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Category: Research
Teaching and Learning Forum 2008 [ Refereed papers ]
Why study German? A survey among students studying German

Sandra Eubel
Women's Studies & German Studies
The University of Western Australia

Over the past decade, budget cuts in the education sector have led to less language options offered at high school level. However, there is a strong interest among students entering university to study languages. Although the German Department at the University of Western Australia is a small department, it is nevertheless a thriving and intellectually stimulating place and has repeatedly been recognised for its steadily increasing enrolment numbers over the past 5 years. This leads to questions such as 'Why do students choose to study German?' This paper will examine current theories in language acquisition motivation research such as the 'Integrative/Instrumental Motivation Theory' (Gardner & Lambert, 1972) and the 'Self-Determination Theory' (Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier & Ryan, 1991). It will then continue to look at what types of motivation can be found among first year students and a group of second and third year students participating in this study. The findings of this study indicate that a variety of factors influence the students' interest in studying German and that there appear to be shifts in the motivational orientation between first and second/third year students. Motivational orientation seems to shift towards the more intrinsically regulated forms of motivation. As the motivational circle continues, this stresses the importance of factors such as 'Competence' and, 'Fun' in the long process of language learning. Lecturers and teachers of German can use this shift to their advantage when they integrate this in their units.

The background

Over the past decade, budget cuts in the education sector have led to less language options offered at high school level. However, there is a strong interest among students entering university to study languages. At UWA, language classes are offered in several European and Asian languages, all situated in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. The School of Humanities hosts the discipline group of European Languages and Studies where French, Italian and German are taught. Although the German Department is one of the smaller ones, it is nevertheless a thriving and intellectually stimulating place and has repeatedly been recognised for its steadily increasing enrolment numbers over the past 5 years. This leads to questions such as 'Why do students choose to study German?'. Relatively little research has been undertaken to further examine the motivation of first year students to choose a language. This study therefore offers to explore reasons why students study German.

Aim of the study

This survey will look at what types of motivation can be found among the first year students participating in this study. A second group of students (current second and third year students of German) will be surveyed to establish how the advanced students' motivation compares to that of first year students. This will produce some general insights and suggestions how to use the motivation of first year students to keep them interested in studying German at upper levels. Additionally, the study will reflect upon how to incorporate the students' motivational orientation into the university of the future.

The framework

Motivation is a key topic in research on language acquisition. Nevertheless research looking at why students choose a subject or discipline is rather sparse. In the following paragraphs, I will briefly introduce concepts that deliver a theoretical background for the evaluation of this survey.

The work of Gardner and Lambert prepared the grounds for an understanding of the motivation of language learners (Gardner & Lambert, 1972). The heart of their theory is the exploration of integrative and instrumental motivation. Integrative motivation identifies the reason to learn a language as the wish to communicate with people in that language, or, even to identify with the culture of the target language (Gardner & Lambert, 1972, p.192). Language acquisition as a means to achieve a practical goal, for example to better fit the selection criteria of a job offer is called instrumental motivation (Gardner & Lambert, 1972, p.192). This model, however, can sometimes be inept when studying language acquisition because the goal to identify with the culture of the target language is more applicable for students learning a target language while physically present in society where that language is spoken (i.e., learning German in Germany), referred to as L2. This is less important in foreign language acquisition, where the target language is learned in an environment where the majority is speaking a different language to the target language (i.e., learning German in a mainly English speaking environment at UWA).

Clement and Kruidenier (1983, pp. 277/278) explored this particular aspect of the integrative/instrumental motivation concept and argued that the specific cultural and socio-political setting a language learner lives in plays a more relevant part than had hitherto been expected. Thereby identifying social relations as a major factor in the motivation of language learners. In their own approach they therefore distinguished four sets of motivational orientation: 'travel', 'friendship', 'knowledge' (subdividing what was formerly known as the integrative motivation) and 'instrumental' orientation (Clement & Kruidenier, 1983, pp. 283/284)[i]. This was supported by the findings of Dörnyei (1994a, p.275). Dörnyei revealed that in foreign language acquisition, in particular, the role of instrumental motivation had been underestimated and that there might indeed be a more complex and refined connection between integrative and instrumental motivation than had hitherto been argued (Oxford & Shearin, 1994, p.15).

