More than just grammar: German for students at Jacobs University Bremen
Dr. Stefan Baumgarten introduces international students at Jacobs University to the German language and society. Photo: L. Devereux ,


November 8, 2018

Three sexes, four cases - and then all those adjectives! German is known to be a difficult language. Just how complicated the grammar in particular is can also be felt by the students of the English-medium Jacobs University, who come from more than 100 countries. German courses are obligatory for them. One of their instructuors, who teaches the language and tells them about German culture, is 50-year-old Dr. Stefan Baumgarten.

Born in Braunschweig, Germany, Baumgarten has been teaching German at Jacobs University for a year now. He has taught at various universities in Great Britain for 20 years of his life. In two regional studies courses entitled "German Politics and Culture" and "Contemporary Germany", he teaches his students interesting facts about German culture, politics and society. "The aim is to enable students to communicate in German, to have simple conversations and to gain a deeper understanding of their host country through the language," says Baumgarten.

Language skills are the key to integration and Jacobs University's German and regional studies courses create the necessary prerequisite for its success. Two 75-minute courses per week are compulsory for both Bachelor's and Master's students. The level of the courses is based on the European Framework of Reference for Languages. They start at level A1, which is about understanding and using everyday expressions and very simple sentences, and end at C1 for the most eager language students. Those who have reached this level have developed a very good understanding of the language and can express themselves comprehensively.

Learning the language is not only a way for students to gain a deeper insight into German culture and establish contacts - the language skills they have acquired also serve as an additional qualification to round off their CV. Many consider staying in Germany after their studies, and in order to achieve this, good language skills are usually indispensable. For Baumgarten, teaching is not a one-way street. "The contact with students from so many nations is extremely enriching. There are great people there. The diversity can also be continued in class."

The lecturer has been dealing with language for many years. Baumgarten studied translation sciences and earned his doctorate at Aston University in Birmingham, Great Britain, with a thesis on the various translations and their history from Hitler's "Mein Kampf" into English. Recently his book "Translation and Global Spaces of Power" was published by Multilingual Matters, which he edited together with a colleague. Among other things, it deals with the dominance of English-speaking cultures. According to Baumgarten, this dominance is often associated with a loss of cultural diversity. Most literary translations into English are oriented towards the linguistic and cultural mainstream - an adaptation to mass taste, which is also and to a large extent attributable to economic factors.

But Baumgarten is currently dealing with other topics. The range of German courses at Jacobs University, currently designed for more than 700 students, is to be expanded and refined. This also includes creating more opportunities for students to apply their language skills, for example by forming tandems consisting of a native and a foreign language speaker.

This text is part of the series "Faces of Jacobs", in which Jacobs University is featuring students, alumni, professors and employees. For more stories, please have a look at