Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Use of Relevant Examples and Digressions

Faculty: Arts. Degree Programme: German. Course: Linguistics and Phonetics as well as Modern Language Description. Course Level: Bachelor 1st and 2nd semester. Course size: 40-60.

Motivation for the activity

An ascertainment of the fact that not all students necessarily share the lecturer’s given enthusiasm for the discipline.

Central learning outcomes for the course

Achieving competence in language description from a theoretical perspective.

Central learning outcomes for the activity

Maintain and expand the attention and intellectual curiosity which the students usually always have at the beginning of the semester.

Description of the activity

The objective is basically to work towards the students conceiving an interest in theoretical language description. The students must understand that the course subject does not exist in an ivory tower, but is intertwined partly with the other disciplines in the subject and partly with a living language community that includes approx. 100 million speakers.

I ensure that a suitable number of brief digressions such as comments and questions are interspersed in the teaching process, and that these are based on the sub-topics that I am in the process of presenting, and that they point beyond the narrow, theoretical linguistic framework. These may be about current events in the German-speaking countries and German literature and cultural history (also on a down-to-earth level), but also about other languages and language communities about which the students can be expected to have a certain level of knowledge, e.g. the English-speaking world and Denmark.

I make sure I always have a broad range of these mini-interludes (comments, questions) ready and when I present them, I do not hide my own enthusiasm for the subject matter I present. Of course, what you must avoid is allowing the mini-interludes to become too long and anecdotal, so that the students perceive them as something that distracts from the actual topic of the teaching. That must not happen as the students are generally very conscious of what is relevant for their own learning and the coming exam. The interludes must therefore always be short, pertinent and absolutely relevant, and you must elegantly and quickly return to your starting point again.

Outcome of the activity 

I find that the students have a more balanced relation to my exercise than is otherwise the case. Those who were already interested in theoretical language description will be even more enthusiastic, as they feel that their interest also has a direct relation to the real world, while those who were beforehand less- or uninterested in the subject largely appear to state that the subject is at least relevant to their education, and that they have learned something in the course of my presentation.

Reflections on the activity

You must always make sure you are well-prepared and visibly enthusiastic. There must be a clear common thread in the teaching of the subject and students must have a reasoned sense of relevance, benefit and progression.

Links and materials for the example of practice:

YouTube clip with former German Minister of Defence

The former German Minister of Defence Karl-Theodor von und zu Guttenberg speaks English in this clip. I ask the students to spot the occasions where his English pronunciation shows that he is German.