In this section, Peter Weise discusses the role of guest speakers in the course and shares tips for incorporating guest speakers successfully into a language curriculum.
Native German speakers from various fields visit the class throughout the semester. The guests bring unique perspectives and have interesting content that they teach students, but their greatest value is that they offer students exposure to how German professionals communicate. It doesn’t get much more authentic than speaking with a German who has experience working in the fields students may one day find themselves. That’s what this class is all about.
I don’t always tell my guest speakers that their main goal is to model language use, but I do see this as their main purpose. For instance, I ask one guest speaker, who comes every year, to talk about his career path. I make sure this coincides with sessions where students learn how to construct their own curriculum vitae. When the guest speaker visits the class, he distributes a copy of his own CV and then, as he talks about his career, he (unknowingly!) models how to translate his CV into a narrative—which is something professionals in all fields need to be able to do. Two weeks later I ask students to do the same thing with their own resumes.
One of my goals in the course is that students be able to speak about their education, their research, and their job aspirations. This is something everybody, whether you’re in architecture, biology, or math, will have to do when working in Germany. The first thing people will ask you when you show up to the job is, “What do you do? Why are you here?” Guest speakers model the language and authentic language behaviors that students will need to thrive in those communicative situations. As a class, we observe the phrases the guest speakers use, we look at the way they talk about their careers, and when they leave, we critique their demeanors, postures, and other communicative elements.
Tips for Educators
To educators hoping to incorporate native speakers into their language curricula, I would say “the more, the better” because they offer authentic language experiences. To be successful, these experiences should not be contrived. You shouldn’t tell guest speakers to speak more slowly, or to only use certain words. No. You want students to see how Germans will speak when they go to Germany.
You also want to tell presenters exactly what you want from them. You don’t have to tell them the truth (i.e., that you want students to observe their language behaviors), but you do need to tell them what they should or should not do in class. It has to be purposeful. You have to think about what makes the presentation worth it. It should be something that you can’t do yourself or that wouldn’t be as good through video or a textbook example. It often comes down to time. If you can do the same thing with less effort or in less time, than bringing in a guest speaker is not the solution.