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UMass takes part in a German language immersion program

n.germanyProfessor Kyle Frackman and Ph.D. student Victoria Lenshyn, of the University of Massachusetts german and scandinavian studies department, traveled on Sept. 18-20 to Sweet Briar College, in Virginia, to present at an intensive german-language immersion weekend.  Thirty German teachers and faculty from across Virginia attended the program, which focused on the collaborative development of teaching materials for high school and college courses. 

This annual gathering represents an opportunity for both high school and college german teachers to come together, practice the language and develop new teaching materials for their students. Beginning Friday morning and continuing through Sunday afternoon, the conference was conducted entirely in German. 

Frackman and Lenshyn’s program focused on using films made in East Germany as teaching tools.  East and West Germany were reunified on October 3, 1990 and, according to the presenters, a decreasing number of students have any memory of the separated nations. Frackman explains that these younger students need to be aware of history.

”It is important to remind [the students] of the complete image of East Germany,” said Frackman.   

Frackman and Lenshyn sought to help teachers incorporate these films into classroom teaching, for a multitude of purposes.  In addition to critical analysis, Frackman and Lenshyn explained how the films can serve other educational functions. 

Frackman said that, “The teachers enjoyed seeing more of East Germany that just the image of the Communist, totalitarian government… more than just the oppression.”

Lenshyn elaborated that these films offer a view of “day-to-day life,” providing a more complete vision of East Germany.  Frackman and Lenshyn explained that this wider perspective allows these films to be analyzed in broad historical and social contexts, allowing teachers to include lessons on such topics as politics or social change.  Frackman additionally suggested that the films could be utilized for lessons on language and grammar. 

In conjunction with the UMass DEFA Film Library—which is the only archive and study center outside of Europe devoted to films from and about East Germany—Frackman and Lenshyn presented a number of East German films, and ways they could be included in various lesson plans. Those attending the conferences had watched and critically analyzed the films, much in the way students in a classroom would. Programs like this benefit both students and teachers, noted Frackman and Lenshyn.  These seminars, according to Frackman and Lenshyn, provide new and interesting material for students, as well as provide teachers with opportunities to cultivate and improve teaching approaches. 

Frackman had commented on the timing of the intensive german-language immersion weekend, as November 9th, 2009 marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  The films studied at the conference were all selected from WENDE FLICKS: Last Films from East Germany, a film series organized by the DEFA Film Library commemorating the enormous changes that took place in Germany 20 years ago.

Frackman continued on to note that WENDE FLICKS is part of a series of original events taking place on campus relating to the fall of the Berlin wall; these will include the construction of a mock Berlin Wall that students will be able, and encouraged to graffiti. 

The intensive german-language immersion weekend was the result of a shared effort between the Virginia Chapter of the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG), the Goethe Institute in Washington D.C., Sweet Briar College and the DEFA Film Library.

Rachel Tumin can be reached at

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