In the 1990s, the scholarly scope was then widened through the application of several concepts of motivation utilised from sociology and psychology (Dörnyei, 1994a; 1994b; Oxford & Shearin, 1994; Noels, Pelletier, Clement & Vallerand, 2000). Oxford and Shearin for example opened the discussion on language motivation when arguing that '[t]he first issue is the absence of a consensus on a definition of L2 learning motivation. Sometimes the theoretical definitions cannot be easily tested or agreed upon by other researchers' (Oxford & Shearin, 1994, p.13). A feature they introduced that had been neglected hitherto was the length of engagement with a language (Oxford & Shearin, 1994, p.14). According to their findings, motivation can change considerably over a period of time and is subject to a variety of factors.

Another notable theoretical approach is the 'Self-Determination Theory' as introduced by Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier & Ryan (1991). The theory defines two main orientations: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation[ii]. An activity is intrinsically motivated when it has been freely chosen, gives pleasure, and the individual experiences the activity as valuable for his/her personal development (Deci et. al., pp. 326/327). Activities that are extrinsically motivated serve the purpose to fulfil a goal that has been motivated in negotiating the self and the outside (Deci et al., 1991, pp. 326/327). There are varying degrees of extrinsic motivation, defined through the degree to which the outside regulates the motivation. Additionally, Goldberg & Noels (2006, pp. 425/426) see them as a continuum rather than in separate categories.

This model works with the premises that humans like to experience a feeling of achievement and enjoyment when performing activities. This in turn leads to further motivation, a kind of perpetual motion machine or motivational circle. Goldberg and Noels (2006) see this approach as complementary to Gardner and Lambert's approach and conclude

that students who are learning the language for intrinsic and/or more self-determined extrinsic reasons (i.e., identified and integrated regulation) will invest more effort and be more persistent in language learning than students who are learning the language for less self-determined reasons (i.e., external and introjected regulation). (Goldberg & Noels, 2006, p. 425)
Their argument includes an additional dimension and makes use of 'motivational subsystems' thereby further broadening the spectrum of motivational orientations. Of particular interest in regard to this study are the 'intergroup' and the 'interpersonal' motivational substrate (Noels, 2005, p.288). Both refer to the role of dynamics between learners and their environment in the language learning process. At the core of these motivational substrates is 'the need for a positive social identity' (Noels, 2005, 288). In case of the 'intergroup' substrate this refers to the community of the target language, in case of the 'interpersonal' substrate to the learning environment (i.e., in the classroom).

The present study is not attempting to give a definite answer in response to the question why students study German[iii]. Nevertheless, it may be able to produce valuable insights into what motivational factors make students decide to take up the study of another language. I hypothesise that the motivation of first and second/third year students will vary. Goals connected to the language acquisition will have changed or at least become more focused over the first year and motivational attitudes will therefore be refined. It is expected that motivational orientation will shift towards the more intrinsically regulated forms of motivation. As the motivational circle continues, this stresses the importance of factors such as 'Competence' and, 'Fun' in the long process of language learning.

The questionnaire

In the second semester of 2007 a questionnaire was filled out by students studying German at UWA[iv]. The questionnaire was first given to students who had started studying German at UWA during 2007. Altogether, 24 students enrolled in their first year participated in the study, referred to in the following as Group A. Additionally, second and third year students enrolled in two German units were chosen to take part in the study. In this group 43 questionnaires were collected, referred to in the following as Group B[v]. The questionnaire included closed and open questions and aimed at gathering information on the students' demographical background, attitudes towards language learning in general, attitudes towards learning the German language, and interest in -and knowledge about- German, Germany and German culture.


In Group A, 80% of the students participating were born in Australia. The remaining 20% of students had been born in Europe (UK, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Turkey). The group consisted of 66% female students and 33% male students.

