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Rethinking German language education : a hermeneutic approach Struch, Angelika

Abstract

This dissertation argues that the educational value of German language study would be improved by a hermeneutic approach. Language educators have for some time had difficulties forging a common approach. In my view, language pedagogy should concentrate on the transformation of the familiar by the unfamiliar, or the change in self-understanding made possible by the learning of a new language. My original contribution to this discussion is to show how the philosophy of Martin Heidegger could be usefully applied. Chapter One gives an overview of contemporary language education in terms of its recent developments. In my account, the recent cultural turn has led to an impasse over the very concept of culture. My suggestion is that, in order to educate students better to reach current goals, a more productive approach would be to encourage the turn from one's own, familiar language to another, unfamiliar one. Greater knowledge of other languages is an important step on the way to greater knowledge of the world. Chapter Two introduces my claim that Heidegger's hermeneutics specifically should be applied to language education. Of course many writers have promoted Heidegger's importance for general education, but an historical overview of his contributions reveals how the possibility of applying his work to German language education has emerged. Chapter Three develops a model of Heidegger's hermeneutic philosophy. The two main features of this model are authentic understanding and poetic thinking. Chapter Four explores the claim that a more hermeneutic model of teaching and learning, especially if derived from Heidegger's reading of Plato, would lead to a crucially different understanding of language teaching and learning. Chapter Five contrasts three different first-year German language programs from the perspectives of authentic understanding and poetic thinking. The aim in this chapter is to recommend new ways of conceiving German language programs more generally. My conclusion underlines the importance of language study for post-secondary education today.

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