Foreign Service Institute German Basic Course


This Basic Course in German has been designed to assist United States Government representatives who require a command of spoken German. The general concept of this text has grown out of the plan of Spoken Language courses prepared under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies during World War II. But pattern drills and other exercises have been developed extensively at the Foreign Service Institute to provide a much fuller manipulation of forms and patterns, and a conscious attempt has been made to adapt situations and vocabulary to specific needs of the Foreign Service. And the course is intended to lay a solid foundation for comprehensive language skills, providing systematically for the development of reading proficiency based on oral-aural skills.

This text is the end-product of several years of work and has benefited from the labors of many members and former members of the FSI staff. In its present form it was prepared under the supervision of Dr. Samuel A. Brown, who has had overall responsibility for the arrangement of situational material and for the organization and presentation of structural features. Particular credit for the dialogs and much of the drill material goes to Mrs. Ilse Christoph. Mrs. Christoph has been assisted by Mrs. Maria-Luise Bissonnette, Mr Friedrich Lehmann, Mr. Gerhard Matzel,Mrs. Margarete Plischke and Mrs. Erika Quaid. A most valuable contribution was also made by Mrs. Quaid in preparing the major part of the typescript, assisted by Miss Genevieve Ducastel. The project has been a cooperative venture, however, and all members of the German staff have contributed freely the fruit of their classroom experience and the gifts of their imagination and insight.

H. E. Sollenberger
Dean, School of Languages
Foreign Service Institute


It is the aim of the course to provide the student with a useful control of the structure of the spoken language and of a basic vocabulary which meets at least some of the specialized needs of the Foreign Service. After completion of the basic course the Foreign Service Officer should be able to make limited practical use of the language in his official duties and social obligations. He will furthermore have the means, given the proper surroundings and personal motivation for continued rapid and efficient development of proficiency.

The materials in this first volume of the text are organized into twelve lessons or units. Each unit contains a set of basic sentences for memorization. These are in the form of a dialog based on one or sometimes two specific situations in which a person might find himself in Germany. Notes to the basic sentences are provided as necessary to clarify occasional difficulties in vocabulary and idiom and to provide additional background on some cultural features unfamiliar to Americans. Notes on pronunciation are included in each of the first eight units. Phonological features which have been found to be particularly difficult for American students are here presented with explanations and pronunciation practice drills. The notes on grammar in each unit single out those structural features illustrated in the basic sentences which are appropriate for systematic consideration at that stage in the course. Substitution drills provide for the manipulation of forms by substituting specific items in fixed sentence frames. They are intended to build habits of association, so that in a given syntactic environment the appropriate grammatical form automatically comes to mind. As the German vocabulary is all familiar, no English equivalents are given in these drills. Variation drills provide for the manipulation of larger syntactic patterns. In each group a model sentence, underscored, serves as a guide. Associated with it are additional sentences incorporating the same syntactic pattern but in which most of the individual word items have been replaced. English equivalents are given to serve as cues for recall of the German variant sentences. Vocabulary drills provide both practice in the use of new vocabulary items and also allow for manipulation of sentence elements whose particular form and arrangement depends upon their association with that vocabulary item. The manipulation of both variation and vocabulary drills depends on the use of English equivalents. Specific translation drills are also provided, however. In most cases they present the material of the basic dialog in the form of a narrative. They thus provide content review of the basic sentences and practice in the transformation from active dialog to descriptive narration. The response drills are question and answer drills on the situations of the basic dialogs. Conversation practice and additional situations in outline bridge the gap to free conversation with small pieces of supplementary dialog for acting out and situations providing for a freer play of the student's imagination. The finder list in each unit notes all new vocabulary which has been presented.

This is a course in Spoken German; the forms and patterns of the language are intentionally colloquial. The emphasis in instruction is everywhere on speech, and an indispensable component of the learning process is the voice of a tutor, or instructor, whose native language is German. On no account should the student attempt to use these materials without either a native instructor or recordings of a native instructor's voice. The method of instruction incorporates guided imitation, repetition, memorization, pattern practice, and conversation. Working under the supervision of a linguist the tutor's role is to serve as a model for speech and to guide the student to accurate imitation by constant repetition and correction. The student's job is to watch and listen to the tutor carefully and to imitate as exactly as he can the sounds which he hears. He must be prepared for constant correction and repetition. Each time however the instructor will give him a model to follow by repeating the item first. The student should never attempt to read from his text but should always wait until he hears the word or utterance as the tutor speaks it for him. As far as possible he should leave his book closed during the presentation of new dialog material and keep his eyes on the tutor. Students will be asked to repeat in chorus and individually and will be expected to repeat many, many times, even when their imitation has been good and accurate. Only by constant repetition after an authentic model for speech can habitual fluent and accurate reproduction of the sounds and forms of the foreign language be achieved.

