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Review of  Deutsche Grammatik in Kontakt [German Grammar in Contact]

Reviewer: Daniel Walter
Book Title: Deutsche Grammatik in Kontakt [German Grammar in Contact]
Book Author: Klaus-Michael Köpcke Arne Ziegler
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): German
Issue Number: 27.1133

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“Deutsche Grammatik in Kontakt: Deutsch als Zweitsprache in Schule und Unterricht” (“German Grammar in Contact: German as a second language in school and in the classroom”) by Klaus-Michael Köpcke and Arne Ziegler presents a diverse collection of articles that reflect the multiple perspectives of researchers in the field of German as a second language (DaZ). This edited volume is structured by five parts: a foreword, an introduction to language development and elaboration in general, and three main divisions: Grammatisches Wissen (grammatical knowledge), Fehler versus Abweichung (mistakes versus variation), and Empirische Untersuchungen (empirical studies). Each division contains contributions from various authors in the field of DaZ. All are working from different theoretical backgrounds and with different pedagogical goals but at the same time allow a shared problem to be viewed through each article’s particular lens.

In the foreword, the editors discuss the origin of this collection of works. The chapters within this book are the result of an international symposium on German grammar, “Grammatik in der Universität und für die Schule” (“Grammar in the University and for the School), which has now been held four times at multiple universities in Germany. From these symposia, presenters were selected to produce chapters for this edited volume. The authors then discuss the justification for this publication, stating that DaZ has become an everyday part of schooling in Germany, rather than a special interest area which can be separated from the classroom experiences of teachers and students. In the final section of the foreword, the editors outline the volume’s structure and provide brief summaries of each chapter.

The introduction by Utz Maas, “Sprachausbau in der Zweitssprache” (“Language elaboration in the second language”), frames the rest of the book by outlining what is meant by second language elaboration, more commonly known as growth and development to US researchers, . This chapter is divided into nine sections. The first section positions language elaboration within a concrete problem, namely a specific immigrant population from Morocco now living in Germany. The author contrasts two different learning environments. On one hand, there are the language behaviors of these immigrant children, and on the other hand the linguistic environment of their previous country. In the second section, Mass outlines the base terminology of register differentiation, which include formal (institutionally regulated written language), informal or public (market, workplace), and intimate (family, close friends). The third section describes language acquisition as elaboration, where child acquisition normally flows from the intimate, to the informal, and to finally to the formal via introduction of written language, which is primarily based in the formal register. The fourth section contrasts this register difference with the situation in Morocco, where different languages are separated by register. In Morocco, the intimate register is occupied by the use of Berber, while/whereas the informal register is Moroccan Arabic. Within institutions however, written documents in the formal register are in French and standard Arabic. sections five, six, and seven delve deeper into the consequences of these different language and register pairings, as well as the oral versus literate uses of each language and their effects on language use. section eight discusses possible transfer options available to this population of migrant children between their language uses in Morocco and the register breakdown in their new environment in Germany. The final section summarizes the point that language acquisition is not simply a cumulative process, and that this kind of view restricts the importance of students’ linguistic backgrounds.

The second chapter by Mathilde Hennig, “Grammatisches Wissen und literale Kompetenz” (“Grammatical knowledge and literary competence”) begins the first section on grammatical knowledge. This chapter is divided into two main parts. sections one through four detail the problems and controversies of teaching grammar in second language classrooms, with a particular emphasis on the relationship between “competence in advanced written communication” and grammar knowledge (metalinguistic knowledge including terminology). The second main part is an empirical study, which investigates two groups of learners who are given sentences with complex grammatical errors. One group is given a list of terminology in the instructions, but the other is not. The comparison of the two groups shows that the addition of terminology aided students’ ability to understand and resolve grammatical errors. section six concludes the chapter with a call for more formal instruction of grammar in the language classroom.

The third chapter by Jakob Ossner, “Grammatik im Studium” (“Grammar in the course of study”), presents the challenges of teaching linguistics in teacher education programs. In the first section, the author presents two major questions he answers later in this chapter: why is linguistics the elementary tool for future German teachers, and what should a course of study look like that has this goal in mind? The second section describes linguistics as an elementary tool which has four major functions: syntactic (the constitution of a sentence as an expression of a thought), pragmatic, (the constitution of an utterance as an intentional action), (hermeneutic) the constitution of a text , and meta- and extra-communicative (the constitution of language development). Section three outlines the differences between knowledge and competence, which includes what students can do with language versus what they know about the language. The fourth section presents the scope of grammatical knowledge and its functional purpose in the classroom. The fifth section provides a specific challenge that can be solved with the tool of linguistic knowledge: what is a word? The author dives into the differences between lexical, syntactic and phonological knowledge, as well as prosody, as all parts of understanding a word. Section six outlines another problem: gapping and coordination. Section seven summarizes the chapter . The final section, grammatical knowledge as problem solving knowledge, discusses how grammatical knowledge can be used by both teachers and students to solve problems and investigate texts at a deeper level.

