Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pres. Guy: MA Am. Assoc. of Teachers of German --

-- addresses URI's  Dual Degree German - Engineering (or German Int'l Business) Program! 

A Message from our President:

The last years haven’t been very easy, not for the U.S. economy or political progress, not for the European Union and its own immense economic challenges, not for the Middle East, and certainly not for educators.  Language educators can’t claim to be working on problems of the same magnitude, but they face a bewildering range of challenges on many fronts: blame for the underachievement of students, pressing calls from all sides for reform, open hostility to teacher unions, university administrations bent on curriculum redesign that may or may not include our discipline, a deluge of ever-changing technology that offers both pleasure and pain, the constant struggle to attract and retain students, and the strange administrative mindset that learning a foreign language somehow isn’t that important.  That message was underscored by the Massachusetts Board of Education in its refusal to update guidelines for foreign language study and set a deadline for MCAS exams in languages.

But we know better.  In a global community and a global economy, knowledge of other languages and cultures becomes an essential strategic skill.  Many high schools now offer an international concentration that substantiates advanced work in foreign language, history and culture, along with foreign study or service work. 

Our students know better, and often they seek out colleges that meet their interest in doing advanced work in their language of choice.  Others with specific professional goals can look for and find degree programs that combine language study with training in engineering, international business, diplomacy, and know their skill sets will far exceed those of other graduates. 

As German teachers, we know the Cold War may be long gone, but the importance of German in the international economic context has never been greater.  Germany has become the unquestioned epicenter of the European Union power structure, and its leadership exercises immense influence.  Germany remains the leading economy in the EU and maintains one of the lowest unemployment rates anywhere.  Germany continues to welcome immigrants, many of whom now arrive with advanced degrees and training from other European nations, eager to learn the language and find the work their native countries cannot provide.  We know that Germany remains one of America’s most important trade partners. German companies in the U.S. employ over half a million workers, and they love it when their employees can also speak German.
Last spring I met two students about to graduate from the University of Rhode Island’s international engineering program.  These two young men were in love with automotive engineering and in love with German.  As part of their regular program of study they spent a fall semester at the Technische Universität Braunschweig, deepening and extending their professional automotive knowledge in their second language.  Then they spent the spring semester in internships.  One of them ended up road testing new model automobiles on the Autobahn, driving night and day and under various weather conditions.  The other ended up at the BMW testing facility outside München, testing next year’s models on the BMW track and giving performance reports to the engineering team.  Both of them ended up with full-time job offers in Germany, as did about 99%+ of the graduates of this program.  These two represent the coming multinational workforce, prepared and ready to work in their field in more than one language and more than one culture.

We as teachers are learning to adjust our teaching to the changing needs of our clientele.  The revised AP German Language and Culture exam has been reconfigured to focus on topic-driven authentic materials and the demonstration of more real world active skills.  Universities recognize that cultural studies may be just as important to students as the traditional strands in literature and linguistics, and that professional applications of language skills, internships and foreign study programs appeal to a growing segment of the student population.  Change keeps coming, and that change challenges us to innovate and grow.
Teachers of German in Massachusetts keep finding ways to switch up their approach to language teaching, to make their discipline more relevant to learners, to find ways to collaborate with colleagues in their own and other disciplines. The presentations of German teachers, both secondary and post-secondary, at conferences like MaFLA, ACTFL, MLA and elsewhere give ample evidence of that work.  We enjoy the active support of the Goethe-Institut Boston, its active cultural program, its language courses, and its DVD lending library. We get assistance from the consulates of the Federal Republic of Germany, Switzerland and Austria and their culture centers, and appreciate their active support of our mission to keep German alive and well in our schools.  To our dismay, we still get reports of Massachusetts schools and colleges deciding to shut down their German programs, but that only makes AATG redouble its efforts to strengthen German studies in the state.  If you sense danger for your program, don’t wait---let MA-AATG know early so we can help you respond effectively.  Renew your AATG membership, attend AATG events and see how you can get more connected and involved with your partners-in-arms. 

J. Douglas Guy
President, Massachusetts Chapter, AATG


  1. It would be great if we could keep the German programs running. It's too bad that they might not continue. I think that German is not too difficult to learn and has a lot of culture behind it, which makes it very interesting to learn.

  2. This is inspiring; all teachers (not just German teachers) should take time out of their busy schedules to read this piece.

  3. Language in general is extremely important because it connects us with the rest of the world. German is especially important because it is used so often for many jobs. We need more german classes in schools!