The basic sentences are preceded by "build-ups" giving the component parts of the utterance separately. Each new item which is introduced appears first as a build-up. The tutor will ask the students to repeat the build-ups separately first, then combined into larger units and finally the complete new sentence or utterance. The basic sentences are sub-divided into numbered sections, each to be treated as a unit, repeated in chorus and individually, with and without build-ups, until the students' imitation is satisfactory. Then a new section may be begun. The time required to cover each section in this way will differ widely depending on the size and ability of the class. After acceptable imitation and accurate pronunciation has been achieved in one or more sections they are assigned for memorization outside of class or repeated in class until memorized. The student should be able to give either the German sentence or its English equivalent on request or switch from one to the other and back again. The tutor will drill by repeating each sentence for each student in the class, then by giving each student a different sentence, repeating it for him first, and finally asking the students to recite the sentences in order, the first student the first sentence, the second student the second sentence, etc., without receiving a cue from the instructor. Repetition outside of class, preferably using recorded materials as a guide, should be continued to the point of overlearning. The student should not only be able to give the correct German sentence immediately upon hearing an English equivalent, at random selection, he should also be able to give the correct German sentence with equal ease and speed of response upon hearing its German cue. As a final step the students are expected to act out the basic dialog in entirety, from memory with the tutor or with other students. Only when the basic sentences have been mastered to this extent can they be considered to provide an adequate basis for control of the spoken language. It should be noted at this point that the English text accompanying the basic sentences is not primarily a translation but rather a set of conversational equivalents. Many apparent discrepancies will be found if the student, or the tutor, looks for word-for-word correspondence between the English and German text. It does not exist. Rather, in such and such a situation this is what is said in German and this is what is said in English.

The pronunciation practice drills are to be taken up after the presentation of the basic sentences has been completed and memorization has been started. Items are arranged in groups according to the particular phonological feature concerned. Words in vertical columns present the same phonological feature in different environments. Several columns in a practice group contain related phonological features or related phonological environments in which the same feature recurs. Words are to be repeated first ln chorus and then individually by each student after the tutor, at first following the vertical columns and later, for variation and comparison, horizontally across the page. Particular attention should be paid to items in contrast. These are minimum meaningfully distinctive sound patterns, accurate control of which is important for communication and comprehension. Contrasting word pairs are linked by a dash, and after separate practice for accuracy the items should be repeated by pairs to bring out the exact distinctions between them.

The notes on grammar are earmarked for home study. After each unit has been started and the first hour or more has been spent in class on repetition of the basic sentences the student should read through the grammar notes to acquaint himself with the grammatical points presented in that unit. During the whole time a particular unit is being worked on in class the student should continue to study the grammar section. Many questions which he may feel tempted to raise in class will be found to be answered in the notes on grammar. The tutor is specifically requested not to discuss the language with his students, and the students are asked not to ply him with questions. Time in class is to be spent using and manipulating the language and not in talking about it. In each unit one or more grammatical features are presented, and the basic sentences have been designed, as far as is possible consistent with natural expression, to incorporate and illustrate those features. Each point of grammar discussed is illustrated by sentences which are natural utterances in the language. They are taken in nearly every case from the basic sentences of the current or preceding units. Thus the examples are already familiar to the student, and the patterns they contain, which will be drilled and practiced in the sections to follow, are patterns which the student has already begun to assimilate by memorizing the sentences of the dialog.

After the basic sentences of a unit have all been repeated several times and memorization has been well begun, work can be started on the drills. The material is designed to provide a maximum of additional experience in using the forms and patterns of the language learnned in the basic sentences. It is not assumed, however, that the learner is automatically able to transfer the experience gained in the basic sentences to error-free manipulation of these forms and patterns. The drills are by no means a test of what the student can do with the elements given him. It is a matter of no great importance whether he can or cannot "figure them out" by himself. The goal is to learn to speak the language accurately and fluently, and this aim can only be achieved by correct repetition of the forms and patterns involved. Therefore all the sentences in each drill group are first to be repeated after the tutor in their correct form. The tutor then cues each student in turn for repetition of one of the drill sentences until all students have given all sentences correctly.

