German as a Foreign Language Training Paths in GFL and GSL

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Bachelor and master’s degrees, continuing and advanced training – those interested in German as a foreign or a second language will find a variety of training opportunities in Germany.

Whether in Kiel or Freiburg, Bonn or Halle, universities in all regions of Germany have courses of studies in German as a foreign language (GFL) or German as a second language (GSL).

All these programmes deal from an academic perspective with the teaching of the German language to students whose mother tongue is not German. They do not conclude with the state examination, so that graduates cannot as a rule work as teachers in public schools. Nevertheless, most GFL / GSL graduates are active as teachers in Germany or abroad, often in adult education. They also work in areas such as publishing and foreign cultural relations.

Bachelor and master’s degrees

Many universities in Germany offer bachelor degree programmes in GFL / GSL. They impart knowledge in linguistics, didactics and methodology, regional and cultural studies and intercultural education. Sometimes various universities set very different priorities: while some focus, for example, on the linguistic description of German or the psychological conditions for learning foreign languages, others analyze how linguistic errors can be diagnosed by methods of social research. Some treat inter-cultural learning in particular, while others are especially interested in the use of media for language teaching.

Many master’s degree programmes are aimed at those who have a first degree in GFL / GSL, German studies or in another linguistic-philological subject. But there are also other master’s programmes that show themselves open to graduates of other subjects. “In the area of GFL / GSL there are more master’s than bachelor university places: the reason is that graduates of other programmes such as education, who are looking for an application-oriented master’s degree, like to take GFL / GSL”, says Dr. Annegret Middeke, managing director of the Professional Association for German as a Foreign and as a Second Language (FaDaF e.V.). The aim of the master’s programme is either to create a wider base of knowledge or to throw light on specific content in greater depth. Here again the priorities differ from programme to programme: while one sets its focus on linguistic questions, in another emphasis falls on the development of tests.

Profiles and setting priorities

GFL / GSL programmes are also partly oriented to the profile of the respective university: thus it stands to reason that a technical university should focus on teaching technical languages. In some cases the priorities can be recognized in the names of the individual programmes (for example, “German as Second and Foreign Language and Inter-Cultural Communication” or “German as Second Language: Language Diagnostics and Language Assistance”).

Often students can decide within the individual programmes whether they wish to make their priority German as a foreign language or German as a second language. “Abroad, German as a foreign language is learned mainly after English, that is, as the third language, so that the focus here is on tertiary language teaching issues”, explains Dr. Middeke. GSL, on the other hand, always stands in the context of migration: themes of training therefore are, for example, the various dimensions of everyday multilingualism, language policy or discourses on integration.

Theory and practice

For both bachelor and master’s programmes the following applies: students are often encouraged or even required to complete internships. Middeke too thinks this is important: “If internships are theory-based and linked through good supervision to other parts of training, as is generally the case, the benefits for the students can’t be overestimated. Internships afford them their first look at various professions and also pave the way to future career paths”.

International experience is also generally welcomed: many GFL / GSL programmes are aimed expressly at students from Germany and abroad, and a few exclusively at non-native speakers or foreign students. Study stays abroad often receive support and cooperation with foreign partner universities is widespread.

Continuing and advanced training

In addition to bachelor and master’s programmes there are various practice-oriented distance learning and continuing training programmes, which are sometimes open to career changers with or without teaching experience. Finally, there are also a number of non-university training and continuing training opportunities – the distance learning programme of the Goethe-Institut “Deutsch unterrichten” (i.e., Teaching German), for instance, which is aimed at experienced language teachers with a university degree or professional training. But other public and private course providers also offer comparable programmes.