029_Ends and Means in Second Year German

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029_Ends and Means in Second Year German


Keyes, Charles Reuben; German Language-Study and Teaching; College Professors-Iowa; Cornell College (Mount Vernon, Iowa)


This 19 page essay by Keyes outlines what he considers to be the best way to teach students to read moderately difficult German in the second year of instruction.


Keyes, Charles Reuben




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Ends and Means in Second Year German

Charles R. Keyes

We should probably not disagree greatly as to the ends to be sought in second year German. We should desire our pupils to gain a ready reading knowledge of German of moderate difficulty. We should wish them to solidify and extend their knowledge of the theory and practice of the language itself. We should expect their study to contribute to their general culture and discipline.
As to the means to be used for the attainment of these ends we should doubtless find ourselves frequently in disagreement. Indeed, it would hardly be desirable to agree too well in the matter of ways and means. Probably


there is no best method or set of best methods that would do for everybody. Where, also, would teachers' meetings be without their discussions of methods? For my own part I find most satisfaction in a rather shifting point and manner of attack. The means I employed a year ago are not just the ones that appeal most to me now, though of course the general features are similar, and I hope the future may bring plenty that are new and different. However, general principles persist and even passing fancies sometimes have their value; so the following remarks present, it is to be hoped, a fairly reasonable outline for the second years' work in German. The time


at command will necessarily cause these statements to be made in rather dogmatic form.
First, as to how to acquire a reading knowledge of only moderately difficult German. There is only one way, it seems to me, and that is by reading a great deal of it. The maximum amount of four or five hundred pages recommended by the Committee of Twelve is none too much and it would be better to exceed than to fall much short of it. I said the texts read should be of only moderate difficulty. Nor should the difficulty of the language increase a great deal beyond that of Germelshausen


the second year. The increased power of the pupil may be better applied toward reading a larger amount and becoming thoroughly acquainted thus, through constant repetition, with a limited vocabulary than in wrestling with a host of new words and a mass of involved constructions. Perhaps the chief task before a second year pupil is the acquisition of a working vocabulary of common words, and I am glad that the facilities for gaining this are now so accessible. The texts now supplied are many in number and are provided with special vocabularies, a fact which saves the pupil much time and vexation. Also the number of good texts of moderate difficulty now available is such that


it would be invidious to suggest a possible second year course selected from them. Suffice it to say that within reasonable limits (and that there are limits the trashy character of some of the German texts offered us makes only too evident) the individual teacher should follow his own taste or what seems to be the need of his particular pupils. Even within reasonable limits, however, there is, naturally, a better and a worse. Why, for example, read L'Arrabbiata or Das Madchen von Treppi, with their foreign setting, when Der Letzte, Klostermanns Grundstuck, or In St. Jurgen, with their native setting, are equally interesting and furnish besides the valuable by-product of a glance into German culture? However, I do not care


to be too particular here. Latitude is desirable and fortunately easily possible. I have never followed twice just the same program of texts for second year German, nor do I see any special reason for ever doing so.
Most of the reading should be in prose, though I am not the one to object to some good verse. Some of the latter, as well as some of the former, may well be committed to memory. I say it with some hesitation, but with considerable conviction, that the second year's study of German has not room for as much verse, I had almost said for as much difficult and unusual German, as is contained in Wilhelm Tell. I realize the truth that many of our pupils must read a

7 bit of Schiller in the second year or not at all, but in view of the fact that a classic masterpiece must be read so slowly at this stage of progress as necessarily to destroy much of its value as literature and the further fact that it must necessarily take the place of two hundred or more pages of desirable and thoroughly suitable prose, I have never been able to bring a classic of such length into the second year. Some of the shorter poems, to be sure, but scarcely the Tell. Tell demands of the third year student but four or five weeks of delightful study, but comes too near monopolizing the time of the second year student.
It will not always be possible during the recitation
period, nor is it desirable, to read and translate all the text assigned for home study. Much or all of it may be made the basis for conversation in German, simple explanation being made in German or those involving technicalities in English. Sight reading in advance of the assignment may then will occupy the remaining half of the recitation period. I realize that there is some danger in a recitation so conducted. Some pupils will become careless in there preparation if not held to close account for every page studied at home. Nevertheless the value of more than a moderate amount of translation into English is so dubious and the proven value of sight reading so great that I believe the method should in the main


be followed. I admit to compromising the method to the extent of allowing full translation of perhaps the first fourth or third of a new book, until the pupil has mastered somewhat the new vocabulary and the new style. No pupil should not of course, translate a passage without having first read it in German, this being emphatically true of all sight translations.
Secondly, we desire our pupils to fix and extend their knowledge of the theory and practice of the language itself. Much of the grammar is still misty, even in the minds of many fairly good students, and certainly they all lack ease in the immediate appreciation of the theory to the spoken and the written language. It has been quite a question


