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Jennifer Meier - The influence of the zeitgeist on the development of cultural learning in foreign language teaching in Germany from 1945 to the present.

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Jennifer Meier - The influence of the zeitgeist on the development of cultural learning in foreign language teaching in Germany from 1945 to the present.

Since the 19th century researchers have been investigating the question whether we need to learn about culture in the foreign language classroom or not (e.g., Volkmann 2010: 1), and it now seems clear that language and culture cannot be thought of separately. A glance at German curricula is enough to see that the German classroom today combines foreign language learning with intercultural competence (e.g., KMK 2012: 12; ISB 2021) and has now further developed a global perspective. But where does this “cultural insight” come from, and to what extent is it linked to political and social trends? In other words, how does the zeitgeist influence the development of cultural learning within foreign language teaching (e.g., Klippel, Friederike/Ruiz. Dorottya 2020, Schröder 2018; Fend 2016; Volkmann 2010).


The question is closely linked to what is understood by culture, because this question alone changes how we learn about it and, thus, changes the rhythm of foreign language learning. In the last 70 years alone – since the collapse of the Third Reich – this approach to what culture is and how it can be learned has changed immensely, particularly in Germany, but more broadly in Europe and throughout the world. Researchers in the cultural sciences alone have discussed and put forward new theses. As previously indicated, the concept of culture has changed enormously in the school landscape in Germany. While a particularly narrow concept of culture was still used at the beginning of the 1950s and 1960s, a semiotic concept of culture is assumed and represented in today’s curricula. Thus, cultural learning evolved from the still-used cultural studies of the ‘20s and ‘30s, to area studies (Landeskunde) and, finally, to intercultural learning. The university sector is already further along in this process and speaks of transcultural or global learning or a combination of intercultural and global learning (e.g. Volkmann 2010; Doff/Schulz/Engler: 2011; OECD 2018, Delanoy 2017).

With this discourse, I would like to highlight and deepen the developments of cultural learning in foreign language teaching in Germany, with a special focus on English teaching. This began with the upheaval in foreign language learning after 1945 and continued until around 1970, which represented a tentative beginning of cultural learning and an incorporation of what was considered appropriate at that time. This was followed by Landeskunde (area studies), which fostered mainly basic knowledge about the target culture in order to be able to interact abroad. Landeskunde controlled foreign language teaching until the 1990s and finally led to intercultural learning, which still dominates language teaching today. Interwoven with each other are the socio-political influences (e.g., de Cillia/Klippel 2016: 626) on foreign language teaching and the respective cultural definitions of terms, which have also certainly influenced the learning of culture. My thesis is that the spirit of the times has influenced the content of foreign language teaching, and that learning about culture has become more important today than ever before. This is recognisable in the external geopolitical or historical-political influences of the respective eras. External factors were and are decisive for the development of the school's content and orientation (Fend: 183). After the Second World War, a return to democratic and international values began. The first curricula were developed in the 1950s, and the desire for more foreign languages grew as a result of the economic upswing and the increasingly interconnected world. In the 1960s and 1970s, language teaching research became increasingly important. For foreign language teaching, this meant that the focus was no longer only on functional language use, but on communicative use, which for the first time also included socio-cultural aspects (Hymes 1972, Piepho 1974). In the 1980s/90s the communicative approach led to intercultural communicative competence, which combined the socio-cultural with the foreign cultural perspective. Of course, socio- and geo-political influences also play a major role, such as new technologies like the internet, a more networked world, mass migration, etc. (Volkmann 2010: 12). Furthermore, the EU has emerged to prominence, which is why an orientation towards a European community began already in the 50s. Even if the European Constitution has not been ratified, there is a European motto (‘United in Diversity’) and more importantly, a European curriculum. The Common European Framework of Reference (2001) has had an immense effect on language learning in Europe. In Germany it has led to a change of curricula: now there is an orientation towards competences that are formulated similarly to those in the CEFR. In 2020 a new edition of the CEFR was relaunched. Once more, this will surely have a significant impact on foreign language learning and on the implementation of learning about culture.



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