german language

Use English to Learn German

English speaking German Tutor
die Nationalität / Image from Pixabay

Dear German learner,
I absolutely understand your desire to find a tutor using English to learn German more efficiently. In using a language that you already understand well your tutor is able to explain things way more clearly to you than if she taught you solely in German. That is the most reasonable and efficient approach. Just because it is usually done otherwise doesn’t mean that it is the best method. I also share the Berlitz experience a user has mentioned. You will not easily find a school offering such services in form of groups. I have seen one a while ago, that took it lightly with using English in the classroom, but can not find it anymore. The best is to go for a private tutor which you can find for anything between 20€ and 80€ per lesson (i.e. 45mins). Find one that uses common sense and uses English as instructional language.

Here is why your request is reasonable and why you won’t find it in (many) language schools:

SMART

  • You UNDERSTAND quickly and can make immediate USE of it. Like this you have more time to practice CORRECT German instead of guessing around or at the least feel uncertain about it.
  • Grammar is a quite complex matter. Explaining something complex in a language that is not well understood is just unreasonable and creates frustration and uncertainty.
  • If the teacher can not explain things properly as she doesn’t have the tools (English language), she has to work with many examples. Next to being a waste of time, you are the one doing all the figuring out. Why would you pay for that? Isn’t that why we hire experts to explain things clearly and faultlessly?
  • The direct approach as this kind of teaching is called has not been proven scientifically i.e. measurably to be any more efficient than any other approach.
  • The concept is from the sixties and has widely been misunderstood. Just because one has to listen a lot to German, that doesn’t mean that everything has to be taught! in German.
  • We do not learn languages like children. We learn them also much faster. Considering that a learner learns best when she’s exposed to a language like when she was a child is jus bad didactics.

NOT IN SCHOOLS BECAUSE

  • Language schools in Germany need many students to run economically. It often so happens that there are students that are not able to understand English (or any other common language) so that the teacher has to refer to a language that everybody understands to the same degree. Ironically it is the language everybody doesn’t understand to the same degree: German.
  • Usually language schools have a high fluctuation of language teachers. Those have to be replaceable to run a school economically. As not all German teachers speak good English, this widens the range of available staff members for the school to chose from.
  • If a school teaches the monolingual way although the group is homogenous, i.e. e.g. speaking a common language, then they haven’t done their research and still believe those behaviorists from the sixties.

These points are not just my opinion. These are the results and the conclusions of years of experience and scientific and practical research. If you claim that teaching German solely in German is more beneficial for any learner and not just the tutor / school, prove that it is or tag it as your assumption. A good entry read not only for tutors is Butzkamm.

8 thoughts on “Use English to Learn German

  1. I completely agree! I have come across many language schools in England who insist on lessons in German only, which I find such a waste of time, especially as I only have one hour per week with my students. If I tried to explain German grammar in German, by the time they had understand it would be the end of a lesson, or two …. far better to explain in English (in their own language), which also often makes it easier to explain certain vocabulary translations.

  2. Thank you, Michael, for referring to our book (Butzkamm & Caldwell) which signals a significant change away from the monolingual doctrine (or: direct method, Berlitz method) in favour of a modern bilingual approach. Over the years, more and more researchers have challenged the settled view of their predecessors, and it seems that a paradigm shift is just around the corner. Some of them are courageous enough openly to admit a 180º turnabout: “Thirty years ago I was so much part of the Direct Method orthodoxy of the day that I frowned on bilingual dictionaries and one day found myself miming the word ‘although’ in an elementary class…How had I managed to exclude my real experience as a language learner from my practice as a language teacher for so many years?“ English is of course only second best for quick reference and clear explanations. Using the learner’s mother tongue would be even better, but is often not possible, for obvious reasons.

    1. Lieber Wolfgang, ich danke Dir für Deine Inspiration und Deinen Beistand. Ganz herzliche Grüße aus Berlin. Ich bin gerade aus dem “Urlaub” zurück und schreibe Dir diese Woche per Mail. Ich habe mich sehr über Deine letzte Mail gefreut und auch Deine vorige Mail noch im Hinterkopf.

