Notes from a journey into multilingualism To Fribourg

My place is called Fribourg.
My place is called Fribourg. | Photo (detail): © Bernhard Ludewig - Goethe-Institut

Lovers of the German language from all over the world came together at this summer’s XVI International Conference of German Teachers – a wonderful opportunity for shared learning, teaching and mutual understanding.

The last weekend of August 2017 saw German teachers from every corner of the world – including Columbia, China, Russia and Kenya – travel to the Swiss city of Fribourg/Freiburg. More than 1,700 teachers of German from over 100 countries came to spend five days in the city engaging with every conceivable aspect of German as a foreign or second language teaching.

Although the IDT’s participants differed greatly in terms of their countries of origin and levels of experience – to name but two examples – they have a love of the German language in common. As a result, they felt a special sense of belonging at the conference. As one participant aptly put it: “Any encounter with people who do the same thing or something similar is enriching”.

Officially situated on the German-French language border, Fribourg is a fascinating place for such encounters. French may be the predominant language in the city, yet a teacher from Brazil – teachers being pragmatic by nature, after all – immediately saw this as something positive: she found the experience very instructive as it gave her an impression of what it is like for her pupils when they come to Germany and do not understand everything straightaway – especially since the German that one learns in school is in fact a bit different from the German one hears in the street.

Cintea Richter1
Cintea Richter, a teacher from Brazil, is fascinated by the language diversity in Fribourg. I Audio: © Martin Hager, Photo: © Bernhard Ludewig

Which brings us to one of the topics that everyone at the conference was talking about – the regional variants of German. Many fascinating questions are being explored by researchers: what should be emphasized in curricula and in the classroom, and how are the different dialects viewed by others and by their speakers themselves? This provided plenty of subject matter for discussion, with the result that the lectures were well-attended. After all, teachers by no means limit themselves only to standard German, but also find the entire issue extremely interesting, especially since it is the real-life embodiment of the local cultural studies that also form part of their lessons.

Besides regional variants of German, another topic also dominated the IDT: the relationships between migration, language acquisition and integration. Extensive research is also being conducted in this field given the developments of recent years. What is more, this is a phenomenon that has a very tangible impact on everday reality in German-speaking countries in particular. And this in turn affects teachers in other parts of the world. They see this as an opportunity to combine social realities and language in their lessons.
Cintea Richter 2
Cintea Richter sees the topic of migration as a lesson in reality. I Audio: © Martin Hager, Photo: © Bernhard Ludewig

As far as the international significance of German is concerned, multilingualism is the order of the day. This is also reflected in the Fribourg Resolution in which the promotion of multilingualism plays an important role. Ultimately, if schools give pupils the chance to learn several languages, this will help preserve and promote the German language on an international level. Having a command of different languages is a definite bonus, particularly in a globalized world. Or, as a teacher from Poland put it with a reference to Fribourg: “It makes sense to learn foreign languages, as one language alone is not enough: multilingualism in its purest sense cannot be experienced anywhere better than here.”

Bridges were the guiding vision for this year’s IDT, inspired no doubt by the bridge that dominates Fribourg’s skyline. Not only was this picked up in the conference slogan of “Building Bridges – Connecting with German” and on a content level in various contexts, it was also reflected in a very visible format, the didactic exhibitions. As IDT President Thomas Studer expressed it, they use the medium of film to build a bridge: “Normally, teaching is something transitory: planning – teaching, planning – teaching... If observation and reflection are added to the equation – and then even shared contemplation and discussion – this moves more in the direction of research.”
Thomas Studer
Thomas Studer, IDT President in 2017, highlights the link between theory and practice. I Video: © Filmfreunde.tv

At the end of the day, the expert discussions are only one side of the IDT coin in any case. The other, and one that is by no means any less important, is the informal side: the discussions on the fringes of the conference. When more than 1,700 visitors descend upon a fairly small town like Fribourg, it quickly becomes apparent that all the other guests in one’s hotel are also attending the IDT. As a result, it feels a bit like getting together around a big table in a mountain cabin to discuss the best route to take next – the only difference being that the discussion here concerns the details of the truly impressive programme: where to obtain information about the best apps for the classroom; how authentic teaching materials can be incorporated into the lesson; how literature and music can be used in the classroom; how to deal with particularly large classes, and much more besides.
Dorota Niewiadomska
Dorota Niewiadomska, a teacher from Poland, knows how important lederhosen and sweets can be in language acquisition. I Audio: © Martin Hager, Photo: © Bernhard Ludewig

