Thomas Tinnefeld / Yi-Ling Lillian Yeh
In some Western countries like Germany, language calendars have been utilized for around two decades as Christmas and other gifts for family members and friends who take an interest in learning foreign languages. This paper, exemplifying English as the target language, aims to elucidate that language calendars can be far more than just self-learning materials: They can be identified as a special type of textbook apt for classroom use. In the paper, various text types, crossword puzzles and other types of riddles are analyzed and found to be more functional for foreign language learning than is the case for their use in traditional textbooks. Other important features of language calendars, also highlighted in this paper, are their seasonal orientation and their continuity. Although some critical parts of language calendars can still be improved, language calendars as a whole are shown to be an important source of foreign language learning for those who already dispose of some basic knowledge of the foreign language in question and who want to keep up and improve this knowledge in small learning portions, step by step, day by day. Therefore, language calendars, originally conceived as self-learning materials, should not only be used for autonomous learning but also find their way into the foreign language classroom.
Key words: language calendars, foreign language teaching, ELT methodology, textbooks, teaching and (self-)learning materials.
This article deals with a new field in foreign language methodology, which has not been researched upon yet – apart from one article published in a German methodological journal, and which represents the first study in this field . The field of language calendars presented here is both promising and interesting from various perspectives. It shows considerable potential for learning – and teaching - foreign languages on a day-to-day basis. And it shows potential for more research in the future.
In Germany, language calendars have enjoyed tremendous popularity ever since they were launched on the market about 20 years ago. This statement can be made on the basis of two fundamental observations:
- Language calendars are widely used as Christmas presents due to their publication shortly before the change of years. Family members, friends and acquaintances of who people know that they are interested in foreign languages and that they have a (good) command of a foreign language, will then be given this kind of gift. Another advantage is that language calendars, used as Christmas presents, can be repeated year by year, staying “eternally new”. Therefore the creativity of the donator will never be overcharged.
- In the January after their respective year of publication, language calendars used to be offered in great numbers at reduced prices. In the past few years, however, it has become more and more difficult to purchase language calendars under such favorable price conditions as their topical editions will now be totally sold out even for the normal price.
Considering language calendars as learning materials may represent an exaggeration, yet this is what they are. Language calendars are learning materials in miniature which have many points in common with traditional learning materials, and which additionally come up with some attractive peculiarities which make them appear to be superior to traditional learning materials. These points will be elaborated in this analysis. Yet, already now, we would like to stress the following aspect.
Language calendars are textbooks. On the one hand, they can be used for self-learning. As it is impossible to give a research overview here, an exemplary choice of relatively recent publications like Council of Europe (1998), Little et al. (2000), Scharle / Szabó (2000), Mackenzie / McCafferty (2002), Palfreyman / Smith (2003), Benson (2006), Gardner (2006), Lamb / Reinders (2007) are quoted for the field of learner autonomy. Broady / Kenning (1996) deal with learner autonomy at university level, Van Esch / St. John (2003) examine learner autonomy in the context of the education of foreign teachers. For learner autonomy in English language teaching Little / Ridley / Ushioda (2002) und (2003) are pointed at.
On the other hand, language calendars can be used for foreign language teaching, a purpose, which, however, is not their primary one. Yet, this point is to be elaborated here: Language calendars can – and should – be used in the English language classroom. In the domain of foreign language teaching, a topical overview is presented in Cummins / Davison (2006). Nunan (2003) offers fruitful reflections which, at times, are linked to learner autonomy (i.e. Benson (2003)), just like Mozzon-McPherson / Vismans (2001), who focus on language advising, not only language teaching, Richards / Renandya give a theoretically well-founded, yet practice-oriented overview on the teaching of foreign languages. Gebhard (2006) follows a TESL/TEFL approach which is oriented towards teachers and their desire to enhance their teaching outcome as well as their students’ performance.
A positive aspect of language calendars lies in the fact that their textbook character is generally not obvious to the users and therefore no negative associations, which are normally related to textbooks, will be evoked. The notion of textbook can be neutral, but it can also be negatively associated. Language calendars, however, are exclusively positively connotated .
This analysis refers to English as a foreign language. It is supplementary to an article published in Germany on language calendars of French, Spanish and Italian (Tinnefeld 2005). In this analysis, we refer to the English calendar of 2006 put on the market by the most important language calendar publishing house in Germany.
The following analysis will firstly deal with the text types, presented in the calendars, and then analyze different types of exercises. The second part of the paper will refer to those aspects – positive or negative - which are hardly, or not at all, to be found in traditional textbooks.
Although the results documented here are promising, the attitude chosen should be a humble one. Teaching materials should never be confronted with too high expectations, just as Allwright put it more than twenty-five years ago:
There is a limit to what teaching materials can be expected to do for us. The whole business of the management of language learning is far too complex to be satisfactorily catered for by a pre-packaged set of decisions embodied in teaching materials. (Allwright 1981: 9)
He refers to teaching materials in general; textbooks like language calendars may, however, not be an exception.
Another important point has to be stressed. It concerns the importance of learning foreign languages and the phenomenon of multilingualism:
It has been estimated that some 60 percent of today’s world population is multilingual. From both a contemporary and a historical perspective, bilingualism or multilingualism is the norm rather than the exception. It is fair, then, to say that throughout history foreign language learning has always been an important practical concern. (Richards / Rogers 2001: 3)
This point is to be kept in mind when it is about language calendars because they represent a potentially efficient means to reach this end of multilingualism in large parts of the society.
