In recent years foreign language education at the elementary level has received new attention from teachers, parents and politicians, and its introduction into all primary schools is now at hand. Therefore, a review of the theoretical foundations and empirical findings seems appropriate. The present article proposes to undertake such a review in terms of the following aspects: 1. Arguments for an early start; 2. Goals; 3. Contents; 4. Methods; 5. Materials; 6. Evaluation; 7. Teacher Education; 8. Open questions.
The paper presents, in the context of the changes that are presently occurring in the Federal Republic of Germany and in Europe, perspectives for a new and enlarged understanding of teaching and learning of foreign/second language and, consequently, for anew framework of teacher training. On the basis of this analysis it defines second language research (‘Fremdsprachenforschung’) in new terms, including research on the respective speech communities and their cultural systems as well as on the structure and cognitive acquisition processes of pragmatic-interactive and intercultural competence. Such an interdisciplinary, learner- and, at the same time, teaching-oriented approach requires a clear and sophisticated view of the research methods appropriate for the objects, issues and goals defined.
The paper also discusses the interrelation between second/foreign language learning and teaching theory based on research and the actual learning and teaching process in school. It warns against overrash generalizations and direct applications aiming to ‘optimize’ classroom practice. Finally, other basic issues in second language research are identified that are relevant on a national/international level and that will have to be dealt with more systematically. In this context, some perspectives are developed for the near future.
In the former GDR the methodology of teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) was subject to a strict system of directives from the Ministry of Education and the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences in the fields of teaching and research. Apart from conducting uniform courses of studies and state-run research assignments, several universities carried out their own investigations, mostly continuing decades of research. Their results were often included in the training of student teachers. Continuous training in the methodology of TEFL as well as a well-balanced proportion of theory and practice was ensured by a one-phase course of studies.
Besides the usual communicational objectives, all the curricula, documents, and textbooks of TEFL in the GDR underlined the necessity of proving the “superiority of socialism to capitalism”. Selected texts served to compare specific aspects of both societies. The Universities of Leipzig and Halle and the Potsdam College of Education were prominent centres of research into the methodology of TEFL. After the revolutionary events of 1989 these institutions have been continuing their investigations in a reunited Germany.