79% of students participating in Group B were born in Australia, most other students had been born in Europe (Croatia, Estonia, UK, Germany, Ireland, Bosnia, Switzerland), two students had been born outside Europe. In Group B 72% of the participating students were female and 28% male[vi].

Most students in both groups are enrolled in the Bachelor program (96% in Group A and 93% in Group B). In both cases the Bachelor degree consists of a variety of combinations. This resembles the results of a similar study undertaken at UWA in 2001 (Hofreuter & Ludewig, 2001) and also seems to be in line with Jeanette Ludwig's findings from a study conducted in the Unites States (Ludwig, 1983, p.218). Ludwig's study showed that the range of subject combinations of students studying German is usually quite broad with a recognisable number of combinations of language and science subjects. In Group A, 30% combined German and Law or Commerce. 17% combined German and Music, and 30% studied mainly Arts subjects. Four percent of Group A studied to achieve a Diploma in Modern Languages alongside their degree in science. Among Group B the number of students combining science subjects with language learning was 15%, (including students studying German for a Diploma in Modern Languages). Nine percent of students combined German with Law and Commerce, 6% combined German and Education and 4% combined German and Music.

German as a language spoken outside the classroom

A survey undertaken at UWA in 2001 (Hofreuter & Ludewig, 2001) showed that in a third year unit the number of students speaking German with friends, family and relatives was 20% among students as compared to 7% in a first year unit (Table 1). The 2001 survey did not further specify how this was distributed on the different categories.

The survey from 2007 wanted to get more precise information on the circumstances under which students speak German outside the classroom, therefore the subcategories 'family', 'friends' and 'relatives' were introduced (Table 1). In Group A none of the students spoke German with friends, family or relatives. Additionally, ninety-two percent of the first year students in the 2007 survey stated that they spoke German only at university. Quite on the contrary, students in Group B stated that they spoke German with their family in 4%, with friends in 23% and with relatives in 14% of the cases.

Table 1: German as a language used outside the classroom

German is used to communicate with ...2001
1st year
3rd year
2007 Group A
(1st year)
2007 Group B
(2nd & 3rd year)
(not further
(not further

It might be interesting to investigate the use of German in regards to the use of languages others than English (including German) in the 2007 sample. As can be seen in Table 2 a large group of students in Group B spoke languages other than English (including German) with their family (33%), friends (25%) and relatives (33%). This might be due to the ethnically diverse parental background among the group (54% of the mothers and 49% of the fathers were born outside Australia). Results were very similar for students in Group A (30% spoke languages other than English with family and relatives and 25% with friends). About a third in each group is therefore used to communicate in a language other than English.

Table 2: Usage of languages other than English (including German) outside the classroom

Other languages than English used to communicate with ...2001
1st year
3rd year
2007 Group A
(1st year)
2007 Group B
(2nd & 3rd year)
FamilyNo data available30%33%

It is however striking that, according to both surveys (Hofreuter & Ludewig, 2001; Eubel, 2007), the German language is used by more advanced students to communicate outside the classroom. This can be further developed for Group B of the 2007 survey. 23% are communicating with friends in German (Table 1), this is an important finding when comparing this to an overall of 25% of students using languages other than English (including German) to communicate with friends (Table 2). The number of students choosing German to communicate with family and relatives is significantly lower (Table 1, 4%, respectively, 14%).

Looking at this in the light of motivation research, this finding can be interpreted as a shift from more extrinsic forms of motivation to more intrinsic forms of motivation - when the goal of language learning is incorporated more fully in the concept of one's self. This leads to a higher probability that German is chosen for communicating with friends, family and relatives. When communicating with friends in German, in particular, this is a matter of choice and therefore intrinsically motivated. These findings underline the cyclical nature of language learning motivation.

