Trends in GFL textbooks
German Lessons with both Books and Smartphones

Smartphone and Tablets instead of books
Smartphone and Tablets instead of books | Photo (detail): © Syda Productions

These days digital programs are absolutely indispensable for learning and the smartphone is becoming increasingly important as a learning medium – also for German as a foreign language courses (abbreviated to DaF or DaZ in German). The big German textbook publishers have now started to enhance their range of course materials to include digital media.

Rita Peters, who teaches German as a second language (DaZ) in Berlin, has always enjoyed using the illustrated audio stories in the Schritte plus textbook from Hueber Verlag in her lessons. The course participants look at eight photos that are accompanied by dialogues recorded on a CD. Since the beginning of 2016, the illustrated audio stories have also been available on the latest version of the DVD called Schritte plus Neu. Now Rita Peters is able to show them on a television. “My students think this is great,” she says. “Show something on television and suddenly everybody is glued to it.”
What the students like even more is being able to watch the story at home on their smartphones, by means of a so-called augmented reality app. Ms. Peters showed them how it works: install the app, hold the phone over the corresponding page in the textbook and all the available materials, such as audio readings, and additional short videos are displayed on the screen and can be activated by tapping the appropriate icon. “My hard-working students always love doing this at home and are thrilled,” says Ms. Peters. “Using smartphones to learn German is very progressive and is exactly what young people in particular enjoy.”

The smartphone as a learning medium

Not only Hueber, but other large textbook providers in Germany are reacting to the increasing popularity of digital programs and the use of smart phones as a learning medium in DaF/DaZ courses (DaF – German as a foreign language – is aimed at learners living predominantly outside Germany, DaZ – German as a second language – within Germany). Linie 1 by Klett Sprachen and Panorama by Cornelsen also have audio texts, audio slide shows and videos that serve as an accompaniment to the course and that can be accessed via an app. This is a reaction to the changing needs of learners when it comes to teaching materials, explains Marion Kerner, editor-in-chief for DaF/DaZ at Hueber Verlag in Munich. “Students these days want to be able to learn anywhere, without having to take any books out with them. They have their smartphones with them all the time and that is why we have to provide additional, small learning titbits for them.”
At the publishing house of Cornelsen they are also adjusting to changes. “We have noticed that institutions are making their course structures more flexible and that students want to learn by themselves,” says Joachim Larché, marketing manager for adult education. “There are fewer and fewer phases of language courses in which the students have to be in the classroom and more teach-yourself phases.” This will lead to the production of more materials for smartphones and tablets and also change some elements of the textbooks. "Formal grammar exercises that students can do well on their own are going to disappear from the textbooks,” he assumes. “The textbooks will then focus more on promoting communication within in the group.”
These courses that are based not only on attendance in the classroom, but have a large proportion of teach-yourself elements are called “Blended Learning”. For this, Cornelsen is focussing primarily on the increased use of mobile devices and offering more materials for so-called mobile learning. In the textbooks Panorama and studio 21, the publisher has “broken new ground in various areas”, said Larché, for example, with additional online exercises and “short video clips for smartphones that deal with vocabulary, phonetics, grammar and regional topics.” Soon it will be clear what options people like to use. “And we will then continue to develop them.”

The book is still the basis

Nevertheless, in future textbooks in paper form will remain the basic element of most German courses – and this is the general consensus in all three publishing houses. “I see no major changes in the books themselves,” says Saskia Wan Hussin, head of marketing in the adult education department at Ernst Klett Sprachen Verlag. It is just that now the book comes as part of “a huge string of products,” said Marion Kerner from Hueber. “We have to provide a lot more additional teach-yourself material than before.”
Ms. Kerner, however, does not just envisage new influences on textbooks only in the digital domain. “More and more insights from the realm of neuro-didactics, i.e. how learning in the brain works, are being incorporated into the programs. For example, the fact that attention spans are short and that is why we often have to change the teaching method, i.e. from the teacher-centred approach, to maybe working with an individual, a group or a partner.” In addition, in her opinion, the books will have to be increasingly geared to specific target groups. There are already some books for integration courses and others for courses at university, where the pace is much faster. On top of that, according to Ms. Kerner, “students expect their language lessons to be more tailored to their needs than they were before. They are learning the language for professional reasons and that is why we also have to offer supplementary vocational materials along with the general language textbook.”

Media skills very much in demand

Whether these digital programs can ultimately improve the teaching of the language in a big way, does not just depend on the materials. In the opinion of the publishers, it is equally important that the teachers have both an aptitude for working with media, not to mention sound media skills. Teacher training courses could therefore be even more important in the coming years. The students themselves, however, are also going to have to make more of an effort. “The concept of blended learning requires them to take more responsibility when organising their learning process,” says Joachim Larché. With regard to the programs available via smartphone Saskia Wan Hussin says, “Of course it makes language learning more fun and really boosts students’ motivation. The technology, however, must not distract them from learning.”