In the substition drills the model sentence and all its variants are first repeated in chorus after the tutor. He then gives the model sentence again, the class repeats it in chorus, after which each student is cued individually with an item to be substituted and repeats the sentence with the substitution called for. In some cases the cue is the exact form which fits into the sentence. In some cases a cue is given which requires the student to choose the proper form to fit the syntactic environment of the model. Regardless of which type of cue is given or how simple or complex the exercise may appear to be, the student's task is to make the substitution without hesitation and to repeat the sentence accurately at normal conversational speed. Although no English equivalents are given in the substitution drills and the first task is rapid. fluent and accurate manipulation of the material in German, the tutor may ask for spot translations into English here and there, and on the second or third repetition of the drill he may give English equivalents as word or sentence cues in place of the German cues provided.

In most of the variation drills and in all of the vocabularry drills the cues take the form of equivalent English sentences. Basic procedure remains the same as in the substitution drills. All sentences in a given variation or vocabulary group are first repeated after the tutor in their correct form. The tutor then gives the pattern sentence again, and the students repeat it in chorus, after which they are required individually to recall and repeat the correct German sentences for which an English equivalent is given. students may work with their books open here, covering up the right-hand side of the page on which the German sentences are printed and taking their cues from the English sentences on the left-hand side of the page.

Conversion drills require the conversion of one or more elements in a sentence from one form to another - singular to plural, present tense to past tense, etc. No English is provided for these sentences as a rule. However, as in the substitution drills the tutor may ask for a random spot translation into English, and he may go through the drill a second or third time giving English sentence cues for which the student gives the German equivalent.

Translation and response drills, as noted above, are in most cases directly related to the basic sentences. In translation drills the procedure is similar to that followed in variation and vocabulary drills. Students may work with their books open, covering the German text and reading the English sentences themselves, or if preferred, books may be left closed while the tutor gives the English equivalents. In the response drills it is often appropriate for the tutor to address two or three questlons to the same student and then two or three more to the next, so that the drill takes on a more natural character of conversational interchange. Both drills should be repeated in entirety several times however, or until all students have had a chance to respond to all items.

It will be noted that all drill material is provided with both a cue and a correct response, so that all may be prepared by the student outside of class and repeated and practiced by him as often as necessary to achieve complete accuracy and fluency. In many cases there is more than one possible response to a given cue, and instructors are encouraged to accept all responses which are truly equivalent. If a correct response has been given, however, instructors are not to suggest variant forms which may occur to them, as this only introduces unnecessary complexity of choice to an exercise which is difficult enough as it is.

In the conversation practice brief conversations, usually on the same theme as the basic dialog, are read through by the tutor three or four times while students listen. Then the tutor takes one role while one student takes the other, and they repeat the conversation together. The student's aim here is not primarily to memorize and repeat exactly, but to give as accurate an equivalent as possible in his own words. After acting out the conversation with the tutor the student goes through it again with another student, he in turn with the next student, and so on until all have taken both parts in the dialog.

The situations are brief descriptions, in English in the earlier units, later in German, of occurrences similar to those on which the basic dialogs are based. Two or more students then act out what has been described in their own way and using their own words. They are free to use their imagination and fill in any supplementary details that occur to them. The whole conversation should not be prolonged however more than four or five minutes maximum duration. Then other students may try their hand at the same situation.

The narratives, beginning with the fifth unit, are designed for reading purposes. In the early units they introduce a minimum of additional vocabulary and unfamiliar forms, and they may be used in the class for oral narration, the student re-telling in his own words what he has read. In later units some features of expository prose - matters of both form and style - which differ from normal spoken usage are introduced through the narratives in order to bridge the gap between conversational German and those reading skills of a specialized nature which require particular study and attention.

The ultimate goal of the course, as has been stated above, is to speak accurately, fluently and easily. The text provides for the assimilation of all basic forms and patterns of the language by the guided imitation, memorization, and manipulation of a large number of sentences and by practice in confronting several widely occurring everyday situations. Actual living use of the language in free conversation is a necessary and essential adjunct. The tutor should therefore encourage his students from the start to use the language in every way possible, above and beyond what is provided for in the text. After the first few days of work both students and tutors should avoid the use of English in the classroom for any purpose at all, and they are encouraged to speak German outside the classroom as well. Only by constant use of the skill he is learning can the student hope to master it and retain it as a useful tool of his profession.

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