The influence of heritage might be an additional area of interest. Ludwig argued in her comparative study of students' motivation to study French, German or Spanish at colleges in the United States that '[f]amily or cultural ties with Germany are responsible for a large segment of the German enrolments' (Ludwig, 1983, p. 219). Andress et. al., (2002) have shown that in 2002 this motive was still rather strong '[c]learly these students are interested at some level in their German or, rather, their German-American roots, and they bring this motivation to their initial study of German' (Andress et.al., 2002, p. 3). In Group B in the 2007 survey one student each had been born in Switzerland and in Germany. Furthermore, five students stated that one of their parents had been born in a German speaking country (Austria, Germany, Switzerland). The study in 2001 showed similar results (Hofreuter & Ludewig, 2001, part I, p. 29). Group A in 2007 does reveal one German mother among the first year cohort, and an additional 8% of students state family relations to Germany[vii]. Additionally, 14% of students in Group B use German to communicate with their relatives (Table 1), compared to 4% of students who use German in their immediate family. This might also be linked to a relevance of the heritage component.

Although only shown in a few cases, there does seem to be a clear connection between students' or parents' place of birth. The findings of this small survey seem to hint in the direction that familial ties to German speaking relatives or to the German language do play a role in the language learning experience. Noels established that 'heritage language learners' 'were more likely than non-heritage learners to learn German because it was an important aspect of their self-concept' (Noels, 2005, p. 285). To further shed light on this aspect, future studies should specifically ask for additional German connections such as grandparents or German speaking members of the extended family. Given that the large post-WWII migration wave brought many German speaking migrants to Australia this might be a valuable trail to follow[viii].

Likes and dislikes about learning German

Of great interest in terms of motivation are the results concerning the specific likes and dislikes mentioned by students in regard to learning the German language. Andress et al. (2002, p. 3) discussed the importance of 'Fun' for studying the German language, and indeed, in their study this motive ranks highest (Andress teal., 2002, p.3). 'Fun', however, they argue 'should not be understood as trivial, shallow, or, indeed, anti-intellectual' (Andress et. al., 2002, p.4). They also identify success and self-affirmation as key-factors in students' motivation to study German. These arguments fall neatly into place with Deci teal's model of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Doing something purely for 'Fun' can be classified as an intrinsic motive.

The findings by Andress et al. were, to a large degree, mirrored in the 2007 survey. Items 10 and 15 asked the students in an open question to comment on what they like about learning languages and German, in particular. Item 10 asked to list some likes and dislikes and item 15 wanted to know 'What do you like about studying German?' The items asked for similar categories therefore the results were assembled in Table 3, giving the percentage of students in each group naming a certain category (multiple answers were possible and not all categories are listed here).

Table 3: Likes and dislikes

ItemGroup A
(1st year)
Group B
(2nd & 3rd year)
Item 10 (likes and dislikes)Fun0%16%
Dislike grammar42%9%
Like grammar4%14%
Meeting people30%16%
Learn about the culture30%9%
Item 15 (What do you like
about learning German?)

In Group A, comments relating the language learning experience to 'Competence' rated 30% in item 10 and 13% in item 15. In comparison the area of 'Competence' in Group B rated in both items 35% and 26%, respectively. A slight difference can be recognised. The same applies for 'Challenge'. In item 15, 10% of the first year students gave 'Challenge' as a reason to study German. In comparison, 16% of the advanced German learners stated 'Challenge' as a motivational factor.

For 'Fun', the results differed to a larger extent. No student in Group A mentioned 'Fun' in item 10, but 21% stated 'Fun' for item 15 (Table 3). In Group B, 'Fun' was second in both categories with 16% and 21%, respectively. However, when later in the questionnaire asked directly to comment on the statement 'I study German because it's fun', an overwhelming 92% in Group A, and 86% in Group B, ticked 'Strongly Agree' and 'Agree'.

At the same time many statements in the open question section (made by Group B), identify areas such as 'Challenge' or 'Logic of the language' as factors they like (Table 3, item 10) thereby emphasising the intellectual aspect of fun mentioned by Andress et al. (2002). It is of interest that among the first year students 'Grammar' was disliked by 42% of the respondents, but only by 9% of the advanced students. In fact 14%, of students in Group B have listed 'Grammar & Structure' as an aspect they like about learning German (compared to 4% among first year students). This again points towards a more intrinsic motivational orientation among advanced students. It might be assumed that, concerning the motivational circle, mastering the grammar is perceived as a positive, rewarding and valued characteristic of the learning experience and gains importance during the language learning process.

