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HALLO, ICH BIN ULRIKE

teacher, coach, e-course creator

If you need help with understanding, learning or revising German grammar you came to the right place.

I've been creating grammar videos and courses for more then 4 years now. Over the years I have developed my own unique teaching method: "Grammatik sehen". 

In my opinion, video courses are the bee's knees when it comes to understanding and learning complex grammar concepts.

I am an accomplished language teacher with 15 years of experience under my belt, teaching students with multi-cutural backgrounds at different levels and with different language goals.

My expertise includes language training for companies, airlines, university students and learners at the Goethe-Institut.

Currently I am also also an examiner for the Goethe exams.

You can find my full profile on LinkedIn.

 
    Ulrike Essler-Raghunath

   Ulrike Essler-Raghunath

 
Grammatik sehen

 

E-Learning, living teachers or both? Read my thoughts on grammar and e-learning in the article below.

It was published on LinkedIn in September 2018.

 

A blended-learning approach to learning German grammar

To many German students learning grammar is a major obstacle to enjoying the language and to learning it quickly and easily. This situation is not helped by the abundance of content that is currently available on the internet. In this article, I would like to voice my opinion as classroom teacher and e-course creator on how to better support German learners in their endeavors to learn grammar. I would also like to explore some of the questions and problems connected to e-learning. Finally, I am going to share a blended-learning solution to learning German grammar easier and faster.

Student Goals: Four Skills

When we learn a new language, what do we actually want to achieve?

Well, each of us might have slightly different language goals, but at the end of the day, we all want to be able to speak, write, read and understand the new language. Thus, even though grammar might loom large as a task to master, it is actually merely a means to an end.

Student Needs: Four Competencies

Still, in order to perform well in the new language, we need a sufficient number of words (vocabulary), a good pronunciation (phonetics), an idea of how words and sentences are organized (grammar) and, in addition, information on the culture of a country. To reach fluency, practice and exposure are also part of the mix.

The Current Situation 

Native speakers use language with ease every day, fully unaware, how complex, sophisticated – also evasive – language actually is. Only when we attempt to learn a new language as adults, we suddenly realize that even the smallest thing in our world has a name that needs to be memorized. Words come with undertones, emotions and context and every language builds sentences and texts according to its own rules and the cultural context it belongs to.

Over the last 10 years, many online learning materials have emerged to help German language students in their quest. Yet, the perfect solution for language learners has not been found and there is an ongoing discussion among students and teachers of how helpful these materials actually are. There are ardent believers in e-learning and those who consider it utter nonsense.

To develop the four skills, language learners need to communicate with real people, they need feedback from their teachers and fellow students. Let us face it: tools like Duolingo might be fun and may work for a while, however, they are of limited use as the sole instrument for language learning. In my opinion, completely substituting living teachers for e-learning classrooms is not possible, and I will explain in a short moment why this is so.

The most effective way to learn might be the “blended learning” approach, which combines classroom and online learning. Several scenarios are thinkable to put blended learning into practice. In this article, I would like to suggest how this can be done.

 

The Role of E-Learning in Acquiring Skills and Competencies

1.      Skills (speaking, reading, writing, listening)

I am convinced that the four skills belong in the realm of teacher and classroom. With a teacher as facilitator it is possible to practice the skills and get feedback on a level that computers cannot provide. Only in the classroom is it possible to combine learned content and transform it into meaningful and personalized communication.

2.      Competencies (vocabulary, grammar, phonetics, culture)

Just like a chemist would learn the elements of the periodic system by heart, the language competencies represent content that must be learned by language learners. Thus, in an ideal world, the competencies could mainly be presented as e-learning material, while students would practice in communicative situations in the classroom and the real world.

There are a number of different e-learning tools available on the internet to acquire the competencies (e.g. vocabulary tools like Quizlet or Anki, websites on German language and culture like Learn German Deutsche Welle or Slow German, communities for German learners like Deutsch für Dich by the Goethe-Institut and grammar videos for German learners on YouTube). However, in using these free tools, students typically face a number of problems:

  • The content is often scattered and students spend a lot of time searching
  • Only bits and pieces of information are available and students are never provided with a cohesive full picture
  • The information is of varying quality and it is not easy for students to distinguish excellent from weak content

Analogue Learning: A typical Grammar Lesson

Over the last years I have dedicated a lot of time to developing an e-learning tool for learning German grammar. Why? Let me first share a few thoughts on teaching and learning German grammar in the classroom.

Here is a glimpse of one of my classroom grammar lessons for advanced students. Students collected and organized information on a grammar topic in a diagram on the board. Later, they practiced during speaking and writing exercises what they had learned.

The major insight here is that in the classroom, working on and practicing grammar takes a lot of time – at any level. 

A typical Grammar Lesson

 

We should also bear in mind that there is so much else we want to achieve in the classroom: fluency in speaking, correct pronunciation, learning new words, understanding texts correctly, comparing homework, doing written exercises, train for exams – to name but a few.

And although classroom lessons are lots of fun, there are also quite a few frustrations for students and teachers in store:

  • After spending much valuable time on grammar, the rules are quickly forgotten again. Several studies have tried to determine how often students need to hear or see a new word or piece of information before they remember it. Most scholars say between 7 and 15 times. Obviously, this is where video lectures come in. They easily allow learners to reach the individual number of repetitions needed to retain words and structures.
  • Students have different needs. In an intermediate class, some students “know their grammar” whereas others still need to revise basic rules. Lessons can quickly become overwhelming for one group of students and boring for another.
  • In a classroom setting it is usually only possible to work on a tiny part of a grammar topic. Like in the Parable of the Elephant and the Blind Men, the students don’t see “the big picture” which gives rise to confusion and frustration. Again, video lectures, each of them representing a puzzle piece, can help students to put the picture together in their own time and as often as required.

 

 
Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant
 

 

A blended-learning solution to learning German grammar

The above situation can be remedied by special grammar courses in a blended learning approach. If we complement classroom lessons with an online course that students can watch before and/or after the lessons, the time for explanations in the classroom is reduced and more of the valuable classroom time can be devoted to practicing and actually using the new piece of language.

This approach makes students more confident, autonomous and hence more engaged and faster in their learning. In video courses, grammar can be presented in easy, step-by-step explanations that walk students through a whole grammar topic using colors, sample sentences, graphics and pictures. 

A nice side effect is that a supplementary online-course would mean a smaller investment for a student or company. After all, online courses should be less expensive than classroom time, where a teacher can only look after a maximum of 20 students.

What do you think of this approach? Please share your ideas, experience and feedback.

 

Here is the link to the original article on LinkedIn.