The fourth chapter by Wilhelm Grieβhaber, “Grammatische Terminologie und mehrsprachige Schülerinnen und Schüler” (“Grammatical terminology and multilingual school children”), problematizes the use of terminology in language education. The introductory section examines the role that grammatical terminology plays with multilingual school children. Sections two and three juxtapose the traditional terminology used in German and how children with Turkish as a first language will not be able to transfer those conceptualizations of grammar because of the different structure between the two languages. section four provides a specific example of how differences in uses of plural forms and the concept of countability do not lead to successful understand for L1 Turkish learners of German. section five builds on the idea that grammatical terms do not provide students with any useful knowledge. Finally, section six proposes that teacher training programs should focus more on the analysis of linguistic utterances and remove the practice of using terminology to teach linguistic concepts.

The fifth chapter by Sabina De Carlo and Jana Gamper, “Die Ermittlung grammatischer Kompetenzen anhand der Profilanalyse” (“The investigation of grammatical competences by means of profile analysis”), compares two tests, the C-Test (see Baur et al., 2006) and the Profile Analysis of Written Texts (Griesshaber, 2005) which are supposed to determine language competency. Through two studies, the authors investigate whether W. Grieβhaber’s ‘profile analysis’ method is as appropriate to estimate students’ competences as the c-test. The profile analysis method looks for the position of the verb in students’ texts to see which syntactic structures appear, while the c-test is a normed, quantitative testing method that uses 60 – 80 texts to test students’ knowledge with a cloze task design. The authors present results that show that the two methods do not represent students’ competencies in the same ways.

The sixth, and final chapter of the grammatical gender section by Christian Braun, “Schwierigkeiten und Probleme bei der grammatischen Textanalyse” (“Difficulties and problems with grammatical text analysis.”), points out what difficulties both students and teachers encounter with grammar. The author argues that the two mains problems are struggles with grammatical terminology and a lack of experience in doing syntactic analysis. sections one and two introduce the topic and the environment from which the data for this chapter was collected, which were summer sessions of a grammar course. section three presents selected case examples from these students. The conclusion outlines competences that need to be further developed in students, including reflective practices with relevant, syntactic units, conscious practices with hindsight syntactic form/meaning connections, competency with explicit differences between syntactic functions and prototypical, formal realizations of terminology, complete knowledge of terms needed for sentence analysis, and competent usage of methods for identification and qualification.

In the seventh chapter, “Abweichungen sind keine Fehler” (“Variations are not mistakes”), Melanie Lenzhofer-Glantschnig and Elisabeth Scherr, examine mistakes versus variation. They discuss non-German speaking students living in Austria who are exposed to a standardized dialect atr school but then encounter many varieties of German in their day to day lives through interactions with German speakers. After the introduction, a corpus of written learner data which shows intra- and intervariability in language use is presented. Section three discusses the influences of dialectical and regiolectical variability, and section four discusses the influence of standard usage differences such as verb placement and the avoidance of genitive forms. The final section calls on researchers and teachers to understand the environments in which learners encounter authentic language, which is full of variety and drives the acquisition process in ways that deviate from a homogenous, standard language based program.

The eighth chapter by Arne Ziegler and Anna Thurner entitled “Syntaktische Fehlerquellen im DaZ-Unterricht” (“Syntactic sources of error in the DaZ-classroom”) ends the section on the difference between variability and mistakes. It begins by stating the fact that there is no singular thing as DaZ but rather behaviors that take place within particular physical and social spaces that are unique. Next, it builds on this idea by focusing on L1 Italian learners of German in southern Tirol and their language environment. Section three then outlines the problems with only looking at mistakes as correct versus incorrect and posits the idea that mistakes provide a lens through which one can see language development. As an example of this type of analysis, section four investigates learner “errors” via a learner corpus of written texts. The author analyzes four structures that appear in learner texts (particle verb construction and lexical brackets, subordinate clause brackets, serialization in multi-part verb complex, and multiple fore-field placement in verb-second position sentences) and discusses how L1 transfer and the students’ linguistic environment cause these “errors”. The author concludes the chapter with a call for language instruction and research that takes into account students’ backgrounds.