The category, 'Meeting people', was 30%, and 'Learning about the Culture' was noted down by 30% of the first year students (Table 3, item 10). This result seems to correspond with Dörnyei's findings that foreign language learners' motivations are 'determined more by attitudes and beliefs about foreign language and cultures in general' (Oxford & Shearin, 1994, p.15). This is especially the case with inexperienced learners (Oxford & Shearin, 1994, p.15). In Group B, 81% of the participants had already travelled to Germany (in comparison to 25% of the first years), therefore, they already experienced German culture in situ. At this stage the interest in learning the target language not only complements the interest in the target culture but becomes the main focus of the language learner.

Another key motivation factor identified by Andress et al. (2002, p. 9) - especially in regard to male students - is the role that personal environment and the presence of friends plays in the learning situation. Table 3 shows that this aspect was mentioned by 21% of all students in Groups A and B. If looking at this aspect from the point of gender the questionnaire shows that 38% of all male students in Group A and 25% of all male students in Group B mentioned this aspect. However, when asked in a different item to comment on 'I am studying German because my friends are studying German as well', only 16% in Group A but 28% in Group B agree. One should remember, though, that as the classes get smaller and students get to know each other better over several semesters, a cohort forms and the level of friendship inside the classes probably increases.

Item 12 of the questionnaire asked for the attitudes of family and friends towards the students' German studies. 75% of Group A and 76% of Group B stated that their parents liked them to study German. 17% of Group A and 19% of Group B thought that their parents didn't care. In regard to the attitudes of friends, the picture changes slightly. In Group A, 46 % of all students think their friends like it and 46% think they don't care. In Group B, 37% think their friends like it and 60% think their friends don't care. So, peer group pressure seems to play a less important role for this particular cohort. The findings regarding the role of friends as identified by Andress et al. (2002) cannot necessarily be supported in this study. Nevertheless, 'personal environment or presence of friends' seems to play a slightly larger role for male than for female students, as stated by Andress et al. (2002).

When examining these findings in term of concepts of motivation, it might be helpful to turn to Deci et al. (1991, pp. 336-338) again. They discuss the role of education politics, teachers, classroom settings and family background in the motivation context. They perceive these factors as forms of external influence and believe that they can have a greater positive effect when performing a positively reinforcing and supporting function (rather than a regulating function). Dörnyei (1994a, p. 279) additionally stressed that the social aspect of learning in a classroom has long been seen as a factor to enhance intrinsic learning. Additionally, Noels' (2005, pp. 288/289) concept of the 'interpersonal motivational substrate' might be useful to further address the role of the social environment as a motivational factor. This leads to the somewhat vague conclusion that personal environment has a relevant role in the spectrum of motivational orientation, this, however, needs to be further specified in the future.

Knowledge of and information on Germany in Australia

The 2001 survey had a close look at the sources the students get their information from. In 2007, this aspect was again examined. The results in both surveys corresponded largely for the different types of media: books, TV, radio or newspaper rated all similar to the results from 2001. However, it is remarkable that in 2007 the Internet was stated as a source of information by 35% of the students in Group B whereas in the 2001 study it was not mentioned. In comparison, 25% of the first year students in this survey stated the Internet as a source of information. The slight discrepancy might be explained through an advanced use of the Internet to prepare class sessions in the upper units. One might even argue, somewhat contentiously, that using the Internet is also a matter of choice (and therefore an indicator for more intrinsic forms of motivation) as an effort has to be made in order to retrieve the desired bit of information.

