Second Language Acquisition - Theory and Pedagogy: Proceedings of the 6th Annual JALT Pan-SIG Conference.
May. 12 - 13, 2007. Sendai, Japan: Tohoku Bunka Gakuen University. (pp. 21 - 41)

Learning more than English as a foreign language:
Are textbook designs fit for OLE classrooms?1

by Martina Gunske von Kölln (Fukushima University)


Dieser Beitrag befasst sich mit dem Lehren und Lernen von Tertiärsprachen (in Japan bekannt als "OLE" = Other Languages beyond English = also Fremdsprachen außer Englisch). Da im Regelfall Lernende von Tertiärsprachen bereits Englisch gelernt haben und diese Englischkenntnisse nachweislich sowohl störenden als auch fördernden Einfluss auf das Lernen dieser Sprachen haben, sollten im Tertiärsprachen-Unterricht grundsätzlich solche vorhandenen Kenntnisse berücksichtigt werden. Anhand von Beispielen aus dem "Deutsch als 2. Fremdsprache" Unterricht soll im ersten Teil des Beitrags u.a. aufgezeigt werden, in welcher Form Vorwissen im Tertiärsprachenunterricht berücksichtigt werden kann, ferner wird die Thematisierung von Kulturwissen untersucht. Im zweiten Teil geht es um die Daseinsberechtigung von "OLE" Fremdsprachen.

Schlüsselwörter: : Tertiärsprachen, OLE, autonomes Lernen, Textbuchanalyse, DaF, "task-based language learning"


This paper discusses characteristics of teaching and learning Other Languages beyond English (OLE), which is distinct from English as a first foreign language. In many countries in Asia nearly all of the so called "OLE" learners have already learned English, so the knowledge of English can both disturb and aide the learning of subsequent languages. In the first part of this paper the author presents some examples of ways to teach a second or subsequent foreign language like German, especially in a Japanese university context. In the second part the author considers reasons for learning foreign languages besides English.

Keywords: : "3+" language learning, autonomous learning, task-based language learning, textbook analysis, DaF (German as a foreign language), OLE
Japanese Abstract

As I am from Germany, which is in the centre of Europe and surrounded by nine countries, I would like to discuss this subject from my point of view as a European for whom it is normal to encounter foreign languages and cultures and who tries not to speak in her own mother tongue when visiting foreign countries. My background is different from that of Japanese people who are separated from their neighbours by the ocean and who have experienced about 300 years of isolation during the Edo period, which ended in 1868.
The focus of this paper is on the practical aspects of the so called OLE [2] language teaching approaches, because I would like to provide some concrete examples to help you reflect on your own language classes. These examples may help us see why "other languages" exist at all.
In order to provide you with both a theoretical background and practical transfer, a list of resources for further reading is in the Appendix.
There are some salient characteristics of teaching and learning "3+" languages (see Note 2 about "OLE") in Japan, and reasons why we could or even should learn "3+" languages in Japan. [3]

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". . . the pre-existing knowledge of English should be taken into account in "3+" language classrooms and textbooks."
Part I: Some characteristics of "3+" languages

Statement 1: Foreign languages as German, French or Chinese (in Japan the so called "OLE languages"), both in Japan and abroad, are normally not the first foreign languages taught, but the second, third or subsequent languages after English.
Author's conclusion: For this reason the pre-existing knowledge of English should be taken into account in "3+" language classrooms and textbooks. Even though our students might not know English well, they do know enough to make mistakes influenced by previously learned languages. [4]

Some examples from a German classroom:

Instead of always starting with the same subject "self-introduction" in all language classes it might be more interesting to begin with a totally different topic. You can find a example in "Designing a new textbook conception for the 2nd, 3rd or subsequent foreign language: An example for an introductory lesson." Gunske von Kölln , M. (2003a). This article shows one way to start the first chapter of a beginners textbook with the popular subject "Eating and drinking culture".
Table 1 further illustrates differences between English and German spelling and pronunciation to make students aware of "false friends" (cognates and pseudo-cognates). For example, the spelling of the word "butter" is the same in English and German, while the pronunciation is not. The words "fish" and "Fisch" in German are pronounced the same, but spelled differently. This example also highlights how the pronunciation of vowels in Japanese and German are quite similar while English is quite different.

Illustration 1. A comparison of English - German material developed by the author
Illustration 1

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Another problem many students of German as a "3+" language come across is the fact that the English word for the first person singular "I" is written as a capital letter while the German equivalent "ich" generally appears in lower case. But if we take a look at common German textbooks for beginners, we will see that the German "ich" is always introduced starting with an upper case letter because it stands at the sentence head. Therefore many learners will think that English and German are the same in this regard. Illustration 2 is a poster which is displayed in my classroom the first few months to help students with this problem. This visual aid should help students recognize and pick up the lower case form of "ich".

