Viewpoints on the Learning and Teaching of German as a Foreign Language

Grafik: Andreas Münch

Current trends in areas such as politics, business, the media landscape or indeed didactics are posing ever new challenges for teachers and learners of German as a foreign language (GFL). The “Viewpoints on the Learning and Teaching of German as a Foreign Language” issued by the Goethe-Institut’s Language Advisory Board aim to highlight current problems, stimulate reflection and offer possible learner-oriented solutions for practical application.

In 1998, the Goethe-Institut’s Language Advisory Board published its “Theories on the Teaching of German as a Foreign Language”, a paper which for the first time outlined key issues relating to the learning and teaching of German as a foreign language (GFL). Requirements for foreign language teaching have evolved further in the meantime. What is more, new knowledge is now available about the different factors which influence language learning.
The “Viewpoints on the Learning and Teaching of German as a Foreign Language” issued by the Language Advisory Board are intended to provide orientation for teachers of German as a foreign language around the world. They are designed to help teachers see how their specific teaching situation fits into a more general context. Providing food for thought, they intend to provoke reflection and discussion – and to invite teachers to engage more deeply with the subject by recommending further reading.  
The "Viewpoints on the Learning and Teaching of German as a Foreign Language" were jointly developed by the Goethe-Institute's Language Advisory Board. Their authors are Hans-Joachim Althaus, Jannis Androutsopoulos, Christian Fandrych, Ingrid Gogolin, Georges Lüdi, Udo Ohm, Claudia Riemer and Michaela Sambanis. The following questions were the central focus:
Which German should be taught nowadays? Is there just one German, or several? Who learns German and why, and what consequences does this have for German teaching? Which abilities do learners already bring with them these days? Which research findings about language learning are of particular interest? And what do language teachers nowadays need to know and which skills do they require in order to give learner-oriented lessons?
The individual subject areas:


  1. Which German?
  2. Who Learns German?
  3. How is German learnt?
  4. Learning Environments and Forms of Learning
  5. What Are the Latest Findings of Research into Language Learning?
  6. Multilingualism
  7. Training of German Teachers 
Each subject area contains several articles. Until 24 April, a new article in the series of “Viewpoints on the Learning and Teaching of German as a Foreign Language” will be published each week. 

Which German?

Which German? (1): Standardization Illustration: Melih Bilgil

German and its Norms

German is the standard language that is used above all in Germany, Austria and parts of Switzerland. But how did German come to be the standard language? And how has the perception of standard German changed in recent decades?

Which German? (2) Communicative Purposes and Contexts Illustration: Melih Bilgil

Communicative Purposes and Contexts
Teaching Language Proficiency

Speech communities have more or less fixed expectations regarding typical ways of speaking and writing. What role is played in linguistic communication by different purposes and contexts? And what significance does this have when it comes to choosing an appropriate style?

Which German? (3): Teaching German as a Foreign Language Illustration: Melih Bilgil

Teaching German as a Foreign Language
Teaching about Different Contexts

We live in an age of media diversity and heterogeneous learning goals. Which German is best-suited to which context? And how does teaching of German as a foreign language need to respond to changes in communication culture and linguistic style? Some suggestions.

Who Learns German?

Who Learns German? German in the Age of Globalization Illustration: Melih Bilgil

German in the Age of Globalization
Between Decline, Revival and Reorientation

The  political, social and economic changes that have been triggered by globalization processes are having a lasting impact on the reasons why people learn foreign languages and on their goals and interest in doing so. Who learns German these days? And why?

Learners of German – An (Un)known Entity? Illustration: Melih Bilgil

Individual Language Learning Factors
Learners of German – An (Un)known Entity?

In language learning, “external” aspects such as political and social requirements are combined with “internal” factors which characterize the individual learner. What does each individual learner of German bring with them to the classroom? And how should GFL and GSL teachers respond accordingly?

Who Learns German? Challenges for GFL and GSL Illustration: Melih Bilgil

Challenges for GFL and GSL
New Goals for German Teaching

In recent years, the socioeconomic conditions for language learning have changed, as have learners’ individual reasons and goals. This has a fundamental impact on GFL and GSL teaching. So what new challenges do teachers face as a result?

