge?

Germans really like to speak English. Participants always say that they often get English answers when trying to address someone slowly and clearly in German.

What are the differences between learning
German in a course and individual lessons?

Many people want to study here, want to stay here and build something up – and want to learn as much as possible in a limited period of time. A language course is the best for this. One-to-one tuition is also more expensive.
But there are also people who don’t have time to spend five hours in a class every day. Flexible lessons after work are then suitable for them, and if the employer pays for it, for example, all the better.

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