GFL and higher education A driving force for the internationalization

Knowledge of German enhances opportunities on the job market.
Knowledge of German enhances opportunities on the job market. | Photo (detail): © Jacob Lund -

If you think globally, you speak English? Not necessarily! Learning a foreign language like German also gives students better access to cultures and job markets.

Research cooperation, exchange programmes, intercultural competency training – from the large university to the small college, there is probably no alma mater in Germany that doesn’t tout its global networking as an advertisement for quality of research and teaching. Internationalization is looked upon as a key to innovation. This is why German universities promote the exchange of students, scholars, scientists and administrative staff. They cultivate contacts with their international alumni and focus on border-crossing designs for their curricula.

Strong economy, strong science

German universities have thereby especially scientifically well-established partners in economically attractive countries in view. These in turn pursue the same strategies for similar reasons. “Particularly Anglo-Saxon countries like the USA, Great Britain and Australia are considered desirable partners. But Germany too has become increasingly attractive in recent years”, emphasizes Ulrich Ammon, Professor of German Linguistics at the University of Duisburg-Essen. Economic success is linked to scientific quality, so that, for example, German engineers enjoy high prestige.
At German universities in non-German-speaking countries, contact to Germany also sometimes comes about through the use of English as the working language. But already existing knowledge of German and interest in the German language naturally facilitate the establishment of German-language courses of study. “In Hungary there’s a relatively large minority that speaks German as its mother tongue and a long tradition of learning German as a foreign language. This is an important reason that the German-language university in Budapest was set up. And the establishment of German universities and study programmes in cities like Cairo and Amman can certainly also be explained by the great demand for knowledge of German in the region, because more and more people there promise themselves educational and professional advantages from this”, says Ammon. Interest in the German language is reinforced when German-language publications are available or stays abroad at German partner university are possible.

“English alone isn’t enough”

Especially in technical and scientific publications, English has been a symbol of international orientation. In the meantime, however, a contrasting trend may be observed: to ensure the international employability of students, foreign universities offer specialist German even in courses that otherwise have no German parts. In non-German-speaking countries there are various courses taught in German, ranging from agrarian management to environmental technology, and from law to computer science. In programmes of study having double or multiple degrees, everyday and scientific communication is also often conducted in two or more languages.
The study Deutsch als Fremdsprache weltweit (German as a Foreign Language Worldwide), published by the Federal Foreign office in 2015, concludes that “in many regions interest in traditional German studies has declined, but the demand for German in specialist and professionally-related contexts is increasing”. This applies in particular to countries that value Germany as business location, cultivate academic relations with Germany or offer special educational services related to Germany. For Annegret Middeke, Managing Director of the Association of German as a Foreign and a Second Language, this shows that genuine internationalization is much more than only anglicization: “Perhaps we’re so far in the twenty-first century that we know English alone isn’t enough. Instead, languages such as German are again gaining international importance, especially because knowledge of them enhances opportunities on the job market.”

Foreign languages promote innovative teaching formats

Middeke is also convinced that GFL teaching can promote the intercultural competence of learners and give an impetus to the use of innovative teaching formats: “In communication and action-oriented foreign language teaching, the aim is to use authentic materials such as digital dictionaries and leaning apps. Here collaborative work forms are common practice.” Even if GFL teaching takes place more or less in isolation, learners can transfer the acquired learning techniques to other subjects. If they learn German as a specialist language, these learning formats can find their way directly into subjects where today people are still boning up on the material using books. Ideally, this transfer of learning strategies from foreign language teaching into specialist teaching should be accompanied – for example, by university or language centre instruction.
Perhaps then even the shabbily treated German departments will make use of internationalization as the central building block for their institutional profile development to become a driving force of overdue university reform. Here German intermediary organizations could play an important role. One example of this is the DLL network, for which four leading Russian universities and the Goethe-Institut have joined together to modernize the training of future German teachers. DLL stands for “Learning German Teaching” (Deutsch lehren lernen) and is a programme of the Goethe-Institut. Each of the participating universities is developing a framework programme for one unit of DLL and provides a teacher to supervise online the GFL master degree candidates of all the universities. With the integration of the DLL units into the curricula, the universities can update GFL training and promote the virtual mobility of students and teachers. The Goethe-Institut is an equal partner in the network, provides internationally recognized materials and links the universities to partners. “In the collaboration with the Goethe-Institut, the universities see a great opportunity for internationalization”, says Prof. Svetlana Tachtarova of the University of Kazan. A further step would be the integration of foreign partners.