Illustration 2. Poster representing the use of "ich" in German. [Material developed by the author.]
Illustration 2

When teaching any new language we should be alert to the influence on the current languages. Also, we should always determine how students' knowledge of English can help or hinder the learning of a new target language.
". . . if we can whet our students' "appetite" for a given language through interest in its culture they may resume learning that language later . . ."

Statement 2: In Japan "3+" languages are normally taught for only one year, in contrast to the European concept of life-long learning.
Aside from language learning we can also emphasize cultural learning [5] because soon after our students have stopped learning a new language, most of it is quickly forgotten whereas the knowledge of culture remains longer. If we can whet our students' "appetite" for a given language through interest in its culture they may resume learning that language later, as I have learned from many learners in adult classes.


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As we have the concept of life-long learning in Europe aspects such as the amount of vocabulary, culture information etc. in the textbooks from Europe do not fit Japanese contexts. Besides German publishers concentrate on European learners, so there is not enough cultural information in these textbooks for Japanese audiences. Therefore it seems interesting to examine German textbooks by Japanese publishers. In the following examples eating habits are discussed. While taking a look at them a greater awareness of current German eating habits should develop.
". . . the amount of vocabulary, culture information etc. in the textbooks from Europe do not fit Japanese contexts."
Although Japanese learners are quite fond of this subject, the descriptions we find in these textbooks only strengthen stereotypes instead of providing new information. What we understand through this pseudo "reading text" in Illustration 3 is that Germans supposedly eat "Brötchen" (bread rolls) with butter, ham, cheese and jam and drink coffee in the morning. For lunch they eat meat with potatoes and vegetables.

Illustration 3. Excerpt from p. 30 of the German textbook "Szenen neu 1" by Shuko Sato et al. (2003, Sanshusha Shoten).
Illustration 3

In Illustration 4 another common cliché about Germans' eating and drinking habits is evident: they eat sausages, meat, potatoes and drink beer. Of course there are people who eat these dishes, but there is also a lot of diversity that such stereotypes ignore.

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Illustration 4. Except from p. 16 of the German textbook "Unterwegs mit Tobi" Elisabeth Schmidt et al. concerning German culinary habits (2006, Ikubundo).
Illustration 4

If teachers ask their students about breakfast in Japan many would reply that Japanese people eat fish, vegetables and miso soup. But when asking my students what they normally have for breakfast, their replies are often very different. Teachers can make students more aware of stereotypes by giving them a deeper insight into the cultural diversity behind the target language as well as by considering their own culture.

[ p. 25 ]

Nevertheless, you can not do any of this with the materials from Illustrations 3 or 4 – nor with the one in Illustration 5 in which learners are given some insufficient vocabulary , then requested to tell their partners about what sort of food and drinks they like. This example is on page 11 of a beginners' book. It is the first time that such vocabulary is introduced, so on the first ten pages they haven't learned any related vocabulary.

Illustration 5. Vocabulary list on page 11 from the German textbook "Unterwegs mit Tobi" by Elisabeth Schmidt et al. (2006, Ikubundo).
Illustration 5

To provide our students from beginner classes with detailed information we also should consider to say "good bye" to monolingual classes in the target language and think about the role of the mother language or other languages. In some cases it makes sense to use Japanese or English in class, but of course only for certain tasks and defined purposes. The use of Japanese and English in classes such as German must be limited to situations where the target language is still too difficult for the learners to avoid misuse. Most of the interaction should occur in the target language. [6]
Certainly I am not against teaching solely in the target language, and it is often possible to teach culture that way. Let me therefore show you some other examples of how Spanish and German can be taught solely in the target language. Illustration 6 is very simple, but it already shows more variation than the previous examples. Notice the description of different foods from different parts of Spain and Latin America.

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Illustration 6. Except from p. 48, 49 from the Spanish textbook "Redes" by **** (YEAR, PUBLISHER).
Illustration 6

Another example would be to carry out a survey project. One way to do an easy survey for beginners would be to ask:
  (1) Was essen Sie gern? Und Ihre Familie (Eltern, Geschwister, Großmutter ...)? 
      [(1) What do you like to eat? What about your family (brothers and sisters / grandma)] 

  (2) Schreiben Sie dann eine E-Mail an Ihren Tandempartner/ Ihre Tandempartnerin 
      und fragen Sie ihn/sie über Essgewohnheiten in seiner/ihrer Familie! 
      [(2) In the next step please write an email to your "tandem partner"[7] 
           and ask him/her about eating habits in his/her family.]"
The use of lists is easier to understand than long texts when you want to use the target language only, as Illustration 7 shows.

