Third International Symposium on
Academic Writing and Critical Thinking
Summary of the German session
The German session at the conference had three presentations, and each is covered by a contribution in these proceedings. The variety of the three authors’ topics reflects the variety of needs in Academic Writing in German language in Japan. Since many students do not study this language before University, Academic Writing education in German has to start from a lower level compared to English.
The first contribution by Professor Maria Gabriela Schmidt (Tsukuba University) focuses on the beginners’ level. It describes an activity of creative writing, poetry written by students in their 1st year of German in two classes, and thus stands out from other contributions in these proceedings. Still, it demonstrates three important elements that are crucial for writing at university level: motivation, which it fosters; self reflection through learner diaries; and peer evaluation – used to select the most liked poem within each class. The paper includes the students’ poems (in German) and their voices and reflections (in Japanese, some translated to German). The two favorite poems are indeed interesting choices, since they confirm Bertolt Brecht’s claim that poetry must have a “Gebrauchswert” (use value): both texts go beyond usual texts for beginning learners in that they cause surprise or a smile in the reader, yet they provide reinforcement of important language structures. One includes all days from “Montag” to “Sonntag” (Monday to Sunday), and the other includes all conjugations of the verb “haben” (have).
The second paper by Professor Miho Isobe (Shinshu University) targets the important issue of correction and revision. Regrettably, only a few papers treat this sensitive issue (e.g. NU ideas 3.1, Mark Rebuck about feedback on feedback). Isobe addresses in particular the dilemma of the reviewer, who tries on one hand to give correcting advice for making a paper into the best it can be, and on the other hand to respect the author’s style and give her or him the last say. This dilemma is even more important within a university, where the reviewer – the teacher – needs to balance both goals in order to give the students good, honest advice without killing their motivation. The author comes up with a straightforward but intelligible demand: Reviewers’ comments have to include all necessary corrections of clear lexical, grammatical or logical errors, but should contain only suggestions for other problems, e.g. of style. The paper includes examples from the author’s students in Matsumoto.
The final paper by Professor Manshu Ide (Rikkyo University) gives concrete advice for academic writing in German. He starts from the observation that Japanese students tend to translate Japanese sentences with a certain language structure into just one structure in German (e.g. the relative clause), thus being repetitive. He argues that such a 1:1 procedure is not only a poor strategy by neglecting alternatives (e.g. prepositional attributes): It also violates a basic principle of writing in German that is contrary to Japanese: The principle of variation. The principle in German is to vary names and words, e.g. by using synonyms, whereas Japanese tends to use the same name or word when referring to the same entity. According to the author, this principle of changing the forms among equivalences extends to language structures. In his conclusion, the author requests that language teachers should not only be motivators, they should also be trained in linguistics to be able to suggest such “structural synonyms”.
In summary, the three contributions yield an interesting cross-section through Academic Writing Education in German language in Japan. They include concrete hints to improve the writing style, suggestions for making the correction process more cooperative and constructive, and valuable ideas for stimulating students’ motivation from the beginning through creative writing.
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