The place of the German language and culture in Australia and in the world
German is an official language of Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Belgium, Luxembourg and in South Tyrol in Italy. It is also used as an official regional or auxiliary language in a number of other countries in Europe, and in Namibia in Africa. As one of three procedural languages for the European Union and the first language of 120 million Europeans, the German language showcases the cultural diversity and range of these German-speaking communities. In particular, the interplay between culture and language can be seen in the global influence of the past and contemporary achievements of German-speaking communities in architecture, the arts, engineering, philosophy, recreational pursuits, and scientific innovations, particularly those related to environmental sustainability. The conceptual understandings that sit behind this influence are reflected in the selection of text types and key concepts through which students will have opportunities to use German actively.
The place of the German language in Australian education
German has been taught in schools, universities and communities in Australia since the mid-1800s and by the 1930s was a well-established part of the Australian educational landscape. As well as being a core element of the tradition of a broad humanistic education, German can also be seen as a cultural marker of the waves of immigration from Western Europe. Migration from German-speaking countries is ongoing, thus continuing the contribution that German speakers have made in shaping Australian culture from the time of the first German settlements.
Strong partnerships have developed with organisations such as the Goethe-Institut, the German Embassy, the German-Australian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, the Bavarian Youth Ring student exchange organisation (BJR) and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), to provide solid support for the teaching and learning of German in Australia.
The nature of German language learning
German and English are both derived from the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family and share many similar lexical items (cognates) as well as grammatical features. Consequently, a native speaker of English has some immediate access to spoken and written German, and from an early stage learners can engage with authentic texts. Modern German also borrows from modern English, for example, der Computer, as does English from German, for example, ‘kindergarten’. German is a pluricentric language with different standards and regional varieties.
German is a largely phonetic language with many of the same sounds as English, and the same Roman alphabet. In addition to the standard 26 letters, there is the use of the Umlaut (Ä/ä, Ö/ö and Ü/ü) and the Eszett (ß). A major difference in orthography from English is the capitalisation of all nouns, a feature that assists the comprehensibility of written texts.
German is well known for its morphological creativity in forming long words through compounding. The German language has two different forms of address, formal and informal, dependent on the relationship between the communicators. German speakers generally rely more heavily than native speakers of Australian English on the use of the imperative to effect action, thus sometimes appearing to be more direct.
Other distinctive features of German are noun gender (masculine, feminine or neuter) and the case system. Changes in the articles of nouns and in pronouns and adjective endings mark the four cases, indicating subject and direct and indirect objects, as well as possession. Marking cases in this way leads to flexibility in word order which is not possible in English. Sentences may appear long to English users, but the case markers and clear and consistent punctuation rules aid comprehension.
The diversity of learners of German
The cohort of learners of German in Australian schools generally comprises students who are second language learners.
Within this pathway, learners demonstrate a range of degrees of exposure to and experience in German. Some learners will have little familiarity with German, although they will most likely have experience of English, another Germanic language; others will have German heritage or a family member who has knowledge of German and/or connections with German-speaking countries.
There are a number of different types of schools in Australia that cater for a range of pathways. In addition, community-driven early-years playgroups are growing in number. Mainstream school provision for background learners is limited, although there are some notable examples of bilingual programs which also cater for non-background students. There are also several complementary providers for German, including distance education and community schools.
The Australian Curriculum: Languages, Foundation to Year 10 – German is pitched to second language learners; that is, to the dominant cohort of learners of the language in the current Australian context. Teachers will make appropriate adjustments to the curriculum to cater for learners of different backgrounds and differentiate learning experiences for these students.