Sunday, March 29, 2009

Where Have Readers Had Good Experiences with Language Study?

A question that always comes up for PhD students is where to go for summer programs to develop or improve their German reading, translation, and sometimes speaking skills. Years ago, I found the scholarly reading and translation classes at NYU's Deutsches Haus to be quite valuable, but this was nearly 20 years ago, and I've no idea whether they continue to offer suitable summer classes and whether they remain good. (I did have to pay for them, and obviously information about financial aid for such programs would also be welcome.) In any case, it seemed to me that it might be useful to collect in one place recommendations of good programs in the US or in Germany based on reader experiences.


Scott said...

After my first year of graduate school I attended a summer program in Leipzig with a grant from the DAAD. For information concerning DAAD programs and the financial support available, see

The course I attended was the InterDaF program at the Herder-Institut in Leipzig.

I gained a lot from this course -- and from living in a part of Germany where many people did not speak fluent English. I would certainly recommend the program to philosophy students interested in improving their German.

Scott Jenkins
University of Kansas

Chuck Cross said...

I attended a two-month summer language course at a Goethe Institut in Germany while in grad school in the 1980s. The DAAD scholarship paid tuition, room, two meals per day, and a modest stipend for other meals and expenses. It was a great experience and greatly improved the limited proficiency with German I had obtained in college. For info, see:

Gabriel Gottlieb said...

I've heard good things about the Deutsche Summerschule at the University of Rhode Island.

It is an immersion program. As I understand it, students are isolated from English speakers and live in a community of German speakers during the program. The program is connected to the Goethe Institute, but unlike the Goethe Institute in NY where English is spoken once you leave the classroom, students are immersed in German throughout the duration of the course.

I did a DAAD summer program at the Berlin Goethe Institute, and would in retrospect choose a different city since there are so many people able and eager to speak English.

Robert N. Johnson said...

I did endless German classes here, but if you are serious about getting a good grounding in a language, there is no substitute for spending time in a country that speaks it, in this case, Germany. Find an exchange program. Most Germans speak such beautiful English that one must be persistent in making them speak German to you, but it can be done (and the further East one goes, the fewer English speakers one encounters.) I had a wonderful year in Berlin in which I spend mornings at the Goethe Institute. I can't speak highly enough of their approach and programs, and recommend them without any hesitation.

Anonymous said...

I attended the German Summer School of Taos New Mexico. It's a great experience, and the less German you know, the more you benefit from such a great atmosphere. It is 5ish weeks of complete German immersion. My comprehension shot through the roof, and depending on the themes of each summer, Philosophy is covered through cultural lessons.

Christopher Morris said...

A Goethe Institut in Germany is what I recommend. I spent a wonderful winter and spring in the Institut in Rothenburg in 1972. I was under the mistaken impression that one needed fluent German and French as well as good Greek and Latin to do doctoral studies in philosophy. I had French, learned a good bit of German, planned to study classical Greek in grad. school, and hoped I could wing it for the Latin. I was quite surprised how little these languages were used outside of the Greek and medieval circles at the University of Toronto.

Christopher Morris
University of Maryland

Daniel said...

After an intensive summer course at Penn, I spent two months studying German at the University of Vienna ( The campus is located just outside of the Ringstrasse, the courses are run well, and the accommodations are fairly inexpensive. I definitely recommend it.

Blinn Combs said...

The Goethe Institutes in Germany are quite good. I spent four weeks at the one in Rothenburg in 2003, and another eight weeks in Berlin. If you are primarily interested in learning German, smaller towns like Rothenburg are a better bet. The teachers there were much more insistent that students speak the language, and the locals did not reliably speak fluent English. Americans also made up a much smaller percentage of the student pool. All of these factors made life a bit more challenging, but made for much faster progress. (Berlin was wonderful, but there were so many fluent English speakers--and especially other graduate students in similar courses of study, that attempts to discourse in German outside class quickly became rare.)

Michael Sevel said...

I second Blinn Comb's comments. I did an 8-week course at the Goethe Institut in Freiburg and it was truly first-rate. I could not have asked for a better instructor and the city was wonderful. I think Robert Johnson's comment about Germans speaking English applies mainly to large urban areas like Berlin. It was my experience that very few Germans in the south had even conversational English (and even fewer the deeper one goes into Bavaria). This of course provides a distinct motivation to learn their language. In fact, I intentionally avoided Americans during my course because interaction with them was obviously quite counterproductive. It should also be mentioned that one will inevitably encounter students in these courses who are not really serious about learning the language and are enrolled for other reasons (establishing residency in Germany for other academic reasons, or because they see it as an economical alternative to backpacking). This is of course more common in the introductory courses, and in the larger urban areas like Berlin and Munich. But the educational experience itself was excellent.