The ninth chapter by Christine Czinglar, Katharina Korecky-Kröll, Kumru Uzunkaya-Sharma, and Wolfgang U. Dressler, “Wie beeinflusst der sozioökonomische Status den Erwerb der Erst- und Zweitsprache?” (“How does socio-economic status influence first and second language acquisition”) begins the final section containing empirical studies. The first subsection presents the current research on socio-economic stats (SES) and language development, pointing to a need for more studies that look at SES and bilingual development. Subsection two describes the process by which the 31 monolingual German and 30 bilingual German-Turkish participants were placed into either High or Low SES groups. The following section begins the analysis of the data. First, the authors compare the effect of SES on vocabulary knowledge in each participant’s first language. The monolingual German group showed a bigger divide between High and Low SES groups, while the L1 Turkish L2 German group showed relatively little difference in L1 vocabulary knowledge by SES group. Then the results of the L2 German vocabulary for the L1 Turkish speakers were analyzed. Here, there was also no statistical difference between groups. The authors then analyze spontaneous language used by the L1 Turkish L2 German children to investigate the rate at which noun-phrases and determiner-phrases are acquired by SES group. This analysis showed that High SES children had a better command and wider array of NP and DP structures than the children in the Low SES group. The authors summarize the results in the final section and emphasize two main points. First, that SES had no effect for this particular group of bilinguals, and second, that looking at other linguistic elements, such as morphology, provides a deep understanding than a straightforward comparison of passive vocabulary knowledge.

The tenth chapter by Christin Schellhardt and Christoph Schroeder, “Nominalphrasen in deutschen und türkischen Texten mehrsprachiger SchülerInnen” (“Nominal phrases in German and Turkish texts of multilingual school children”), focuses on noun phrase complexity as a measure of linguistic development. In the first two sections of this chapter, the authors recall the idea of register described by Maas in the foreword. Here they focus on the expansion of noun phrases through attributes as a sign of growth in the written register. Section three describes the data used for this study, which is comprised of a subcorpus of the DFG-funded Projekt MULTILIT encompassing texts in Turkish and German written by Turkish German bilingual students at different school ages. section four describes the different structure of NPs in German, an inflectional language, and Turkish, an agglutinative one. This chapter also outlines four groups of NPs for study: simple NPs without attributes, NPs with non-propositional attributes, NPs with propositional attributes, and NPs that have more than one attributive extension of different types. Section five presents the results, which are complex in that there is no clear linear trajectory between age and NP complexity. In the final section, the author discuss possible reasons for this, including the purposeful dismissal of particular registers in youth culture.

The eleventh chapter by Anja Binanzer, “Von Sexus zu Genus?” (“From sex to gender?”), discusses the acquisition of gender by primary school students with L1 Turkish and L1 Russian. In the first section, the author articulates the differences in gender between Russian, a language with gender, and Turkish, a language without gender. section two includes information on gender marking in German as the target language for these children. section three asks the question, how do children with these different L1s acquire gender and what effect does transfer play. In the fourth section, the author describes the participants and the testing methods. The test design is a cloze task where students must fill in the missing determiner and also select what pronoun would replace the subject. The items are differentiated by gender, but also by animacy and sex. The results presented in section five show consistency in gender assignment, even if it is not target-like. The authors discuss in section six that the children then must have a systematic way of assigning gender, although it may be different from the one used in German, where animacy plays a particularly important role. In the conclusion, the author makes the claim that both groups used the same semantic strategy for animate objects, and they also showed grammatical strategies for inanimate objects. The author also argues that the non-target-like gender assignment to inanimate objects lead to the conclusion that gender is only realized as a grammatical category when children begin to apply it to inanimate objects.

The twelfth chapter, by Klaus-Michael Köpcke and Verena Wecker, “Deutsche Pluralmorphologie im DaZ-Erwerb” (“German plural morphology in the acquisition of German as a second language”), presents data from L1 Russian and L1 Turkish child learners of German. The study aims at understanding the acquisition process of German plural morphology by these L2 German learners. In the first section, the authors hint at the difficulties in learning German plural morphology. For example, is it die Onkel or die Onkels? The authors take the identification of errors in the L2 classroom to task in the second section and point out that these errors are not something that needs to be immediately corrected and then moved past, but rather used as a “diagnostic window” into language development. In section three, the authors outline the nine different types of plural marking in German. In section four, the authors outline their empirical study. The results of the study show that while these children are making errors, they are making systematic ones which are reflective of both the structure and frequency of plural formation in German. They also discuss how some plural endings are better or worse examples of how plural nouns look. In the final remarks, the authors reflect on the systematic nature of these students’ variable plural markings and how the identification of these mistakes can be used as a tool on their journey of language acquisition.

