The German Department is quietly experimenting with a new approach to language teaching.
Next year the Department will offer only one beginning course in German instead of the two-which are now given. Since 1958 students with no previous instruction could choose between German A (taught by the audio-lingual method, and emphasizing speaking and understanding), and German B (designed for students who will take further courses and which concentrates on principles of grammar).
By combining the aural approach in the first semester with an emphasis on reading and writing in the second, Robert H. Spaethling, associate professor of German, who is planning the new program, hopes to "capitalize on the strength of both the present courses."
He criticized the current two-course approach which, he said, produces German A students who do not know a "blasted rule," and German B students who are unable to apply the grammar they have learned.
Bored with Parroting
The advantages of German A fade in the second semester, Spaethling pointed out, when students become bored with parroting back phrases. German B's problem is that "you can't put a rule in an empty room," he said. "You have to fill it first with sounds and noises and then introduce a rule to make sense of the jumble."
German has long been the College's most popular language on the elementary level, though in recent years enrollment has fallen from 400 to 200 students. The Department attributes this decline to improved high school teaching and not to a drop in the popularity of German courses.
"We've had good years," Spaethling said, "and it is dangerous to abandon an approach that has proved itself so popular. But one must guard oneself from becoming too happy with what is going on."
Spaethling emphasized that the new course is just an experiment. "If it turns out to be less than we hoped for we will not be ashamed to admit the mistake."