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Pluricentric Cultural Studies in German Teaching
The Goal Is Just One Possible Approach

The words Hallo, Moin and Servus on a typewriter keyboard
© Adobe Stock

Moin, Servus or Grüezi (“hello!” in North Germany, Bavaria/Austria, and German-speaking Switzerland respectively)? Möhre, Karotte or Rüebli (regional words for “carrot”)? Is it die or das Mail (“email”)? All these words and forms are correct. And they are expressions of how varied the German-speaking world is, both linguistically and culturally – a reality that ought to be reflected in German teaching. But how to go about it?

The DACH principle

The culture and society of various German-speaking countries and regions and intercultural learning should be covered in teaching German as a foreign language because they’re an integral part of foreign language instruction. Then again, cultural studies is a complex domain with a number of different approaches. And there’s an extra particularity to bear in mind when teaching German: pluricentricity. A language “used in at least two nations in which it has the status of an official, co-official or regional language with its own [...] norms” is called a “pluricentric language” (Shafer, et al., 2020 p. 118). Germany, Austria and Switzerland are considered the three fully-fledged centres of the German language, but German is also an official language in Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, East Belgium and South Tyrol. So it stands to reason that some pluricentric regional and cultural considerations should be covered in German classes.

The so-called “DACH principle” was developed in 2008 to emphasize this point. DACH, an acronym for Germany (D), Austria (A) and Switzerland (CH), is all about recognizing the pluricentricity of the German language and, consequently, the importance of pluricentric regional and cultural studies. For the purposes of this article, “pluricentric cultural studies” is used as a synonym for the “DACH principle”.

Studies show, however, that this principle is often applied only half-heartedly, if at all, in the classroom. Why is that? One reason is certainly that the training of German teachers gives scant attention to the pluricentricity of the language and, consequently, to cultural differences between the various German-speaking countries and regions. Another reason, in my opinion, is that applying the DACH principle in the classroom is often regarded as the goal, which unfortunately seems to be more of a hindrance than a help in achieving that goal. So I propose we declare the goal to be one possible approach instead: the goal of language teaching is to carry out an activity-oriented target task, and the implementation of the DACH principle is one possible way to achieve that goal. So how might the principle be applied successfully?

Working pluricentric cultural studies into German classes

Backward planning is the key: The first step in lesson planning is to determine the overall learning objective, which should be activity-oriented! The next step is to set sub-goals, i.e. the intermediate steps necessary to achieve the overall objective. These sub-goals should serve as the basis for creating and/or putting together educational activities and materials. There’s an easy method for working the DACH principle into your teaching. Based on the educational target task, ask yourself these two questions:
  • Where/how are regional culture and society involved in the target task and/or sub-goals?
  • Where/how can you use teaching materials to work the DACH principle into the cultural aspects already inherent in the target task and/or sub-goals?
So you shouldn’t actively look for ways to use materials from Austria, Switzerland etc. to work the DACH principle into your lessons. Your activity-oriented target task and corresponding sub-targets are and should remain the basis of your lesson planning. The DACH principle should be integrated by selectively supplementing and expanding your teaching materials.

The DACH principle can be applied before the “official” start of a lesson. In a warm-up at the beginning of class, give your class an opportunity to “immerse themselves” in German by asking them some “small talk” questions, e.g.:
  • Which cities/places have you been to in Germany/Austria/Switzerland?
  • Which ones did you really like and would you recommend others visit?
  • Which cities/places in Germany/Austria/Switzerland would you like to visit?
You don’t have to ask about all three countries at the same time, you can pick one or two of them. The point is simply to ask the questions!

Two Screenshots Landeskunde im DaF-Unterricht Implementing the DACH principles in the lesson | Claudio Conidi (Screenshot) Landeskunde im DaF-Unterricht

Implementing the DACH principle: examples for different levels

Our first example is for an A1 course. There’s a session with the following target task: “At the end of the lesson, go shopping for a new item of clothing.” The learners are to shop on the websites of German department stores. So one suggestion here might be to use department stores in various countries. Admittedly, this doesn’t sound extremely innovative, but there’s even more cultural knowledge to be found in the target task: namely the price itself – how expensive a given item is different countries – and the currency used – the euro versus the Swiss franc. Switzerland is reputed to be very expensive, but is that true? Is this cliché borne out by online shopping “in Switzerland” or not? To have German learners answer these questions, you need only add a price comparison to the target task:
  • “At the end of the lesson, go shopping for a new item of clothing. Then compare the prices in different German-speaking countries.
This small addition to the target task and the use of, say, a Swiss website in class are all it takes to apply the DACH principle without having to go to great lengths.

The B1 course includes a session with the following target task and sub-goal, among others:
  • Share some practical ideas for “greener” living.
The learners can discuss whether they separate and/or try to reduce their waste and, if so, using what methods.

At first glance, this target task doesn’t look like it yields a great deal of cultural knowledge, but a closer look at the sub-goals readily shows that it does – and thereby serves as another way of applying the DACH principle. Waste separation is certainly similar in all the DACH countries, but not entirely the same. Using graphs, for example, the class can then discuss what, how, and how much refuse the various DACH countries or regions recycle.

Another method, which works best from level B2 and up, is to have learners prepare for the next warm-up by reading the news in German as their homework assignment. You can assign news portals in various DACH countries, e.g. ARD/ZDF (Germany), ORF (Austria), and/or SRF (Switzerland). During the warm-up for class, the learners then discuss what they’ve read. Naturally, this approach can also be used for C1/C2 levels.

To sum up, the aim of language teaching at every level is to achieve an activity-oriented target, based on backward planning. So pluricentric cultural studies, in other words applying the DACH principle, is not the goal of language teaching, but one possible way of achieving it. So it shouldn’t be taught as a separate subject, but as an integral part of language learning.

Demmig, Silvia, Hägi, Sara and Schweiger, Hannes. 2013. DACH-Landeskunde. Theorie – Geschichte – Praxis. Munich: Iudicium, 2013.

Schweiger, Hannes, Hägi, Sarah and Döll, Marion. 2015. “Landeskundliche und (kultur-)reflexive Konzepte. Impulse für die Praxis.” Fremdsprache Deutsch 52. 2015, 3-10.

Shafer, Naomi, et al. 2020. Weitergedacht. Das DACH-Prinzip in der Praxis. Göttingen: Universitätsverlag, 2020.