One key role in promoting this community spirit is played by the cultural programme, be it the excursions organized by the IDT – visits to cheese and chocolate manufacturers are of course very popular – a reading by Christopher Kloeble or a language cabaret.
Yuqing Shi
Yuqing Shi, a mathematics student from Bonn and a participant in the PASCH school forum, is impressed by the wide range of activities on offer at the IDT. I Audio: © Martin Hager, Photo: © Bernhard Ludewig

It can also happen that one runs straight into the nearest cafe to escape a sudden heavy rain shower following a tour of the bridge on the Swiss national holiday. And that one finds oneself sitting at a table with a teacher from Venezuela and another from Ukraine and discovers that the Venezuelans watched with great admiration as events unfolded in Ukraine, where protestors spent a full 90 days on Maidan square in Kiev and actually succeeded in ousting the country’s President Yanukovych. This chat in a café in Fribourg resulted in some personal ties that would never otherwise have been possible – and in German into the bargain.
Impressions of the IDT
There is something for everyone at the IDT – from comics to rhythm exercises! I Video: © Filmfreunde.tv

Even typing messages into one’s smartphone can give rise to an unexpected encounter. A German teacher from Tokyo asks politely whether he might take a photo because he needs a picture of a German engaged in a typical activity for his work – and tapping a message into a mobile phone certainly counts. The teacher himself works at a university of dentistry because students here are encouraged to improve their general education. An idea well worth copying!

Then there is the GFL student from Dresden. Originally from Burkina Faso, he wants to use the money he earns as a musician in Germany to initiate a project in his home country on the same scale as Christoph Schlingensief’s opera village: a school for deprived children where creative activities such as music are closely interwoven with the teaching curriculum. He has already purchased the land he needs for his school, and the next step is to build a well. It is incredible that he is embarking on such a mammoth project.

Or the teacher from Poland who not only teaches German but also organizes youth encounters because she wants to promote international understanding and foster the intercultural skills of young people.

Or the teacher from Armenia who saved her salary for sixth months to fund her trip to the IDT. She says it was definitely worth it, because of the programme and because of the encounters: “It is the people who set the conference apart”, is how the teacher from Venezuela expressed it as she left the café.
balloon
Polling opinion at the IDT I Audio: © Martin Hager, Photos: © Bernhard Ludewig, Cut: © Peter Weigl

To sum up, anyone wishing to talk to German teachers from all over the world, especially about issues relating to GFL and GSL, would be well advised to travel to Vienna in four years’ time, as this is where the next IDT will be held. Like all the other participants at this year’s IDT, we are already looking forward to a reunion in Vienna!
  • IDT 2017 – still life Photo: © Bernhard Ludewig
    IDT 2017 – still life
  • IDT 2017 – still life Photo: © Bernhard Ludewig
    IDT 2017 – still life
  • IDT 2017 – still life Photo: © Bernhard Ludewig
    IDT 2017 – still life
  • IDT 2017 – still life Photo: © Bernhard Ludewig
    IDT 2017 – still life
  • IDT 2017 – still life Photo: © Bernhard Ludewig
    IDT 2017 – still life
  • IDT 2017 – still life Photo: © Bernhard Ludewig
    IDT 2017 – still life
  • IDT 2017 – still life Photo: © Bernhard Ludewig
    IDT 2017 – still life
  • IDT 2017 – still life Photo: © Bernhard Ludewig
    IDT 2017 – still life
  • IDT 2017 – still life Photo: © Bernhard Ludewig
    IDT 2017 – still life
  • IDT 2017 – still life Photo: © Bernhard Ludewig
    IDT 2017 – still life
  • IDT 2017 - still life_J Photo: © Bernhard Ludewig
    IDT 2017 - still life
  • IDT 2017 – still life Photo: © Bernhard Ludewig
    IDT 2017 – still life