Julia said...

The Humboldt University Berlin offers 4 week course in German. A friend of mine took it and it seemed to be a good glass. (I am a native speaker and linguist, and from what he told me, the class seemed very decent.)
The nice thing about this class is that they offer relatively cheap housing, and the class itself is affordable as well.

Anonymous said...

Especially for entry and intermediate students of German, the summer language program at Middlebury College is very good. It's an immersion course, rigorous, with a lot of instructional supervision, pretty good prof.'s--and, esp. the German program, is very academic, since most of the students are graduate students, and a lot of them grad students in philosophy.

My experience at the Goethe Institut in Berlin was very disappointing. Very unrigorous, unacademic, since many of the students are professionals, business people, etc. Very unfocused I thought. But I heard that for advanced students, their Oberstufe program is another story.

Michael said...

I have been trying to improve my German over the last few years and have had several good experiences in Germany. I took an intensive course (Oberstufe level) at the Goethe Institute in Frankfurt, which was really first rate, but also quite expensive. The DAAD is one possible source of funding. Another program that hasn't been mentioned, but which I found quite good, was the University of Tuebingen summer course. For intermediate and advanced students they offer thematic courses, including one in philosophy. This is the Sommerakademie. We read excerpts from various German philosophers and it was a challenge. The instructor was very knowledgeable about philosophy and also helped us a lot with the language. They offered decent housing in student dorms and there was a chance to meet and talk with German students.

Michael Rosenthal
University of Washington

Daniel Fielding said...

Please also look into the 16week long spring-summer intensive german language courses offered by the University of Michigan. I will dig up the relevant URL and post it in a bit

Kenny said...

I second the recommendation of the Middlebury College summer language school. Unlike many other immersion programs, students sign a pledge to speak only in German (as far as is possible) throughout their entire period in the program. Studying in Germany, one will be surrounded by native speakers, but if the people around you are willing to switch to English whenever it's easier for the conversation, one actually ends up with more German practice at Middlebury.

Plus, the opportunity to spend a month or two of one's summer in Vermont is lovely.

Anonymous said...

How do students commonly pay for the non-DAAD fundable programs?

The Middlebury program, for example, is almost $7k after room and board. (About a thousand dollars a week!)

Are there funding sources that aren't tied to specific programs, as opposed to DAAD?

Roma Davila said...

My plan was to complete my BA in Philosophy, and English Literature; take a year off to teach myself German and apply to German MA programs; complete the MA in German; and apply to Phil PhD programs.

One year ago I was in the "year off" and "teach myself German" phase of the plan. I was using a dense and straightforward Grammar workbook/text I picked up a few years back while in Berlin. My language proficiency was not developing at the rate I hoped it would; nor was I developing fast enough to smoothly enter into a German MA program. Then, at the behest of a German Graduate Student Advisor, I decided to go to the Taos Summer School where (in his exact words) "people go to learn German fast."

I recommend it. One year ago I could barely utter a sentence in German, definitely could not read German texts, and was far from any sort of proficiency in writing. I entered the Taos Summer School at a first-year level and left (after 30 days) at a third or fourth year level. Die Deutsche Sommerschule is now in its 34th year and is directed by the University of New Mexico in consortium with California State University, Long Beach. The Professors that teach at the summer program are excellent in terms of scholarship, and are very dedicated to the linguistic development of those who choose to attend. It is 30 days of intense, non-stop, head-pounding German. The program is not for the faint of heart. But a mere two weeks in you begin to notice that you are thinking and dreaming in German. And four weeks in, without even realizing it, the language has been interiorized and speaking is done with a great degree of automaticity. Courses have ranged from German Classicism and Enlightenment, to Film and Media Theory, to Critical Theory, to contemporary culture and literature.

The entire program runs over the course of 30 days, is in secluded Taos Ski Valley (with helps with the immersion aspects because the people we only see are each other, "ze Germans") and costs around $3600 which includes tuition, room & board (but does not include transportation to/from location, or the cost of (text)books. Students include some high-school age kids, lots of undergrads, a solid group of grad students, teachers of German, and those who just want/need to improve their German. All in all there were about 60 of us last summer (2008).

I am now in my second semester of my first year in a German MA program; I'm reading German texts with a good degree of ease, my writing has dramatically improved, and I am even teaching first-semester German. I'll be finishing in a year or so (depending on whether or not I get that pesky Fulbright to Deutschland) and look forward to getting back to Philosophy and applying to Phil PhD programs.

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