Overall, this part of the survey showed that students have a great interest in the culture and history of Germany. This supports findings from 2001. When asked in 2007, what aspects or ideas they connect with 'Germany' or 'Germans', the students listed a large variety of answers that could be grouped under the headings of sports, society, history, technology and industry, food and beverages and landscape. This largely corresponded with the answers given in 2001 but also included seasonable items such as the 'soccer world cup' or 'Oktoberfest'. Again, there are slight differences between perception of Germany of the first year students and the more advanced students. 'History' (21%), 'Beer' (30%) and 'Food' (25%) rated very high among Group A. In Group B 'History' (19%), 'Landscape' (19%), 'Efficiency' (21%) and 'Culture' (14%) dominated. Clearly, Group A and B identified different cultural markers. Where the difference stems from, is hard to locate and needs to be investigated further in a future study[ix]. However, it might be related to the fact that a large number of 81% of the participating students in Group B (compared to 25% in Group A) have already travelled to Germany and had a hands-on experience of German culture. They might therefore have been able to be more specific in the questionnaire.

Another striking difference is the rate of participation in German clubs and societies. Forty percent of the students in Group B are engaged in German clubs and societies either on campus or in Western Australia. The number of students involved in such societies among Group A was significantly lower (13%). Joining a society and actively participating in voluntary organisations is a matter of choice, and can indicate that the goal 'learning a language' has been incorporated in the self. This seems to provide further evidence to the notion that intrinsically oriented forms of motivation of students studying German in advanced units are higher than among first year students.

Job and career prospects as motivation

The early concept of Gardner & Lambert (1972, p. 192) saw job and career prospects as the manifestation of instrumental motivation. An activity is performed to achieve a goal. The following example might shed some light on this in terms of the German language: The German Department additionally offers German as an elective for students studying engineering at Curtin University of Technology. In informal talks with the students many stated that they were attracted by the option because they have an interest in technology and see Germany as a main contributor in this area. They see Germany as a potential place of studying and/or working and have a general interest in the history of Germany and German science and technologies, hence their interest in learning German. However, researchers such as Goldberg & Noels (2006) as well as Oxford & Shearin (1994) are convinced that the career option alone, without being incorporated, is not enough to motivate students to pursue their studies to a higher level. Therefore it might be worth looking at how students of German at UWA evaluate their German studies in regard to their future careers. In Group A, 72% believed it was important for their future career and many students noted this down separately in some of the open questions. A considerable amount of students studied music and they explicitly stated that they learn German because of its role in classical music. In Group B, 54% thought it is of importance for their desired profession. This correlates with the findings of the 2001 study (Hofreuter & Ludewig, 2001). Although the number is still high among the advanced students, this form of instrumental motivation seems to have declined.

Conclusion and outlook

The findings of this study indicate that a variety of factors influence the students' interest in studying German and that there appear to be shifts in the motivational orientation between first and second /third year students.

A recognisable number of advanced students of German choose to communicate with their friends in German. This indicates that these students have incorporated learning German in their concept of self and enjoy performing their abilities by choice rather than to fulfil course requirements. The role of popular communication devices such as mobile phones (text-messages) and the Internet (email & instant messengers) needs to be further specified in terms of personal communication in the learned language. Another area of interest is the use of new media and technologies, for example, in some German classes at UWA WebCT forums or blogs in German are used as platforms to communicate with classmates in German. By combining the use of new communication technologies with the language-learning component the learning experience can be incorporated in the everyday experience of students.

Students in the advanced units more often identify 'Challenge', 'Fun' and 'Competence' as major reasons to study German. For first year students these aspects were also important but to a lesser degree than 'Learning about the Culture' and 'Meeting people'. This supports findings that unexperienced foreign language learners usually have a more general interest in foreign cultures and people. The advanced student in contrast gains confidence through performance. This experience can probably be enhanced by combining it with the use of technologies (such as offering audio-visual projects or I-projects such as blogs etc.) and by offering public forums, such as the theatre group, where students can perform their language skills in a non-classroom learning environment, involving not only the mind but also the body. On another level the German Department at UWA offers for example non-threatening environments such as open communication groups led by a native speaker. The native speakers are very often exchange students or interns from German universities and their role is more that of a moderator than that of a teacher.

