Georgetown’s German department was highlighted as a model for other schools in a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a national education newspaper.

The article, which discussed the need to incorporate cultural understanding in language classes, highlighted Georgetown’s German department as the ideal combination of culture and traditional linguistic study.

“For many experts, Georgetown’s German department is a model for a new approach that is beginning to transform how foreign languages are taught,” the Chronicle article said.

The Georgetown program is designed as a four-year process beginning with textbooks and expanding through German literature. The beginning language courses are infused with culture as well as basic language instruction.

“It’s difficult to find good textbooks, especially for higher-level classes, so we developed mostly our own teaching materials and curriculum,” said Friederike Eigler, chair of the German department.

The Georgetown system varies from that of other universities, Eigler said.

“As far as I know, I don’t know of any other university programs of a four-year integration program like ours,” Eigler said.

The article cited a report from the Modern Language Association that was published in May, which outlined an ideal university-level language program. Such a program would integrate the grammatical and “traditional” language classes with cultural and historical aspects of the language.

“The kind of curricular reform we suggest will situate language study in cultural, historical, geographic and cross-cultural frames within the context of humanistic learning,” the MLA report said. “We expect that more students will continue language study if courses incorporate cultural inquiry at all levels and if advanced courses address more subject areas.”

German departments at several top institutions do not have as much integration between German language and literature classes.

“The language program takes two years,” said Benjamin Bennett, a German professor at the University of Virginia. “The literature, culture and advanced language courses are separate at higher levels.”

Although Princeton University also has a language program that is fulfilled in two years, Pat Heslin, German department manager at Princeton, said that they use a variety of methods to teach the German language.

“We use textbooks, technology [DVDs and movies], as well as a program abroad in Munich. It is not just the old system of teaching,” Heslin said.

While exact numbers vary every year, Georgetown has on average 25 German majors and 15 German minors, compared to between 10 and 15 majors at both UVA and Princeton.

Several Georgetown students agreed that the German program here provides them with a strong understanding of the language and culture, as well as enjoyable class time.

“I enjoy my German classes. They’re rigorous and there’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” said Stephanie Grant (COL ’10), a German and English double major.

“I do think it is beneficial because it is much more engaging than just drill or grammar lessons would be,” Hannah Pitts (COL ’09) said.

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