Intermediate German, Guilford College
I will incorporate bi-weekly conversations (7 conversations per student) into the curriculum for my German 202 course. Students will be required to participate in 7 TalkAbroad conversations during the semester, for 7% of their total course grade. I see working these regular conversations with native speakers into my Intermediate German curriculum as fulfilling several needs, including: 1) Giving students a unique opportunity to practice speaking and listening with native speakers; 2) Enriching other parts of the course curriculum, when students bring cultural information, anecdotes, and reports from student conversations into class discussions and writing assignments; and 3) Helping prepare students planning to spend the next fall semester in Munich.
The project will contribute to the greater educational community at Guilford in a timely way: Guilford is beginning its second Quality Enhancement Plan next year, and our focus is on Public Presentations. Increasing students’ speaking confidence through regular TalkAbroad conversations will help prepare them for an increased focus on oral presentations in many of their classes, not just German.
Intermediate German takes place in the second year of my college German program and is the first year that counts toward a German major or minor. At that level, students re-learn all the grammar on a deeper, more contextualized level, and they try to internalize it through structured writing, proofing, and correcting assignments. Students mimic a natural reading development by reading and discussing children’s and youth books at a consistently increasing level of complexity. Classroom activities are all conducted in German and emphasize speaking practice. But there is another language skill, the fourth cornerstone cited by all language educators, that is often taken for granted, presumed to be the natural counterpart to speaking, and therefore not given as much attention as the other three skills: the skill of listening.
Though we try to spice up our lessons with songs, YouTube videos, and films, in which students get a chance to hear native speakers, the only interactive listening experiences they have are with each other and the instructor. The chance to incorporate interactive speaking and listening practice with native speakers abroad is exciting and will give new meaning to that somewhat ignored dimension of language learning. We call our weekly coffee get-togethers for off-campus speaking practice Stammtisch. And though we have an occasional native German-speaking visitor, most weeks have students conversing at best with their peers from other levels in our German program.
The TalkAbroad program will allow me to incorporate a dynamic, communicative, “Virtual Stammtisch” that will impact everything we do in class, as students’ speaking and listening skills are enhanced. I plan to have regular TalkAbroad follow-up discussions in class and incorporate activities based on student conversations into our book discussions, grammar activities, and writing assignments. I can imagine the virtual relationships students establish spicing up our traditional listening experiences as well: when students hear from their native conversation partners what films and music they like, they will automatically be more interested in finding those materials and working with them.
I will add 7 bi-weekly TalkAbroad conversations to the course curriculum. Following each conversation, students will be required to write notes in their conversation journal, as a portion of their grade. They will use these notes in our follow-up discussions in class every other week, in our weekly Stammtisch conversations, in grammar activities in class, and in the last of their five required compositions.
The addition of a Virtual Stammtisch with native speakers will have a significant impact on the learning outcomes in Intermediate German II. German 202 is required for all majors and minors and is the key transitional course that prepares students for content courses with a heavier focus on literature, culture, film, and more intensive writing assignments. Not only will regular conversations with native speakers strengthen the curriculum with much-needed speaking and listening practice sessions, but TalkAbroad conversations will also naturally infuse authentic cultural information and intercultural exchanges into their learning. I expect the talk about TalkAbroad to have just as significant an impact on our course as the talk during the conversations. These experiences will liven up our in-class activities and discussions and our weekly Stammtisch, and will give students a meaningful topic for reflection in their final composition.
My students and I had an excellent experience with TalkAbroad in the spring semester 2016, in my Intermediate German II class at Guilford College. The students were a bit skeptical when I first told them about the project. They weren’t quite sure what to make of the idea of talking to native speakers in a skype-like situation. Their apprehensions included their own feelings of being inadequate speakers of German and their anxieties about being able to understand a native speaker, especially if the technology was of less than ideal quality. But after the first assigned “get to know you” conversation, all 7 students came to class with a positive report about their first experience. Two things made the opening conversation so successful: 1) The technology functioned flawlessly, and 2) the conversation partners were friendly, patient, understanding and interesting. All students reported easily being able to fill the half hour with good, steady conversation, all in German. Though some were still nervous about making mistakes, they were all ready to continue the experiment and seemed to be looking forward both to further conversations with their first partners, as well as getting to know the other partner.
I tried to keep the topics focused enough on what we were doing in class, but also open enough to give them all room to take the conversation in directions that interested them individually. This seemed to be an effective method, and the reports on each of the six conversations were always positive. One or two times during the semester, a student mentioned trouble with the connection, but it always seemed to be due to a problem with our own college network, not with TalkAbroad. One or two students missed conversation dates, but they were always able to make them up easily.
My goals were for my students to have time outside of class for meaningful interaction in German beyond our weekly Stammtisch, and to enhance their listening skills in a new, fun, authentic way. We accomplished both of these goals with TalkAbroad. I am planning to use the program again in the spring intermediate course, and I am considering incorporating a limited use of it, maybe 3 conversations, in my fall Intermediate German I course.
Dr. David Limburg, Guilford College