Business German: An Overview of the Discipline’s State Twenty Years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Heiko Wiggers on April 5th, 2010    

Download this article as a pdf.

Introduction

While Business German had its first tentative beginnings at U.S. colleges and universities in the 1970s, it was deemed “the wave of the future” in 1980 after the University of Wisconsin at Madison conducted a survey on the discipline’s state. By 1991, Business German was offered by more than 150 colleges and universities in the U.S. prompting Nollendorfs to conclude that “Business German seems no longer just the wave of the future; it seems here to stay.” (1991: 222)  Indeed, judging by the number of articles published about Business German during the first few years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall, one could infer that the discipline had reached a sort of prime during the early 1990s (not at least due to much support from the Goethe Institut).

Much has changed since then. Globalization is no longer a utopia, the united Germany has become the economic powerhouse and one of the political pillars of a greatly enlarged European Union, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall was just commemorated for the 20th time. However, the number of articles on Business German has decreased considerably since the mid-1990s. Does this mean that the discipline is past its prime or is it by now firmly established in the curriculum with its novelty worn off? This paper seeks to highlight the benefits and potential, but also the challenges of the state of Business German at the beginning of a new decade by illustrating the Business German program at Wake Forest University, NC, and by drawing concomitantly from national trends.

Business German at Wake Forest University

Wake Forest University is a liberal arts university with ca. 4,300 undergraduate students located in Winston-Salem, NC. The Department of German and Russian offers a BA in German or Russian, and enjoys a relatively large number of German majors and minors.  A two-semester Business German sequence is offered every other year. While the interest among undergraduates in German language and culture learning is comparatively high, it has become increasingly apparent that not all students majoring or minoring in German are attracted to the literature track. Typically, twelve to fourteen German majors and minors enroll in Business German (Introduction to Business German in fall; Intermediate Business German in spring). It should be pointed out that the university focuses on a low teacher-student ratio. Prerequisite are three to four semesters of college German. In general, the Business German courses consist of students who are greatly attracted to studying German and wish to pursue a field with more practical applications. Many of those enrolled pursue dual degrees in Business and German, Economics and German, Accounting and German, or International Studies and German. The sequence concludes with the option of taking the Zertifikat Deutsch für den Beruf (ZDfB) exam offered by the Goethe Institut at the end of the spring semester. The feedback from students has been very positive with many saying that the Business German sequence has been one of the most rewarding but also challenging learning experiences of their undergraduate studies.

The following section gives examples of teaching materials from both Business German courses at Wake Forest.


60 comments -- read them or add your comment by clicking here »