The survey showed that advanced students use the Internet as a medium of choice to get information on Germany slightly more often than first year students, which may be due to their higher level of language ability but also due to a higher level of intrinsic forms of motivation. It would be interesting to undertake another survey to find out more about how the Internet is used. From informal chats with students it becomes clear that current students use for example portals like 'YouTube' (to retrieve German film-clips), 'Der Spiegel' (a weekly political magazine) or 'LEO' (an online dictionary with discussion boards) to prepare for presentations. In some cases they set up video-conferences or 'Skype' with friends in Germany. But it remains unclear to what extent such platforms are used by the current student body.

A large number of advanced students already travelled to the country of the target language. An additional factor, that hasn't been investigated here but might be of future interest, is the question of how exchanges nurture the use of German as a language of communication. Travelling the country and studying at a university in Germany might foster personal bonds that further motivate an interest in mastering the language. Contemporary communication devices make information and contact easily available. To be able to instantly exchange information with a friend in Germany might further initiate the use of German in non-learning environments.

Job prospects are important to advanced students, if to a lesser degree than to first year students, and more intrinsically oriented reasons to study German such as ('Fun', 'Challenge', 'Competence') seem to domineer. However, a next step could be to specify the professional interest of students in German. Do students, for example, have an interest in continuing their education in Germany or do they plan to apply for jobs, fellowships or work experiences with German companies or institutions? Through the Internet and its resources students are today able to locate opportunities in Germany (or German speaking countries) that are of advantage for their career and their personal aims. Given the large number of students studying German in combination with other subjects this area might be worthwhile to follow up. Additionally it might be promising to look into other areas of study which research how people negotiate long-term plans and incorporate them in their lives.

An overwhelming majority of all first year students thinks of German lessons as 'Fun' - a clear indicator for an intrinsic motivation. The challenge however, seems to be how to facilitate a shift from the purely intrinsic form of motivation to 'integrated regulation' (the most advanced form of extrinsic motivation) in situations of diminishing intrinsic motivation. Language learning can easily be perceived as 'Fun' in the first weeks or months but it also needs constant work and attention. This is where universities can have an input and support a shift in motivational orientation towards the more intrinsic forms of extrinsic motivation.

Lecturers and teachers of German can use this shift to their advantage when they integrate this in their units. German at UWA for example offers an optional theatre group in its upper level courses and students in the bridging course publish a German newsletter (including text production, layout & distribution/sales). These measures make use of the students' motivation and help to reinforce enjoyable activities - further enhancing the students' competence in the target language and fuelling the motivational cycle.

Additionally, the large variety of subjects present among students of German can be taken as a starting point for enhancing the attractiveness of German for students and in keeping them. 1st year student bring with them a broad interest for (historical and contemporary) German culture, technology, art and politics. Germany's role in the European Union, the work of German politicians in negotiating conflicts, the achievements of German scientists and artists and events that draw a global audience such as the Soccer World Championship, the 'Bayreuther Festspiele', the Computer exhibit CEBIT or the grocery and deli-fair ANUGA - all this potentially appeals to students from very different areas and can be used to fuel their interest in the language. The students then should get involved in projects which challenge them but which also allow them to perform their abilities and help to incorporate the aim to learn German in their self-concept. Exchange programs set up with German universities to cater different disciplines will deliver the student with a hands-on experience of the studied language and culture. Contemporary communication devices and the Internet offer for example the possibility to create learning spaces outside the actual classroom and open the way for transatlantic co-operations. Another important aspect is the use of new technologies in teaching and in assignments that enables students to incorporate German in their everyday life. All this paves the way for an ongoing engagement of students with the language by providing multiple outlets to perform their language abilities and hence enhance their motivation.

Information on the students' ethnic background available from this study also indicates that this aspect might very well be of greater importance for the current student cohort than it has been hitherto assumed. This aspect can potentially be seen in future student recruitment as an additional area where prospective students can be attracted. Given the continuing influx of German born people living and working in Australia this aspect might be of increasing importance for future student generations.