How Is German Learnt?

Language Learning and Language Acquisition Illustration: Melih Bilgil

The Process of Language Learning
Language Learning and Language Acquisition

How are foreign languages learnt and second languages acquired? Many answers to these questions remain hypothetical in relevant research, though some reliable findings are also available. An overview.

Multilingualism as Starting Point and Goal Illustration: Melih Bilgil

Multilingualism as Starting Point and Goal

How does a knowledge of two or more languages influence the way a person learns a foreign language? And what are the consequences for foreign language teaching if learners bring experiences of many different languages to the classroom? Multilingualism research is providing initial answers to these questions.

The Language of Others Illustration: Melih Bilgil

Language Learning as a Process of Internalization
The Language of Others

We always learn the language of others. Engagement with the language environment in question is the engine which drives the development of language, but how does this work in practice? And how can this knowledge be used to help us learn a foreign language?

Learning Environments and Forms of Learning

Settings for Learning German Illustration: Melih Bilgil

Places of Teaching and Learning
Settings for Learning German

In many cases, German is learnt not only in the classroom but also in a wide variety of other settings. What role can such settings take on? And what significance is assigned to the classroom within the network of places of teaching and learning?

Learning in Cyberspace? Illustration: Melih Bilgil

Learning in Cyberspace?

Classroom-based learning is increasingly frequently being supplemented or replaced by online courses. Which forms of virtual learning have been developed? What impact does this have on the place of learning and the learning environment? And what is the relationship between “analogue” and “digital” learning?

Language Learning through Play Illustration: Melih Bilgil

Language Learning Games
Language Learning through Play

Can learning a language really be fun? Absolutely! If teachers understand how to take best advantage of the possibilities offered by language games, this is an excellent way to learn, assuming that enjoyment of the game is not lost in the pursuit of the learning goal.

Recent Research Findings

Language into the Brain! Illustration: Melih Bilgil

The Neuroscientific Perspective
Language into the Brain!

Is it really more difficult for an adolescent or adult to learn a foreign language, and if so, why? Findings from neuroscience are helping to answer this question, and have encouraging news for older learners.

Learning = Cognition + Interaction Illustration: Melih Bilgil

Cognitive and Interactive Processes
Learning = Cognition + Interaction

Acquiring a foreign language is not merely brain work, but also takes place within a social environment. What role is played by interaction in this context? And what practical relevance does this have for the correction of grammatical errors, for example, or indeed for GFL lessons as a whole?

Language, Education – and Success? Illustration: Melih Bilgil

The Education Research Perspective
Language, Education – and Success?

How important are linguistic skills for academic success – and indeed for social participation? This is a key question in education research into language development and involves a quest for answers and new insights.


Talking in Many Tongues Illustration: Melih Bilgil

What Is Multilingualism?
Talking in Many Tongues

When we use the term “multilingualism”, we are referring to a variety of phenomena which, though fairly closed linked, occur on quite different levels. How then can multilingualism be defined? Which factors are important? Or are there in fact several types of multilingualism?

More Creative and Reflective Illustration: Melih Bilgil

Becoming Multilingual
More Creative and Reflective

Multilinguals acquire the languages of which they have a command at different times during their biography – and in different contexts such as the family, at school or while abroad. They not only acquire communicative skills as part of this process, but also develop on a personal level. Multilingualism has a whole host of benefits to offer, particularly for children.

Mixing and Switching between Languages Illustration: Melih Bilgil

Multilingualism in Everyday Life
Mixing and Switching between Languages

In big cities, and indeed in language border regions, it is particularly common for people to use more than one language in a single statement in their everyday lives. What significance does this have in specific cases? And is such multilingual practice really as “chaotic” as people often assume? Or is not linguistic mixing in fact a quite “normal” phenomenon?

Qualification of Teachers of German

Qualification of Teachers of German Illustration: Melih Bilgil

Training and Continuing Education
Developing and Networking

Training of teachers of German is the basis for the proper teaching of German as a foreign or second language. But what sort of qualifications are needed if the new global and indeed regional challenges are to be met?