Textbook for specialist and vocational language German for Chinese Vehicle Mechatronics Engineers

Vehicle mechatronics engineers in China
Vehicle mechatronics engineers in China | © Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung

The working environment is becoming more international and foreign language skills are increasingly important. Teaching resources that prepare learners for their career requirements are indispensible. A field report from China shows how a textbook for Chinese vehicle mechatronics engineers was created.

Vocational training is an important subject for the Goethe-Institut in China. In China more than 20 000 university students are learning German other than those taking German Studies as a degree major; many of these would like to take up a specialist degree course in Germany. For this they need specialist language skills and knowledge about working methods relevant to the degree subject. As part of the “Schools: Partners for the Future” (PASCH) initiative, the Goethe-Institut also looks after vocational high schools where vehicle mechatronics engineers are trained for German automotive manufacturers. German is taught here alongside pre-vocational training content. Since German car manufacturers work very successfully in China, they need more and more qualified personnel with German skills. In other words there is enough of a requirement to develop a specialist vocational German teaching resource for vehicle mechatronics engineers.


The route to the textbook – Authors and Topics

Discussions with automotive manufacturers’ employees, the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the Central Agency for Continuing Vocational Education and Training in the Skilled Crafts (ZWH) resulted in the idea of communicating specialist vehicle-related terminology, but also inter-cultural techniques for Sino-German working relationships, through a GFL teaching resource. “German for Chinese Vehicle Mechatronics Engineers” is aimed at students who are at an A2/B1 language level and can be used both to support the course and as an independent study tool.

The very first stage of development was the search for suitable authors. At that time, the Herder-Institut at the University of Leipzig was offering courses in the subjects of specialist and vocational language, as well as development of textbooks. In this context the Masters degree students were able to contribute draft lesson units for teaching resources – under the supervision of Prof. Karen Schramm, who was director of the institute at the time. The cooperation was an attractive prospect for both parties: to start with, students collected practical experiences relating to textbook development with a view to publication. The Goethe-Institut China was able to rely on the quality of the lesson drafts. And the fact that the students had to have the drafts ready within a semester provided security in the sense of time planning.

Transmission repair Transmission repair | © Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung The basis of selection for the themes was the curriculum for the SGAVE project (Sino-German Automotive Vocational Education), which came about as a result of a cooperation between the Chinese Ministry of Education, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation ; GIZ) and major German automotive manufacturers. In discussions with vehicle experts and training supervisors, such subjects as exhaust systems and electromobility were selected from the curriculum for the teaching resource. Other themes in the textbook include how to handle “not-quite-understanding”, the spontaneous use of German learners as non-professional interpreters, and German dialects. The authors are now developing realistic communication situations in which the German language plays a role. This includes verbal and written interaction, for instance with German bosses, colleagues, apprentices and visitors.

Theory and practice

Each of the eight lessons in the course and exercise book is intended to cover eight pages and start with an introduction to the theme with learning objectives, deliver training in all four skills, and finish with a self-test as well as a vocabulary overview. The educational framework was provided by the handout on specialist and vocational German by Tellmann, Müller-Trapet, Jung (2012).

Unfortunately people in general still know too little about which foreign-language and therefore intercultural tasks non-native speakers have to solve using communication in German in their work contexts (cf. Barié-Wimmer, von Helmolt, Zimmermann 2014). Alongside this fundamental problem it is essential to include an adequate time buffer in the calculations, particularly when the plan is to incorporate photo/video materials from large companies and their rights. Speakers of German dialects (Saxon, Swabian, Bavarian) were not always easy to find in China.

In total we needed ten months from the idea to the point at which the material was ready. The finished textbook “German for Chinese Vehicle Mechatronics Engineers” has been available online as a free download since January 2014; a printed version was only created for advertising purposes. The teaching resource is primarily used by the partners who collaborated in its development. But Chinese universities that offer German as a second foreign language for people not taking German Studies as a degree major use the materials too.

Success in practice

The success of the teaching resource can be seen from the high download numbers: the textbook and the nineteen audio and two video files have been downloaded up to 3000 times (as of January 2015). We are delighted with feedback such as this, which we received from a teacher who uses the textbook as a teaching tool: "The (Chinese) manager of the parts store was successfully able to resolve a technical problem over the telephone in collaboration with a German colleague. The German engineer spoke no English, the conversation had to be held in German. This was a great sense of achievement for the students on my course and for me!"


You can download the textbook and supporting audio and video material free of charge here.

Excerpt from the textbook, unit 1 (pdf)
Example audio file, unit 3, excercise 6 (mp3)

The author team can decide whether the material is also published in an adapted version for other source languages and countries. Goethe-Institut China does not currently plan to develop teaching resources for other professions. We are happy to advise you if you are planning something similar.


Barié-Wimmer, Friederike; von Helmolt, Katharina; Zimmermann, Bernhard (Hrsg.): Interkulturelle Arbeitskontexte. Beiträge zur empirischen Forschung. ibidem-Verlag 2014.

Jandok, Peter: Gemeinsam planen in deutsch-chinesischen Besprechungen. Eine konversationsanalytische Studie zur Institutionalität und Interkulturalität. (Reihe interkulturelle Kommunikation; 8). München 2010.

Tellmann, Udo; Müller-Trapet, Jutta; Jung, Matthias (Hrsg.): Berufs- und fachbezogenes Deutsch. Grundlagen und Materialerstellung nach dem Konzept von IDIAL4P. Handreichung für Didaktiker. Universitätsverlag Göttingen 2012.