This study does not claim to present all the answers to why students study a certain language, rather it tries to reveal indications. To get a more precise picture it would be valuable to run a survey among all students currently enrolled in German at UWA and also at other Australian universities. Ideally the same cohort would be questioned several times throughout their complete candidature to ensure a statistical valid data set. This future study could then work with the assessment tools created by Deci et al. to further specify the degree of intrinsic/extrinsic forms of motivation present in the student cohort. Insights from such a study could then help to keep students attracted to the field by working more precisely with the types of motivation students bring with them.


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  1. For a discussion see Noels, Pelletier, Clement & Vallerand, 2000, p.59.

  2. The integrated regulation is the most advanced form of extrinsic motivation. Learners have incorporated the regulatory process in their self therefore learning the language is more perceived as a choice than a regulation. The difference between intrinsic and integrated regulation is that in the case of the first the activity is pursued for itself whereas in the case of the second the activity is also connected to an outcome. When the activity is seen as important to achieve a certain goal this is called 'identified regulation'. In the case of 'introjected regulation' internal pressure is felt to perform an activity. The least self-determined form of extrinsic motivation is 'external regulation', when activities are becoming instrumental and are performed to avoid negative consequences or gain reward. Deci et al., 1991, pp. 328-330. For a discussion see Goldberg & Noels, 2006, pp.425/426.

  3. This is mainly due to the limited scope of this study. A comparative study of students enrolled in German programs in different universities in Australia (applying assessment tools available from linguistics and psychology) might be a rewarding project for the years to come. The author is indeed aware of a large project currently under way at ANU, conducted by Gabriele Schmidt.

  4. The questionnaire is also exploring other issues such as demographical background, knowledge of Germany and Germans. It was not designed as an Academic Self-Regulation Questionnaire (ASQR) or an Academic Motivation Scale (AMS). Instead the questionnaire and the evaluation of the answers incorporate ideas of the conceptual framework of Decis et al..

  5. The first unit chosen was GRMN3306 which consists of 2 hours of language teaching and 2 hours of cultural studies. The second unit was GRMN2210, a 2 hour translation course offered to German students enrolled in second and third year.

  6. Andress et al. (2002, p. 8) have shown for German at college level in the United States that numbers of female students enrolling in German are higher than those of male students. To further assess this aspect it would be necessary to compare these results to the overall number of enrolments in German, European languages and in Humanities respectively. At present only numbers for German are available and male students make between 37% and 40% in the different courses.

  7. This discrepancy might be further explained through the placing of first year students with an advanced knowledge of the German language in upper level units.

  8. The 2006 ABS Census showed that at present around 106,500 people born in Germany reside in Australia (~ 2% of all population born overseas), most of them arrived in Australia before 1991. This argument therefore seems to be even more promising in regard to studies working on language shift or first language maintenance among different generations of migrants. An example might be Harres, Annette (1989). Following this particular motivation might lead to new insights into this area of study. Noels (2005) has picked this aspect up recently.

  9. It would for example be interesting to see what topics the first year students discussed in the language class so far to see if there is any relation between the students' answers to the questionnaire and the topics discussed in class.
Author: Sandra Eubel, Women's Studies & German Studies, The University of Western Australia.
Postal: European Studies & Languages, M203, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley WA 6009
Email: eubels01@student.uwa.edu.au

Sandra Eubel is a PhD candidate in Social and Cultural Studies and Humanities at the University of Western Australia. For her thesis she is conducting research on women with a German background who migrated to Western Australia in post-WWII era. As a teaching intern in 2007 she has taught in both European Languages and Studies (German Studies) and in Women's Studies.

Please cite as: Eubel, S. (2008). Why study German? A survey among students studying German. In Preparing for the graduate of 2015. Proceedings of the 17th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 30-31 January 2008. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2008/refereed/eubel.html

Copyright 2008 Sandra Eubel. The author assigns to the TL Forum and not for profit educational institutions a non-exclusive licence to reproduce this article for personal use or for institutional teaching and learning purposes, in any format (including website mirrors), provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.

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Created 23 Jan 2008. Last revision: 24 Jan 2008.