In the thirteenth and final chapter by Yüksel Eikinci, “Grammatik- und Wortschatzvermittlung in sprachlich heterogenen Lernergruppen” (“Grammar and vocabulary mediation in linguistically heterogeneous learner groups”), the author argues that a student’s cultural background needs to be considered to inform teaching practices. In the introduction, the author presents the challenges that faces many school children from immigrant families, including linguistic, social, and cultural difficulties. The second section contains foundations for grammar and vocabulary instruction as well as stumbling blocks one can anticipate, such as inflection and words with more than one meaning. In section three, the author puts forth the idea of the language detective, where students are encouraged to examine all of their languages to gain a better understanding of the differences between them. Section four contains a transcription of one such language comparison. In addition to linguistic comparisons, the author also describes the need for the use of culturally familiar artifacts. Section five describes the use of Nasreddin Hodscha, a well-known middle-eastern folk hero, with texts in both Turkish and German. The author concludes with recommendations for systematic and culturally relevant instruction for DaZ learners.


With the current immigration crisis and the surge of migrants into Germany (Horn, 2012), this book is a timely addition to the literature on German as a second language (DaZ). With a number of the articles directly related to understanding what immigrant populations bring with them to the table when they start their DaZ journey, this collection helps to frame the instruction of DaZ with regard to sociolinguistic and pedagogical considerations.

For those interested in current trends in teaching German as a second language as well as those who research this topic, this collection contains a wide array of current articles. The range and depth of topics discussed in this book are a mirror into the complexities of foreign language instruction. As such, this collection provides specific insights into the numerous areas of study involved in DaZ, from the widest scope of educational systems as a whole to the classroom level and individual language processing.

Of particular relevance to an American audience should be the clear connections to ESL instruction in the US. Many of the articles in this book speak to issues faced in the United States regarding the education of immigrant children and their inclusion and participation as full members of the education system (for example, see Cohen & Wickens, 2015). Some important highlights from this book that are very applicable are the need to incorporate culturally relevant materials for ESL learners and present grammar in an accessible, meaningful way.

My main critique of this work is that it is very compartmentalized. In one regard, this is helpful because one does not need to read any of the other chapters to appreciate the content of one particular chapter, but as a collection, there seems to be a bit of a missing thread from one work to the next.

Overall this work does an excellent job of encompassing many differing perspectives on DaZ, and even ones that come to quite contradictory conclusions of one another. While many of the articles focus on child learners of German from Arabic speaking countries, this collection still contains a diverse mix of target populations in terms of age, gender, socioeconomic status, and first language. In sum, this edited volume provides much needed insight in a time where DaZ (and ESL) are vastly expanding.

Potential users of this work will need a strong, functional knowledge of academic written German, prior knowledge of issues in second language acquisition and German as a second language, and some knowledge of experimental design and statistical analysis. This book is aimed at professionals already working or graduates preparing for a career focused on research in the field of German as a second/foreign language.


Baur, R., Spettmann, M., & Grotjahn, R. (2006). Der C-Test als Instrument der Sprachstandserhebung und Sprachfoerderung im Bereich Duetsch als Zweitsprache. In: Hans-Joachim Roth, Hans H. Reich & Drorit Lengyel (Eds.): Von der Sprachdiagnose zur Sprachförderung, 115-127.

Cohen, J., & Wickens, C. M. (2015). Speaking English and the Loss of Heritage Language. TESL-EJ, 18(4).

Griesshaber, W. (2005). Sprachstandsdiagnose im kindlichen Zweitspracherwerb: Funktionalpragmatische Fundierung der Profilanalyse. AZM-NW Series B, Hamburgh Uni: SFB 538.

Horn, Heather. (2015). The staggering scale of Germany’s refugee project. The Atlantic. Retrieved from
After receiving his PhD in SLA from Carnegie Mellon University, Dr. Walter is currently an adjunct Professor of German at Morehouse College and Atlanta Technical College, in addition to being the Coordinator for the German American Cultural Foundation. His research interests include German as a Second/Foreign Language, Second Language Processing, Second Language Acquisition of Morphosyntax, and Socio-cognitive Approaches to SLA.