This past Thursday, I chatted with Katrin Laschober, the visiting TA in the German Department at Bates. Laschober is teaching German 102: Introduction to German Language and Culture II this semester. She is from Austria and speaks both German and English, and this is her first time teaching in America. When she was about ten years old, Laschober started learning English in school and eventually went on to study abroad in high school for a semester in Kansas. In addition to German and English, Laschober studied French in high school and can speak a little Italian after studying abroad for a semester in Italy.
In her studies, Laschober focuses on language acquisition, psycholinguistics, and speech pathology. Laschober initially started studying linguistics because she had “always wanted to study German language and couldn’t decide between the two subject areas.” She described her studies as exploring how children acquire, or learn new languages. She is amazed at how children can learn so quickly, some in only a few years. “How can they say sentences that they have never ever heard before in their lives? How are they able to produce those kinds of grammatical structures?”
While it seems to be a well-known fact that children seem to absorb new languages much faster than adults, Laschober clarified that this can be attributed in part to one of the differences between children and adults: a level “consciousness” when learning a new language. Children tend to be relatively unaware of the large amount of information they are learning. Therefore, they are “unconscious of the processes” involved in learning a new language. This can contribute to their ability to take in new grammatical structures and vocabulary words with ease.
In Austria, Laschober taught German in an after-school program for students raised in Vienna who learn German as a second language. Although the students are younger and have an easier time learning German, unfortunately, their motivation to learn the new language can potentially suffer. In a way, they do not have a choice in learning this new language because they are leaving their home countries due to war or other destabilizing circumstances. Laschober explained that the kids “come to Austria, and then are surrounded by German. Their first language is anything else, like Arabic or Turkish. But now they live in Austria and they have to learn German,” to keep up in school.
Laschober’s students in Austria are usually in a minority and are “surrounded by people who speak German very well,” which can remind them constantly “that they have to improve in certain areas of the language.” Because of this, Laschober tries to combat the “otherness” they might feel. She respects her Austrian students and the effort they are able to make in learning German and tries to convey that learning a new language is a “positive” and “useful” experience.
Laschober is teaching at Bates this year on a Fulbright scholarship and would love to stay here longer. She raved that her students at Bates are “motivated and doing such a great job.” In her classes, she tries to convey the fun of learning a new language, and all that can be discovered in doing so. “I just really hope I can show them the whole new world and opportunities that can come along with learning German.”