Second Language Acquisition - Theory and Pedagogy: Proceedings of the 6th Annual JALT Pan-SIG Conference.
May. 12 - 13, 2007. Sendai, Japan: Tohoku Bunka Gakuen University. (pp. 21 - 41)

Learning more than English as a foreign language:
Are textbook designs fit for OLE classrooms?1

by Martina Gunske von Kölln (Fukushima University)

Part II: Reasons for learning "3+" languages

Other reasons for learning "3+" languages are examined in the following examples.
To keep peace in the world during this increasingly globalized age we have to know about other cultures. Therefore another goal of our classroom should be to cultivate intercultural empathy. In Illustration 12 we learn that Richard Gere, a famous American movie star, insulted his hosts in India by kissing a woman in public. Although his behaviour was not correct by Indian standards and the hosts certainly have no reason to endorse such a display of intimacy, they could have tolerated Gere's gaffe. This is empathy. On the other hand, if Gere had bothered to learn about taboos in India he might have refrained from kissing that woman. He would have been more aware of how cultural norms differ and perhaps behaved differently.

Illustration 12. Article from the April 19 2007 Daily Yomiuri about Richard Gere in New Delhi
Illustration 12

In recent times many similar incidents have occur because people lacked cross-cultural awareness or empathy. The frequent problems of American soldiers with Iraqi civilians or the twelve cartoons depicting Mohammed which appeared in a Danish newspaper are just two examples [10].
So one goal of our teaching could be to foster cross-cultural empathy and awareness. [11]
In recent years teachers have to explain the aims of their classes in a syllabus and hence the reasons for learning a language also needs to be addressed. So I would like to present two lists with reasons for learning German.

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Now please refer to Illustration 13 from the German Culture Centre in Tokyo.

Illustration 13. A poster suggesting ten reasons for learning German
Illustration 13

We might agree that all these reasons for learning German are worthy, but what do our students actually think? Do they really want to learn German for the reasons given below by the German Culture Centre?

No. 7: "German is the language of Goethe, Nietzsche and Kafka as well as of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Freud and Einstein."
No. 6: "German is the second most frequent language used in the world of science."
No. 1: "Germany is the largest exporting-country in the world."
No. 2: "German is the most spoken language in the EU."
No. 3: "18% of all books in the whole world are written in German."
Few, if any, of these reasons are compelling to most Japanese undergraduates. Therefore it is necessary to look for other reasons to attract our students. The next list is written by students participating in an inter-university seminar for German studies. Please note that they were students learning German language and culture in German speaking countries voluntarily, refer to Illustration 14 for details.

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Illustration 14. 13 reasons for learning German listed by a group of students in a 2006 inter-university eeminar
Illustration 14

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Illustration 15. "Sushibomer Pass" for the FIFA-Soccer World-Cup Event (2006, German Culture Center, Tokyo, p. 68)
Illustration 15

What we have learned so far is that most of the students' reasons on the list are not only valid for learning German but also any other foreign language. But to me the most interesting reasons on this list were the ninth reason about finding a partner, as well as the thirteenth which concerned combining language acquisition with drinking beer.

No. 9: "The German men look better [than Japanese], they are good dancers and some 
        are hard-working.  The women are attractive, very active and cook German food. 
        You can be proud to have a German [boy/girl] friend. The number of potential partners doubles . . ."
No. 13: "The BAF-Project [12] means beer as a foreign language - alcohol as a foreign language. 
        It helps the communication . . . "
Especially this last reason shows us that these students had a lot of fun during the seminar and even they were not so serious when writing these reasons we can understand that their reasons may differ totally from reasons we may have.
A German proverb says: "Wir sollten unsere LernerInnen abholen, wo sie sind." Directly translated, this means we should pick up our learners from where they are. Even it is a simple statement, we – as teachers – forget this point too often and focus on subjects which seem interesting to us to teach, but not to our students. I know of a Japanese colleague who – after listening to classical music – taught Nietzsche's philosophy in German to students who have so far studied German for only 60 hours. He got very angry because these intelligent medical students from a leading university fell asleep in his class. This illustrates the importance maintaining a dialogue with our students about what we teach and what they learn. We should not only concentrate on teaching but also on the learning. This does not mean that from now on we only lecture on comics or show the learners only entertaining films with subtitles in Japanese. But from time to time we also have to focus on learners' interests and motivation.
For example in 2005 some of my male colleagues started a discussion about how to integrate information about the 2006 Soccer World Cup in their German classes. At first I was not interested in this subject and considered it unsuitable for university-teaching. But I had a change of heart as I became aware of my students' high interest in this event. The staff of a local broadcasting station interviewed me and also recorded my German class, broadcasting some parts on the seven o'clock news. Suddenly the motivation of my students in class increased greatly. Then I decided to include this subject as much as feasible. To learn country names I used the grouping-list of the soccer teams who played against each other and we talked about which teams were in the same groups.

