German Textbook

The books I am using to teach myself German with are the textbooks : Akteull 1, 2 and 3.

I was automatically drawn to using textbooks for my language learning because I like the idea of returning to the exact same method I was required to use at the age of twelve. Using these textbooks therefore comes with a kind of nostalgia, I may not remember virtually any of the language I studied at this age but I feel extremely familiar with the aesthetic and the format of these books.

I find language textbooks particularly funny for two main reasons : the simplicity of the text within them, the literalness of everything (required as a means of making everything easily understandable and digestible), and the outdated appearance not only with regards to the design of the book itself but also the content, the subjects and objects represented (inevitable due to the success of these books, meaning the have been continued to be used throughout the years post its publication).

Learning a new language means we have to go back to the very start, back to the very basics of constructing phrases and placing the correct words into the correct sentences. The tone of the text within the book all has to be extremely literal so that we can understand how to construct these sentences (for example, the example sentences cannot involve any sarcasm, or any humour that may confuse even slightly the meaning of it). This low level of complexity means that a large amount of the example conversations which occur within the books feel very unnatural, very forced. There is a strange tension between knowing that these phrases are essential, it would be essential to know them to speak the language fluently, whilst also feeling like these are not phrases I would use at all. The phrases feel really familiar in that we know exactly what they mean, whilst also feeling really unfamiliar in their simplicity. I have realised that the unfamiliarity exists because although we KNOW these words, phrases, questions, they have been stripped from any personality, any alterations that we may make to them in our first language in order to make them sound personal to us, to match ourselves. This reduction has to occur so that every single word, its placement, its meaning, may be explicitly clear to us.

Another funny element is the use of generic German names throughout, names which to myself as an English speaking person, are synonymous to the German culture. This does help to guide readers as to which kind of names they would be dealing with if they lived in this country, however it does contribute to the forced and parodied nature of the whole thing.

The learning of a language means learning really generic phrases which are now quite rare in everyday conversation. Greetings are obviously still key to our conversations. The questions I am learning (which are designed to access elementary information) would fit more naturally into a larger context, with other information surrounding and supporting it. The straightforward questions, along with the straightforward answers that accompany them, act as building blocks for more advanced dialogues, the starting points for much more instructive discussions.

“Wo wohnt Katrin?” “Where does Katrin live?”

“Katrin wohnt in der Stadt.” “Katrin lives downtown.”

“Hat sie Kassetten zu Hause?” “Has she got cassettes at home?”

“Ja, sie hat Kassetten zu Hause.” “Yes, she has cassettes at home.”

The conversations I am having to partake in are highly emotive, displaying a distinct enthusiasm. The enthusiasm is so strong that whilst reading phrases aloud my tone seems mocking and insincere. I would like to film these conversations between myself and friends, altered to fit our own names and situations. By taking them out their original context of the textbook and into the real world, I can highlight and emphasise the strange and comical nature of these technically, very normal conversations. By recreating and recording these conversations within a real-life environment, I may be able to communicate how unnatural this whole process feels to me.

The humour of these books also comes from the visual material we are also offered, the stimulatory images which accompany the text. There is a real “German Textbook Fashion” - oversized sweatshirts, blue jeans, white polos. The bold primary colour scheme of the clothing of the characters is matched by the bright boxes and lines of colour which the text is formatted within. The primary colours suggest the attempt at a reflection of the positivity and enthusiasm present in the text. Published in 1991, the content of the text remains relevant and useful, and is most likely very similar to the content of modern versions. However, the clothing, the hairstyles the discussions of cassettes, reminds me consistently whilst working my way through that these are 1990’s lessons I am learning.

It seems currently as though learning from this textbook is the best method available, as the learning structures are ones which I have worked within before and therefore can get into the swing of it quite naturally - learning vocab, learning this vocal in the context of conversations, practicing conversations, answering questions. I enjoy the feeling it evokes of sitting in a classroom, and makes me almost expect to be able to interact half-heartedly with my partner sitting next to me. However, unlike eight years ago in the classroom, I am having to put pressure on myself to learn the vocabulary and complete the exercises. This is the biggest challenge.