Intensive German: What Is Education Like With IES Vienna?

Colin Baumgartner
February 20, 2013

Learning about Viennese breakfast in the best way possible…

As an education major, my experiences in Austria so far have been very inspirational.  For me, the real challenge of education is making the experience authentic and formative.  I think so often the danger of a traditional classroom is that it very quickly slips into being neither of these things.  This often isn’t the teacher’s fault, but in my opinion, a direct result of the system.  School is simply so dramatically divided from the rest of life and the world; entering school often seems like entering an artificial world that exists in veritable isolation from everything else.  This very fact is what makes education such a challenging thing…

I was somewhat worried when I heard that the first few weeks would be intensive German; don’t get me wrong, I love German, but the thought of 3 hours of German every day seemed like quite a bit.  I was relieved when I realized that this did not simply mean 3 hours of grueling German in a tiny classroom.  To supplement and enrich our German education, we would be making class trips to various locations in Vienna and bringing Austrian culture into the classroom as well.  I remember being quite impressed by the first example of this: Frau Sernett brought in everything we would need for a full Viennese breakfast.  The class learned the vocabulary for everything in the best way possible––not only through memorization, but through sampling and real experience with the things.  We tasted our way through various cheeses, meats, breads, and rolls; in the end I feel as if I learned the information more fully than if I’d simply been looking at a list of food terms.  This is an education that requires all of the senses.

Learning about Viennese breakfast in the best way possible…

Various other means of working away at the isolation of learning and expanding the classroom into the large world of Vienna: we took a class trip to Café Central, we visited Parliament, we watched Haneke’s Das Weisse Band––which related to the topics we’d been learning about in class––and learned vocabulary through the movie, and we took a trip to the Leopold Museum where we were given a tour in German.

All of these things were wonderful opportunities to immerse ourselves in German in a more real setting.  The artificiality of learning in an restrictive environment crumbles away when the context of the classroom is broadened!  There has been something so profound about the program structure here and I certainly plan on implementing similar experiences into my own classes (as much as possible) when I begin teaching.  Even small things––like bringing in various breakfast items to connect the food terms with the food more immediately––makes such a big difference in terms of how the experience impacts the learner.

Discussing the reading from the previous night in a Kaffeehaus makes for a very different classroom experience


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Colin Baumgartner

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Colin Baumgartner is a Junior studying to be a secondary English education teacher. Colin grew up as a second generation Austrian and has always had a distinct sense of being split between two cultures&ndash;&ndash;Austrian and American. Studying abroad in Vienna, Colin will have an opportunity to really explore the Austrian side of his heritage. When not buried in literature or writing, Colin enjoys blogging, hiking, cooking, working out, and traveling. Colin is an unabashed aesthete and gourmand, so the beautiful foods, sights, and people of Europe will not go unnoticed or unrelished. Dum vivimus, vivamus!</span></p>

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