A Foundation Course in Reading German
Alan Ng, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Pub Date: 2017
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A note beforehand: I’m not teaching German, but as a Dutch language instructor teaching a similar course for the Dutch language, I enjoyed reading read more
A note beforehand: I’m not teaching German, but as a Dutch language instructor teaching a similar course for the Dutch language, I enjoyed reading and reviewing A Foundation Course in Reading German. A Foundation Course in Reading German is intended for those who do not know any German, and as such covers all the grammar from the very beginning to the most complex (advanced) features, in a mere 16 units. The textbook comes in a PDF version that can be used as an offline textbook, as well as an online version with links to exercises. The tips on how to navigate both the PDF textbook and the online open textbook at the beginning are very useful. Each unit starts off with an “Objectives” section which tells the user what s/he will learn. I like the way the text addresses me as a user, the way it guides me through the reading and translation process. The first units present some very helpful reading cues. I particularly liked the section “Points to remember”. For instance, I found the reading cues to understanding and recognizing definite and indefinite articles and their cases very helpful and these present a “new” way of looking at learning charts. Grammar is explained thoroughly and clearly, with plenty of examples to illustrate the point. I like the fact that most grammar is explained first with English example sentences (to ensure the user understands what grammar is being discussed), then with German examples sentences, which are then translated into English. This contrastive approach allows for the user to clearly see the similarities and differences between German and English. One thing I noticed with regard to the example sentences is that they are often conversational, rather than sentences you would encounter when reading German. They serve as good illustrations for the grammar explanations, but I was missing more complicated and authentic sentences from actual texts. The online textbook offers plenty of practice opportunity. Some units have a link to (very fun!) “Syntax Untangler” activities (with sentences from actual texts), and after each four units, there are review exercises. The book ends with a series of texts (which are in fact sentences) to translate, and accompanying “Suggested translations” in English, which is a nice feature. Translation exercises were limited to isolated sentences, rather than paragraphs (or even complete texts). I would have liked to see longer translation exercises, in the form of a paragraph or text, as this would provide the reader/translator with a context for the content and grammar presented in these sentences.
As far as I can see, the book is very accurate in discussing the grammar and how German sentence constructions translate into English.
Overall, I’ve found the example sentences for reading and translating pretty neutral and not referring to specific events or persons, which allows for long term use. The book is also continually revised.
Everything is presented in a very clear manner. I like the way the text addresses me as a user, and the way it guides me through the reading and translation process.
The book is very consistent on terminology and framework.
Although the grammar is introduced in a specific order (and I would encourage the user to stick to this structure), the clearly marked division in units and sections within units allow for dividing the book into smaller sections, if necessary.
The book is very well structured. Each unit is consistent and each section is clearly marked. I did miss a table of content in the offline version, but perhaps that is because this is a snapshot of the entire textbook (?). I liked the font that was chosen for the offline version. As far as the lay-out, I found it was not always ideal. On multiple occasions, the page breaks in the middle of a chart, or a new section starts on the bottom of the page. As a reader, I would not have mind some blank spaces to accommodate for a better lay-out.
The online textbook has no interface issues whatsoever. The PDF version has some room for improvements (see my remarks under #7).
I did not find any grammatical errors.
I don't have specific comments on the book's cultural relevance.
This book is a great source for those who want to be able to read German texts. I can imagine an instructor teaching a reading course in German, using this book as required reading, and then selecting texts that are culturally relevant and up to date as reading and translating exercises in class. I think the book can be used not only in the context of an actual course (in-class, online, hybrid), but it is also an excellent source for self-study.
Table of Contents
- 1: Basics
- 2: Cases, present tense
- 3: Articles, simple past
- 4: Verbs with prefixes; adjective endings
- 5: Prepositions, reflexives
- 6: Conjunctions, comparatives
- 7: Perfect tenses and participles
- 8: Werden, relative clauses
- 9: Passive voice
- 10: Modal verbs
- 11: Infinitive usages
- 12: Da- compounds
- 13: Extended adjective constructions
- 14: Subjunctive I
- 15: Subjunctive II
- 16: Finishing touches
About the Book
This textbook guides a learner who has no previous German experience to gain the ability to accurately understand formal written German prose, aided only by a comprehensive dictionary.
About the Contributors
Alan Ng wears 3 hats for the Division of Continuing Studies, one bearing the title "Director of Outreach Technology," another one as a German instructor, and – rarely – a third as an ad-hoc instructor of Irish traditional music. Alan is chiefly responsible for overseeing the Division's use of technology and providing strategic IT leadership for the continuing-education units across campus. That work includes project management and technical consulting across the areas of instruction, marketing, financials, and business process improvement. His responsibilities within the German program are to teach the Independent-Learning German course 391 (A Foundation Course in Reading German), and to grade the German for Reading Knowledge Exam.
Alan's main academic background is in German literature, for which he completed a PhD at UW-Madison in 2002 on the topic of a politically explosive 1962 East-Berlin poetry reading with far-reaching consequences. His professional notoriety in this field, however, rested mainly on his volunteer work publishing and editing germanistik.net, arguably the world's leading professional Web portal for Germanists, which he founded in 1996. His interests in Germanistik have always incorporated technology, including inventing online teaching tools in German and Dutch during the birth years of the Web, writing academic hypertext (such as on poet Paul Celan) and building the North American directory database for German studies. More recently, Alan invented and built Syntax Untangler, an online, open-source tool for teaching reading skills in any language.