- Structure of the course
- Course costs
- Spending time in Germany
- Course advisers
As part of their degree in Modern Languages students may read German without any prior knowledge of the language in combination with a post A-level language. The Beginners' Course (ab initio German) is only for students who are reading for an Honours Degree in Modern Languages. Any other members of the University wishing to learn German from scratch should consult the Department or go to Other Courses.
Let the facts speak for themselves:
- German is the native tongue of more than 100 million people. It is the main language not only of Germany itself, but also of Austria and Switzerland.
- It is also found as a minority language in a large number of countries in both Western and Eastern Europe.
- German is increasingly important for business in Eastern Europe.
- Every tenth book published worldwide is written in German. It is the language into which most translations are made and takes third place, after English and French, in languages which are translated.
- Although it is true that business and technology in Germany are tending towards the use of English, German is a most useful language to have for a career in European administration, law, or cultural exchange.
- German is the language of some of the greatest names in European cultural history in both the arts and sciences: to study it brings you nearer to the heart of Europe and European culture.
The ab initio course at the Department of German and Dutch has been running since October 1990. It brings you to A-level standard in one academic year, and is an integrated part of the 4-year Honours Degree in Modern Languages. We have seen a number of students achieve distinguished degrees in a language they could hardly speak, if at all, when they came to Cambridge. We believe we have designed a course which is both attractive and very effective. Equal emphasis is put on achieving written and spoken fluency and our methods combine the traditional with the modern. Although this may seem daunting, let us give you an idea...
There are 4 hours of Faculty classes a week led by two teachers, both native speakers of German, Mrs Annemarie Künzl-Snodgrass (Jesus College) and Ms Silke Mentchen (Magdalene College). They teach in alternate weeks, so there is a welcome change of teaching style every week.
- We use both a course-book and teaching aids suitable for self-access learning (Language Lab and CALL).
- The group is not too big, so we are able to give individual attention to each student's needs.
- Additional teaching takes place in College supervisions on a one-to-one or one-to-two basis (1-2 hours per week). The supervisions are tailored to individual needs and very supportive.
- We help with organising trips to Germany. The Department has long-standing links to a language school in Heidelberg and also to Schönhausen near Berlin (in earlier years, Wust), where our students can go and stay with host-families.
- Most ab initio groups quickly become very close-knit since students see each other almost every day. Therefore the atmosphere in the class tends to be very open, relaxed and friendly, which is obviously a 'plus' for successful learning. And the students form friendships that last through their years at Cambridge and beyond.
- The course has had a 100% completion rate.
- A number of our students have achieved first class grades in their ab initio exams, often beyond A-level standard.
- Most ex-ab initio students go on to do German in their final University exams, and most achieve at least 2:1 standard. Some ex-ab initio students go on to gain a First Class Degree, the highest grade possible.
- In 1998, 2002 and 2007 the winners of the Department’s Kurt Hahn prize for the best overall performance in all papers in Part 1 were ab initio students. Since Tripos 2004 there has been a separate prize awarded for the best performance in Part 1 by an ab initio student.
- Our ex-ab initio students have taken up careers using German in many walks of life, both in Britain and abroad.
"Studying German ab initio was certainly intensive, but ultimately extremely rewarding. My first and second years involved almost daily German classes and supervisions, as well as brief language courses in Heidelberg and Berlin, which allowed me to put what I’d learnt into practice. By the time I came back from my third year in Berlin, I had forgotten I had done German ab initio!" (Myrto)
"I am a barrister in London at the minute, but tend to work on cases with international elements. I spent 6 months in Paris last year working on a Swiss arbitration in English, French and German between two very well known companies - one in France, one in Germany. My MML days certainly paid off. Almost 10 years on I wanted to thank you for your excellent teaching and inspiration during the ab initio year. I feel that the skills you drilled in to us regarding the use of language and, for example, ways of finding different formulations for the same idea (in either language) are something that I have to use on a daily basis in court, or more importantly in legal documents. I genuinely do sometimes think back to those lessons when I am drafting. I also have such great memories of the hours spent in the Faculty, as well as events outside of the classroom - Heidelberg, Schönhausen, German Breakfast." (Andrew)
"The hard work was worth it when I went to Germany and realised I could actually speak German!" (Sara)
"Starting German from scratch at university is not as impossible as it may sound - you would be amazed to see how much you can learn in one year! The course is intensive, but you get to spend a lot of time in Germany, which is an excellent way of learning the language in a more fun way and relieve some of the stress! It is definitely something to go for if you feel you've missed out on German at school or if you want something a little more challenging and exciting." (Marzia)
"The teaching was very thorough, but equally importantly we all got on really well as a group and I made some great friends. We all really enjoyed the trip the Department organised for us to Wust at Easter and came back speaking much better German. Although the pace of learning is fast, in small classes it works really well. I would certainly do it all again, especially the trip to Wust, and would recommend the course to anyone at all tempted to do German" (Martin)
"I find it a fantastic opportunity to learn a new language up to a very advanced level in two years, since it is not offered in many universities and it is unlikely we will get the chance to reach such high level in such a short time ever again. Having only been able to judge my level in German against the other 6 members of the group it was extremely satisfying to realise, on going over to Germany for my Year Abroad, that I was able to talk almost fluently and get by also in Business German! This was definitely not an easy option to take but it has been a course from which I have got much personal satisfaction and have thoroughly enjoyed." (Charlotte)
"I did German at school, but then changed to Spanish in the Sixth Form. I did French and Spanish A-level, but decided to do Beginners' German at Cambridge. I really enjoyed starting a language (more or less) from scratch (again), and it gives me an enormous sense of achievement to think that I will be sitting my finals in a language I could not speak when I came here three years ago. It may seem like an impossible task, but it can be done, and it wasn't such hard work that I had to give up my free time to manage it!" (Julia).