in my mind as to how much time one ought to devote to composition work during the second year. Formerly I gave the subject one day per week, using some regulation composition book and asking for written exercises each time, which were collected, taken home, carefully corrected, and returned to the pupils. This proved little worse than an aggravation satisfying neither pupil nor teacher. The amount of composition was too small to produce noticeable results and so was felt by the pupils, and I am afraid by the teacher also, to be a sort of interruption in the regular work of the week. But how is one to increase greatly the written product in the second year, when first year classes necessarily make such


demands of the teacher along this line? Not the least of the problems presenting themselves under such circumstances are the very practical ones of conserving ones time, and especially ones eye-sight and ones good digestion, valuable faculties both, in our business, and not lightly to be worn away along the blistering pathway of the red ink pen. Personally I might have got rid of my one division of first year German by assigning it, as well as the others, to an assistant. Partly because of a prejudice that a teacher cannot afford to lose touch with his beginning classes and partly because beginners are so interesting anyhow, I reference to do this and so the problems remained.


My disposition of these last year, and thus for this year, has given me some satisfaction and I venture to outline the same. It consists simply in doubling or tripling the amount of composition in the second year, but, and this is the main point, in making the composition mostly oral. What, after all, is gained by a written exercise that cannot be as well or better gained by an oral translation? Spelling and punctuation--that is above all. Spelling does not, however, cause the second year pupil much trouble and his punctuation which is perhaps still defective, can be sufficiently attended to in the comparatively few written exercises required. It is the quickening of his thought processes,

now that his first year paradigms are behind him, that is the desideration and it is this which oral translations stimulated as nothing else can. I mean by this real oral translation, not that read from a slip of paper or a "ponied" text.
In outline my experience has been this. Last fall, as usual, I was confronted, in my division of the second year class, bu a well-intentioned but rather heterogeneous assembly of young persons who had studied their beginning German in almost half as many different schools and places as there were members of the class - and there were thirty-four members. They were like Wallenstein's soldiers somewhat, who


--"aus Suden und aus Norden Zusammen
geschneit und geblasen worden."
The problem was to get this class into good working order as quickly as possible. It seemed best for this purpose to give them something hard to do from the first. Several other texts would have done as well, but we happened to take up Paul Heyses' Die Blinden, the edition of Carruth and Engel. This contains, in addition to the German text, about twenty pages of good, idiomatic English, based as to vocabulary and idiom on the German of the story, but free as to construction. The pupils were asked to study carefully each day as much of the German as was necessary to furnish a foundation for


about a page of English and then to turn the English into German. If a pencil proved helpful for home study it might perhaps do no harm, but no papers should appear in class. Being asked to translate a sentence he should clearly read the English and then just as clearly enunciate the corresponding German. So soon as an ending or a case, a gender or an idiom went wrong it became a matter of investigation. If undue carelessness appeared the pupil was promptly and pleasantly informed that he would have another chance at some other sentence on some other day, and also that he should review such and such a chapter of German grammar. This


sweating process, for such it was largely, was continued for six solid weeks. During the first week some sparks of rebellion glowed beneath the surface, the teacher not of course noticing these. By the end of the second week the class was resigned, and by the close the the third most of them seemed to like it; all were strictly attentive, at any rate. When we had finished Die Blinden in this way, having paid little attention to the German text except as it helped us to form some German of our own, I considered the class in good working order. After this we took up for our composition work a book of short German stories and anecdotes, Wesselhoeft's it happens


to be, with English exercises based on the text as before. This was used for a considerable time twice a week, later in the year once a week, with considerable emphasis shifting to extemporaneous oral composition, that is, conversation. Nor did our reading of German suffer essentially from the additional time spent on composition. It seemed to be easy to merely read German after having both read and construed so much of it, and we finished about our five hundred pages as usual.
There is time only for a bare reference to the third aim of our study possibly the principal one after all, the acquisition of general culture and discipline. There is no doubt, I think, that


the mental training derived from the study of German is the same in quality as that derived from a study of the classics. I for one take no pleasure pleasure in the fact of the diminished attention to the classics, but, as this is so, I do see an increased burden and opportunity thrust upon the teaching of the modern languages. In these days of effort in educational lines to find the path of least resistance, which in so many cases has proved to be the path of no resistance at all, what a privilege it is to teach a subject in which the results can be accurately measured and in which results cannot be obtained at all without some hard, consistent, and disciplining effort? Fortunately the study


of German, in spite of its difficulties, is increasingly popular. The more the study of the really difficult and precise, but drier, subjects tends toward the vanishing point, just so much the more will the teacher of German need to gird himself to the task of saving, intellectually, the generation that now is.