A Study on the Effective Paths of Enhancing the Speaking Competence of German-learning College Students in Mainland China

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2021

9 Pages, Grade: 1.0


A Study on the Effective Paths of Enhancing the Speaking Competence of German-learning College Students in Mainland China

He Bailing

English has long been a global language and it is also a compulsory subject in primary and middle schools and colleges and universities in Mainland China. Yet, with the deepening of China's reform and opening up, the demand for new second and third foreign languages has considerably increased. Given Mainland China's increasingly harmonious relations with Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the demand for German-speaking talents has been growing. Correspondingly, the (Chinese) National Entrance Examination for Postgraduates has included a German test as one of the foreign language tests, and the Chinese Ministry of Education has included German in the high school curriculum since early 2018. As learning English is compulsory in Mainland China, most German learners have studied English for at least six years before learning a second foreign language and most German learners are college students. Yet, because of the differences between the Chinese language and the English and German languages, the college students encounter more difficulties than the Indo-European language speakers do while learning English and German. Furthermore, foreign language learners in Mainland China often find reading and writing easier than listening and speaking.

As a result, this study will address how English learning causes positive transfer in the speaking competence of German-learning college students in Mainland China.

Research Hypothesis and Objectives

- Research Hypothesis:

English learning has positive impacts on the speaking competence of German-learning college students in Mainland China.

- Research Objectives:

1. Find out the effective paths of enhancing the speaking competence of German- learning college students in Mainland China
2. Find out the phonetic and phonological, lexical, and grammatical similarities between the English and German languages.
3. Find out how these similarities help college students learn German more effectively
4. Find out how the positive transfer is realised with the factors above.

Literature Review

Third Language Acquisition

Language transfer refers to the influence of the language to be acquired on the current acquired language caused by the similarities and differences between languages (Dictionary.apa.org.). Britta Hufeisen (1998) gives a definition of a third language in Tertiärsprachen-Theorein, Modelle, Methoden (Tertiary Languages-Theories, Models, Methods), “a third language is a second foreign language acquired in chronological order after the acquisition of the first one” (p. 169).

The study on trilingualism first began in Germany in the 1970s when linguists studying the writing of secondary school students discovered the possible influence of the first foreign language on the acquisition of the second. Beate Lindemann (1998) points out that many linguists in the 1960s and 1970s were actually working with learners who were multilingual, but they did not take into account that the foreign language that the learner had acquired could have an impact on the new language acquisition process, because the native language was still seen as the only influence and the learner's previous second language was not analysed (p. 159).

Hufeisen (1998) presents a model of the factors that exert influences on the acquisition of different languages, pointing out that the acquisitions of a mother tongue, a second languages, and a third language are influenced by completely different extrinsic and intrinsic factors. She also (1991) points out that trilingual acquisition can be analysed by means of a comparison between two groups of co­temporal data studies.

The order of foreign language acquisition also plays an important role in the acquisition of three languages. So far, the most studied order of foreign language acquisition is first English and then German. Linguists have studied the order of this foreign language acquisition among many learners of different native languages. She (1991) found for the first time that English as the first foreign language plays a positive role in the acquisition of German as the second foreign language as both are similar to each other. Stephen Barbour and Patrick Stevenson (1995) state that the English and German languages belong to the Indo-European language family and are members of the Western branch of the Germanic language family (p. 24). Thus, German learners usually turn to English when they encounter difficulties. Hakan Ringbom's The Role of the First Language in Foreign Language Learning (1987) marked the official start of trilingual acquisition research. Since then, researchers have conducted preliminary theoretical and empirical discussions on trilingual acquisition from different perspectives, including phonetic, lexical, and grammatical transfer.

Phonetic and Phonological Similarities

The English and German consonant systems are similarly structured and feature a number of phonemes that share the same descriptions. Both the English and German langauges have, as Alfred Charles Gimson (1994) and König Ekkehard and Volker Gast (2009) state, twenty-four consonantal phonemes. Yu Bo (2017) compares the vowels, consonants, accents, and intonations of the two languages and concludes that they have great similarities in phonetics, especially in terms of vowels and consonants which are beneficial to learning the pronunciations of the two languages. However, he is also worried that these similarities can also easily cause confusion to German learners, because they may obscure the fact that differences exist as well.

Usha Gosawami (2005) asserts that, within alphabetic languages, spelling-to-sound consistency can differ dramatically. The English and German languages are very similar in their phonological and orthographic structure but not in their consistency. Thus, it is often argued that reading acquisition has a reciprocal effect on phonological awareness (pp. 345-365). Ester Grabe (1998) argues, based on a cross- linguistic corpus analysis, that English and German speakers may, in identical contexts, produce highly similar intonation patterns and that these may be represented as having the same underlying tonal structure.

Lexical Similarities

The Encyclopedia Britannica (2002) proves that a quarter of the vocabulary of modern English is of Germanic origin. The two languages have many common words of Latin, French, and Greek origins, but often with different pronunciations and intonations. Furthermore, the Latin alphabet is common to both languages (p. 552). Accordingly, Shi Yurong (2019) argues that there are many similarities between the affixes of the two languages and the morphological rules are basically the same. Both languages have been influenced by the Latin and Greek languages and there are many words with the same form and different pronunciations.

Grammatical Similarities

The grammatical rules of the German and English languages also show a striking similarity. John A. Hawkins (2017) draws together the key differences and similarities between the two languages from both diachronic and synchronic perspectives. Songxian Liu (2019) points out that, compared with the Chinese language, the German and English grammars are very similar such as the inflections of verbs and the use of prepositions. Junyi Yan (2019) states that the two languages have the same roots and have many similarities in grammatical structure, sentence order, and pronunciations.

Research Methodology and Design


- Select 10 students (5 girls and 5 boys) majoring in German and 10 students (5 girls and 5 boys) majoring in English at one university which belongs to the “Double First-class Initiative” in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou respectively.
- Select 10 students (5 girls and 5 boys) majoring in German and 10 student (5 girls and 5 boys) majoring in English at a non-“Double First-class Initiative” in a central province and two western provinces of Mainland China.
- Compare the speaking competence of German of these different groups in terms of location, city, university, major, and gender.


Excerpt out of 9 pages


A Study on the Effective Paths of Enhancing the Speaking Competence of German-learning College Students in Mainland China
University of Louvain
Catalog Number
study, effective, paths, enhancing, speaking, competence, german-learning, college, students, mainland, china
Quote paper
Master of Art Bailing He (Author), 2021, A Study on the Effective Paths of Enhancing the Speaking Competence of German-learning College Students in Mainland China, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1167512


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