  3. Eine Bemerkung habe ich nicht, nur eine Frage. Ab welchem Lernalter sollte man die Zielsprache IN DER Ziel -u. nicht der Ausgangssprache mal weiter erwerben? Lernen z.B Norweger, Spanier, Tuerken, Polen, Franzosen gemeinsam Deutsch, hilft es dann eigentlich diese quasi-“Metasprache” ergo Universallingo Englisch statt Deutsch als Unterrichtssprache zu benuzten, wenn das Englischniveau der Lerner dermassen verschieden sein sollte, oder lieber die fortgeschrittenen Lerner gleich erzwingen, in deutscher Sprache ruhig voranzupauken und den schwaecheren Lernen damit zu helfen, mit den anderen mitzuhalten?

    Manche sagen, sowas verlamgsame unheimlich das Lerntempo im Unterricht, baue dann lediglich Frust, womit einem einfach den Spass am Lernen vergaelle.

    Als Deutschlehrer auch nehme ich Ihre/deine Vorschlaege gern entgegen!

  4. Hmmm, I think I now post my message in English from yesterday:-)

    A remark I don’t have, just a question. After which age the learner uses only the target and no more the source language in the class?

    Sorry for my poor English!

  5. First point.

    I attended an F+U group language course for A1 German — it was a “total immersion”/direct method/monolingual course.

    The teacher was completely distracted from teaching by adhering to the rule that she must not speak any English. For example…

    Student: Was bedeutet “hell”?
    Teacher: “Hell” ist das Gegenteil von “dunkel”.
    Student: Was bedeutet “dunkel”?
    Teacher: “Dunkel” ist das Gegenteil von “hell”.
    Student: “Aber was bedeutet “hell”?
    Teacher: “Hell ist das Gegenteil von “dunkel”.

    Circular explanations like this went on until a classmate would whisper the English definition to the student asking the question.

    These teacher-to-student conversations were so frustrating to listen to because, over the course of a lesson, they wasted a lot of time. It became a silly game for that particular teacher, where she bent over backwards in her effort to not speak English. It was like the cliché of Germans at the red Ampelmännchen: they cannot cross the street, even if they are the only person at the intersection and there are no cars in sight — one can never cross at a red light! The teacher’s stubborn adherence to the method trumped any practical alternative.

    Second point.

    I enthusiastically agree that an English-speaking German language teacher builds an environment that is much, much more attractive for a new language learner, and especially if the student is a foreigner/immigrant to Germany. Michael has described elsewhere the isolated feeling that a foreigner feels in their new home when they can’t communicate by speaking to their fellow humans. Perpetuating this isolated feeling in “total immersion” language courses is inhumane if the teacher can speak a language already common (often English) to most of the students. The rationale for “total immersion” seems to be like throwing a person that cannot swim into deep water every day until they finally learn to swim. Of course, this method “works” eventually, but not until after the student has had to overcome, day after day, his fear of “drowning” and lack of motivation to attend the language lesson because he knows that he will face being “thrown into the deep water”. In other words, total immersion works in the same way that torture works: eventually the tortured person will talk. But there exists a better, more humane way.

    Finally, on a related note: We have heard about the German government rushing to provide language lessons to refugees from the Middle East. I can’t help but think about the cruel “total immersion” method that these refugees will have to endure and the likelihood that most of the refugees will not really learn German because, in a large part, this method is so unpleasant.

    Disclaimer/background: I’m a native US English-speaker. German is my first foreign language. I reside in Germany as a foreigner.

  6. I am so glad to hear this idea expressed. I have been searching for a good resource to help me learn German and have read so many reviews which compare a course’s method with the way a native speaker learns and it always rubbed me the wrong way. I can quickly think of several ways in which I am dramatically different from a child learning natively. Just off the top of my head right this moment:
    1. I have much less raw learning power available to me (i.e. brain plasticity)
    2. I have much more practice at learning.
    3. I’m much more self-aware when it comes to my strengths and weaknesses.
    4. I can be consciously self-motivated to learn.
    5. I have much less time before I expect to see results.

    Anyway, this pushed me over the edge to purchase your beginner set.

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