All beginners will spend one year preparing for the Part IA examination in German, whether they are total beginners, have some basic familiarity with the language or have done GCSE German. The first year course will concentrate heavily on acquiring the basic elements of the language, with an introduction to literary texts; in the second year beginners are able to take part in more advanced language classes. The course is taught four mornings a week throughout the academic year, by two teachers in alternate weeks. In addition, supervisions for the oral and literature components of the course will be arranged by the Department. These normally consist of one one-hour session a week throughout the year for oral work, and one extra session a week in the Easter Term for literature.
The course we use is DaF Kompakt (Klett 2011), by Ilse Sander et al and consists of a course book and a practice book. There are 3 books which you need to buy:
- DAF kompakt A1-B1 Kursbuch mit 3 Audio-CDs ISBN 978-3-12-676180-2
- DaF kompakt A1-B1 Übungsbuch mit 2 Audio-CDs ISBN 978-3-12-676181-9
- DaF kompakt A1-B1 Grammatik ISBN 978-3-12-676193-2
You should work through the first 4 chapters before you come to Cambridge to start your degree course. You will be sent a glossary to help you with this by the course teachers.
- The best modern reference grammar, which you will need throughout your university course, is Hammer's German Grammar and Usage (M. Durrell, Arnold 2011)
- You will need a good German-English/English-German dictionary containing around 200,000 items of vocabulary (ie not a concise dictionary) eg Collins German-English/English-German Dictionary or the Oxford-Duden German Dictionary (including the spelling reform).
- One of your challenges will be acquiring sufficient vocabulary. The course will introduce you to quite a wide range of vocabulary and there are vocabulary trainer apps to go with DaF kompakt which you can buy. You can also help yourself in other ways - eg by systematic learning of word-groups. We recommend Using German Vocabulary (S. Fagan, CUP 2004) for this and you will in any case need it later on in your course. If you find it more helpful to see vocabulary in context, you might try looking at some dual-language texts: several are published by Penguin and the German publishers dtv (Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag).
- It is important to get used to the sound and the basic structures of German as early as possible. The CDs that go with DaF kompakt will help with that, but there are also many online resources for learning German which include introductory materials, for example, from the BBC, Deutsche Welle, the Goethe Institute); or online courses such as 'Deutsch lernen'
Costs will be incurred for the initial purchase of the course books and material recommended above and perhaps certain core text books for scheduled papers throughout the course (see individual paper descriptions). The Department recommends its ab initio students to go to Germany during their first year. In recent years ab initio students have stayed with host families in Schönhausen/Elbe, near Berlin, and have attended a language course in Heidelberg. Whilst this is not a compulsory part of the course, it is viewed as an essential part of the year's work.
- If you are able to arrange it, attending a summer course in Germany would be very helpful: the Goethe Institute organises a wide variety of courses.
- The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) provides grants for summer courses in certain circumstances.
- Staying in Germany without attending a course would also be immensely valuable. Information about summer jobs abroad can be obtained from the British Council website.
- The Department helps its ab initio students to go to Germany during their first year. This includes a stay with German host-families in Schönhausen/Elbe near Berlin, and a language course in Heidelberg.
The Department itself does not hold information on employment or residence abroad, but you may be able to obtain further advice from the Director of Studies at your prospective College or the Year Abroad Office in the Faculty. Please do not hesitate to contact either the Director of Studies or the Department of German and Dutch with any further queries you may have, however small.
All beginners will spend one year preparing for the Part IA examination in German, whether they are total beginners, have some basic oral familiarity with the language or have done GCSE German. The first year course will concentrate heavily on acquiring the basic elements of the language, in terms both of grammar and of vocabulary. There is also an introduction to literary texts (by Thomas Mann and E.T.A. Hoffmann). In the second year the ex-ab initio students attend more advanced language classes in Use of German and Translation from German.
The course is taught four mornings a week throughout the academic year, by two teachers in alternate weeks. In addition, supervisions for the oral and literature components of the course are arranged by the Department. These normally consist of one one-hour session a week throughout the year for oral work, and one extra session a week in the Easter Term for literature.
The papers in the examination for Option A are as follows:
- GE A1: Introduction to German 1: Comprehension of German
- GE A2: Introduction to German 2: Translation and Oral Examination A
- GE A3: Introduction to German 3: German Literature and Culture
- Annemarie Künzl-Snodgrass (Jesus College), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Silke Mentchen (Magdalene College), e-mail: email@example.com