Developing German Reading Skills at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz

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This July I traveled to Mainz, Germany to participate in a three week summer school in German and Theology. The course was hosted at Johannes-Gutenberg University of Mainz, one of the largest universities in Germany. The purpose of this intensive course was to strengthen my ability to read scholarly texts in German (a requirement for my doctoral program in Christian Origins), and also to provide an introduction to the academic culture and history of German theology.

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In addition to the daily course work we also participated in two excursions where we visited cities of historical importance. At the end of the first week were taken on a walking tour of Mainz. We visited the twelfth century cathedral, explored the old city, and walked along the beautiful Rhine River. The following Saturday we visited Speyer and Worms, both of which have impressive cathedrals and are the sites of important events in the history of Germany theology.

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Mainz Cathedral (circa 10th century CE)

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The Reformation Monument in Worms (Photo: David Jimenez)

Although I had studied the language previously, I was nervous about conversational German. I expected it to be a challenge to do simple things, like follow directions or order at a restaurant. I determined to put these concerns aside and try my best to use the language, as painful as it may be. I was very pleased that after three weeks my German improved significantly. I could follow a simple conversation and even listen to academic lectures with benefit. The locals I met were glad to help me master basic phrases, and even helped me with pronunciation. This was a surprising bonus, and I found that developing conversational skills improved my ability to translate more challenging works. I was also concerned that the course itself would be beyond my ability. I was happy to find that nearly all of my cohort was at the same place in their language abilities. Our instructors tailored the material to our skill level and challenged us appropriately.

As a result of this course I learned that as important as it is to study in a classroom, there is no substitute for a language immersion experience. The combination of translating academic texts and working on conversation skills at the same time proved to be the perfect recipe for language development. I also learned that if I invest the time and energy required for reading difficult German prose that there is immense pay off. My research requires that I read and interpret large amounts of German texts, and as a result of this course, the expectation of my doctoral program seems more manageable. I also have a better grasp of the theological history and academic world of German biblical scholarship. Now when I engage with German research and thinkers I do so with much greater insight. I also learned that Germany is a beautiful and fascinating country. I hope to return again soon!

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Walking along the Rhine River

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Graduation Ceremony for the Summer School

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