The German Culture Centre in Tokyo published two booklets with information about this event including a soccer-event-calendar and dialogues for talking in the stadium with other fans in German. They also published a textbook about "soccer-culture" make it possible to talk about it in German, despite being on a low language level.
I put a poster with the results of the soccer games on an information board in the building where the lessons take place and even colleagues and students who weren't learning German frequently checked my poster to see the results of the games from the night before. And because of the so called "international words" of country names such as Italy ("Italien" in German), Spain ("Spanien" in German) and so on they were able to understand the German "text".
In Illustration 15 you find another example how students can talk about an interesting subject after only a few hours in the new target language. Illustration 16 shows a text with information about the towns where the games took place.

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Illustration 16. "Presentation of stadium cities" from the handout Fucball im Deutschunterricht [Soccer in the classroom] by Mario Kumekawa. Asiatische GermanistInnentagung, Seoul, Korea, Aug. 2006
Illustration 16

You might have recognised how much interest our students had in 2006 in the German language because of this event and how big their thirst for knowledge about Germany was. And the mass media as well as many Japanese in general became interested in Germany at this point in time. As a consequence of the World Cup something of a craze for learning German developed. Such cases do not occur so often, but we should look for them as often as possible. Because when we turn on the emotions of our learners it becomes easier to motivate them.
"The needs of learners in Asia differ from those in Europe or Africa. The wishes and interests of our learners now are not the same as learners we taught five years ago."

Finally, I come back to the title of this paper, which questions whether 3+ language textbooks are fit for our classrooms. The answer I offer is a resounding "no" and they will never be because the learners are always different. The needs of learners in Asia differ from those in Europe or Africa. The wishes and interests of our learners now are not the same as learners we taught five years ago. So I suggest that we reassess and examine –
What I have learned so far from questionnaires at Fukushima, Osaka and Niigata Universities that my colleagues and I have carried out the last three years, is that many Japanese students are scared of working with German textbooks which are written only in the target language without any Japanese explanations. After understanding this fear we can think about ways to help our students overcome it.
". . . many Japanese students are scared of working with German textbooks which are written only in the target language without any Japanese explanations."

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I would like to conclude by adding two personal remarks as a non-member of JALT who is nonetheless very interested in this organization:
Readers who are interested in "3+" languages can contact and join the OLE SIG group, which is coordinated by Rudolf Reinelt of Ehime University.
For details, visit


[1] This article is the summary of my plenary speech for the OLE group at 2007 Pan SIG Conference, Sendai, May 12th.

[2] OLE = Other languages beyond English as a foreign language. It is a term used in Japan which shows very well its foreign language policy, namely the importance of English as the only important or first foreign language; all other foreign languages are secondary or subsequent. It is a policy of discrimination which is unthinkable in the European Union where all languages should be treated equally. In Europe it is already common to consider starting with learning the "neighbour's language". For example you find pupils in Germany living near to the border to France learning French in primary school, before learning English some years later. Instead of using the term "OLE" I prefer the common expression in Germany of "Tertirsprachen" [Tertiary language] or the term "3+" languages. In my opinion they are more adequate because of being descriptive instead of valuating.

[3] Reasons for not learning only English as a lingua franca but also learning more than two languages are discussed online by Prof. Sakai at this URL:

[4] See the literature on the "influence of knowledge on the learning of other foreign languages" in the the Appendix. The articles by Hufeisen, Rivers, and Szyster are especially useful.

[5] See the literature on "Culture Learning" in the Appendix.

[6] To avoid the linguistic confusion visual cues often help. For example, a board with the German flag on one side and a combination of the Japanese and German flags on the other can when we should talk in German and Japanese, or if we have to use the target language German only.

[7] For details on "tandem language learning" see or the article by Gunske von Kölln (1998) in the "Autonomous Learning" section of the Appendix.

[8] Concerning this "Deutschland ReisePlan Projekt" further information see the following online resources at [9] Refer to "Autonomous Learning" section in the Appendix of this paper. Besides, Little was a plenary speaker at the Int. JALT Conference in 1998 in Shizuoka with Dam. Refer to Dam, L. & Little, D. (1999) in "Autonomous Learning" section of the Appendix.

[10] The examples of Richard Gere and American soldiers also teach us that English as lingua franca, even correctly spoken by native speakers, is not sufficient to survive in another country. Cross-cultural sensitivity is also necessary and therefore you need to learn other foreign languages beyond English as well.

[11] In my opinion culture learning must be combined with the language(s) associated with it.

[12] Instead of DaF (= Deutsch als Fremdsprache meaning "German as a foreign language") they use BaF (= Bier als Fremdsprache meaning "beer as a foreign language").

[13] See the the "List of references and further reading" in the Appendix.

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