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Practical teaching tips
Experience DACH wherever you are: Cultural learning – virtually

A young woman with a knapsack on, climbing out of a larger-than-life smartphone against a monochrome backdrop
Using digital media for cultural learning | © Adobe Stock

German learners want and should have contact with people and ways of life in German-speaking countries and regions (DACH). Learners all over the world can do that virtually now over the Internet, as well as getting a good look inside other cultures. Here are some practical suggestions on the use of digital media for cultural learning.

By Antje Rüger

What is cultural learning?

Cultural learning in the context of foreign language teaching is a lot more than just memorizing facts about the target language country. It means immersing yourself in a new world, getting to know and “getting a read” on different ways of life, which in turn leads to self-reflection and a deeper sense and understanding of your own culture. Furthermore, exploring unfamiliar cultures may make you question your own convictions. It forces you to rethink what you once considered immutable truths and to adjust your positions accordingly. This happens through and with the (new) language. Learning that foreign language enables learners to access these new worlds and, most importantly, to actively contribute to the conversation. The following suggestions show ways in which German classes can encourage learners to explore new outlooks and come to terms with difference and diversity in general, not just in German-speaking countries.

Virtual immersion?

Naturally, it’s not easy to experience something with all your senses at a distance, but modern technology does make a great deal possible nowadays. On the website virtualvacation.us, for example, you can take virtual walking and driving tours of many places around the world. Another function involves guessing your location based on close observation of your virtual surroundings. In your German class, you can reinforce cultural learning processes by having learners articulate their own observations, discuss them with one another and formulate questions that can then serve as starting points for further exploration. This approach works even for learners with fairly rudimentary language skills thanks to the wide range of visual stimuli on the site, and you can choose which content to use for different groups of language learners.

Leipzig University’s “Discover Leipzig” provides 360° photos for use in German learning at A2/B1 level. In working with this material, which is designed for station rotation work, spatial perception is an overarching learning objective. The learners reflect on their individual impressions, compare notes and express views on various subjects. The focus is always on questions regarding personal experience: What do you see? What interests you? What would you like to do in this particular place? What do you think of ...? VR glasses (e.g. simple Google Cardboard 3D headset glasses with a smartphone inserted) can be used for full immersion in the complex 360° images.

Many museums now offer virtual tours too and can provide fresh perspectives according to the topic or theme to be covered and the learners’ interests. For an overview, check out the website museum-virtuell.com.

People sitting on steps leading up to the museum entrance A virtual walk-through: Berlin’s Museum Island | © Adobe Stock

How do you talk about...?

Culture-based learning is not about what something “is really like” in German-speaking countries, but how you talk and write about it. What’s important is not (apparently) objective facts, but the aspects, issues and debates that really move people. What’s important is cultural patterns and certain concepts and ideas to use in discussing them. But where do you find such debates in the German-speaking world if you’re not on location?

One very rich source is social networks, especially public comments on media products, e.g. on video portals. These reactions on YouTube, for example, often include personal statements about various subjects in very brief comments that may also reflect current debates about social issues. Different views are expressed and discussed in an authentic manner. So this is a way of giving German learners direct access to the content of these debates, as well as introducing them to verbal tools they can use to take part in the debate themselves.

In one video, for example, Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim, a young science journalist, discusses whether asking “Where are you from?” is a perfectly normal or racist question. In their comments, platform users share their personal experiences and observations. Despite the specificity of each situation described, some of the actual experiences are similar. One possible assignment could involve categorizing these personal accounts and then analysing their particularities: Which users find the question about their origins hurtful? And which see this question as mainly reflecting a sincere interest? And how do they argue their points?

What must, what can, what may?

This article can only present a few examples of materials and assignments for culture-based learning. They’re just examples – no more and no less than that. Cultural learning must and can only be carried out using examples. This article has hopefully whetted your appetite to discover countless examples to use in your teaching.

Shafer, Naomi; Middecke, Annegret; Hägi-Mead, Sara; Schweiger, Hannes (Eds.) (2020): Weitergedacht. Das DACH-Prinzip in der Praxis. Materialien Deutsch als Fremd- und Zweitsprache, vol. 103. Göttingen: Universitätsverlag.

Rüger, Antje; Shafer, Naomi (2018): Diversität als Chance nutzen. Das DACH-Prinzip in der Praxis, In: Magazin Sprache.