Illustration 7. Excerpt from p. 30 from the German textbook "Szenen neu 1" Shuko Sato et al. concerning German culinary customs (2003, Sanshusha).
Illustration 7

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With the next example (Illustrations 8 - 11) from the "DRPP Internet Projekt" [8] and my yet unpublished elementary level German textbook which seeks to promote cultural learning within an autonomous learning framework. David Little (1996) says this about autonomous learning:
In the domain of formal learning (i. e., learning takes place within one and another kind of educational framework), autonomy is a capacity for self-direction. This capacity is exercised in the planning, monitoring and evaluation of learning activities, and necessarily embraces both the content and the process of learning. (p. 23) [9]
The "DRPP" Internet Project:
In the winter term of their first year (after 45 hours of learning German for the first time) my learners plan a trip to Germany in groups of 4 to 6. After doing Internet research, they have to present a text of 400-600 words about their travel plans on the class homepage. During the project the teacher does not only provide them with vocabulary but also with native speakers' model-texts, which are helpful resources for the students because of the gap between their low language ability and the high level of the sort of text and its content (travel description) they have to write. Such model-texts may include a travel diary or a description of tourist spots taken from travel guides, catalogues from travel agencies or information centres. Instead of using the dictionary and picking up the wrong vocabulary they can copy expressions from those texts. This method of using model texts has been used for a long time very successfully. Without this help most students in this project would fail and create "monster" texts that are hard to correct because nearly everything is wrong. Although doing this involves quoting someone or copying another person's words, they also have to comprehend the text and find the right expressions for their own texts.

Another role of the teacher is to review the learners' texts from time to time, marking their mistakes and adding notes about the type of the mistakes made so that learners can correct their texts by themselves. This enables their texts remain authentic. As you will see later in Illustration 11, the students present texts which are "understandable". Although the teacher did not correct the mistakes, there are only a few errors.
The learners also learn how to organize their teamwork through exercises such as Gedanken-Karte (brainstorming through mindmapping, as in Illustration 8), using a "working plan" in Illustration 9 or how to design a text on a homepage etc. Even on a low language level such demanding culture-learning is possible.

Illustration 8. Mind map for a planned trip overseas [Material developed by the author].
Illustration 8

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Illustration 9. Part time employment planning [Material developed by the author].
Illustration 9
Example within the project:
In this Internet research exercise we want to show the students that it is worth searching for a cheap flight instead of solely asking at the university's travel service, because there are big price differences. They also will recognize that a ticket from Germany to Japan is much cheaper than the other way round.
Exercise with "Hot Potatoes":
  Was kostet im Oktober der billigste Flug mit der Fluggesellschaft "Air France" von Deutschland 
  nach Japan und zurück nach Deutschland?  Preis bitte in Yen angeben, 1 € = 159 Yen 
  (Stand: 30.8.2007) 
  How much is the cheapest flight on Air France from Germany to Japan and back? 
  Quote the price at the Aug. 30, 2007 exchange rate of €1 = ¥159.] 
As you see in Illustration 10, it is really not difficult to find information on a web page which is written in a language you only have learned for about 30 hours or less.

[ p. 29 ]

Illustration 10. Material developed by the author from her HotPotatoes website at
Illustration 10
A sample travel plan can be seen in Illustration 11. This one consists of one thousand words and was made by a group of Japanese first year university students which studied German only about 50 hours.

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Illustration 11. Material from the Nichidoku website by Fernost Reisen of Düsseldorf, Germany
Illustration 11

Some students contend that it is a waste of time to learn a "3+" language. But this "travel planning project" illustrates some of the reasons why they could or should learn an "3+" language. There are many reasons for learning a language, one of them is being able to plan a trip yourself based on information from web pages written in that foreign language. It may be worth mentioning that web pages written in German often offer cheaper tickets than those written in Japanese. The ability to obtain information from web pages written in the target language may be useful later when working in a company and planning a business trip to a foreign country. A propos, in many countries the greatest number of tourists come from Germany so web pages written in German are prevalent.
In classrooms such as this the students do not only learn about language and culture, but also the social skill of working in a group and learning independently without the teacher. Such autonomous learning enables them how to organize work which is especially important for male students in Japan who often show a severe lack of this skill.

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