2. Text types
The text types predominantly used in language calendars are:
In these texts, linguistic and cultural aspects of the target language or of the target country/countries, respectively, are usually linked up. The focus will first be put onto descriptions.
In the descriptions, learners are often confronted with important cultural aspects of life in the English-speaking word, such as the English breakfast:
They don’t really know what they eat do they?
Those of you who have been to England will know that the best way to start the day is with a full English breakfast. The essential ingredients of said breakfast are of course fried bacon and fried eggs but to earn the title of “full English”, a number of other ingredients must be added. These include pork sausages, black pudding, fried or grilles tomatoes, mushrooms, fried bread, hash browns, chips, baked beans and kidneys, all with a helping of toast and butter on the side.
There are many cafés in Britain which serve breakfast throughout the day and thus the full English is sometimes also known as an “all day breakfast”. Such cafés are typically frequented by manual labourers working in the area, or passing truck drivers.
(Harenberg Sprachkalender Englisch 2006, 29./30.07.2006)
The typical English breakfast represents an important part of British everyday life. Learners may have a rough idea of what this breakfast consists of. The description given in the example, however, goes beyond this potential general knowledge of theirs, being detailed and illustrative. It gives learners of English a closer look into British culture and helps them to anticipate British reality, the fact that breakfast can be had all day long in public cafés surely being a surprise to some of them.
Another possibility of using these descriptive texts is to evoke some curiosities which are important for the culture of the target language. This is the case for the Portobello Road Market:
The Portobello Road Market
Situated in the Notting Hill area of London the Portobello Road Market is one of the most famous markets in Britain as well as being one of the most visited tourist attractions in the nation’s capital.
The market is made up of three sections with a flea market in the south, a fruit and vegetable market in the centre and a market selling second hand clothing in the north. Saturday morning also sees the addition of antique stalls to the southern part of the market, with over 1500 dealers selling everything from antiques, jewellery and paintings to coins, medals, silverware and collectibles.
Portobello Road Market is always bustling and whether you’re a serious antiques collector or you’re simply looking for a bargain, it is well worth a visit.
(Harenberg Sprachkalender Englisch 2006, 18./19.11.2006)
This market is described for learners to get an impression of one of the most frequently visited tourist attractions in London and to communicate to them that it has three sections, on Saturdays even four. Another important aspect is that the geographical position of the market is mentioned and that learners are informed about when to visit it best and that visiting it is always worthwhile. In this way, learners are motivated to go to see the Portobello Road Market on their own. Texts like these evoke some empathy with the country of the target language and broaden the learners’ mental horizon. Thus they help to increase the learners’ identification potential with the foreign culture, especially when the phenomena in question are relevant to their own culture.
The dialogues report phenomena which are of importance in English speaking countries but also in countries of comparable cultures. This is the case for the text The new speed camera :
The new speed camera
Pete: Have you seen the new speed camera on High St?
Liz: Yes, I saw it today. It’s about time that we got a speed camera there. I read in the paper that there were more than 30 accidents on that stretch of road last year. It’s become a real accident black spot.
Pete: I agree, although I find the 20 mph speed limit a little bit too slow. I think a speed limit of 30 mph would be more appropriate.
Liz: Well that may be, but be careful that you don’t get caught by it. The fines are very expensive these days.
(Harenberg Sprachkalender Englisch 2006,
This text shows learners that English and American cultures are not that far away from their own (German) culture. Thus a convergence phenomenon is evoked. The same is true for the text Finally at the beach (Harenberg Spachkalender Englisch 2006, 12.07.2006). This text features three people, Rob, Liz and Pete who are going to the seaside to enjoy beach life. The typical aspect of Britain may be the low temperature of the water, which is characteristic of British seaside pleasures.
The dialogues in language calendars tend to be as “authentic” as possible – with restrictions of authenticity imposed by the characteristic features of any language-learning material. Gilmore (2004), who compared textbook interactions with authentic interactions, found out considerable divergence as far as orality is concerned, but also the tendency towards textbook dialogues becoming more more and more „natural“. As Kasper rightly states:
Comparisons of learning material dialogues and authentic discourse that there is often a mismatch between the two. (…) The reason for such inaccurate learning material representations is that native speakers are only partially aware of their pragmatic competence (the same is true of their language competence generally). (Kasper 1997)
This aspect will have to be kept in mind by textbook authors, inclusive of those who write language calendars.
Recipes represent another text type used in language calendars. As an example we will take the Yorkshire Pudding:
4 heaped table spoons (100 g) plain flour pinch of salt, 1 egg
½ pint / 300 ml milk
little oil or fat
Cooking Instructions: Put the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the egg and beat it into the flour, gradually adding the milk, and beating it to make a smooth batter (easiest with an electric mixer).
Put the oil or fat in a tin or cake tray and place on the top shelf of the oven (400 oF / 200 oC) for a few minutes until hot.
Pour the batter into the tin and bake until firm and golden brown (varies depending on size of tin). Try not to open the oven door for the first 10 minutes of cooking so that the puds rise well.
(Harenberg Sprachkalender Englisch 2006, 18./19.02.2006)
Here we also find some potential for teaching students on the basis of language calendars, because in this rubric, they come with authentic materials. Teachers can thus follow Critchley who states:
In terms of teaching genre, it is generally accepted that modelling examples of various genres is an effective method of demonstrating to students how to write or speak appropriately at the level of the entire text. For example, in the case of a recipe, a teacher would first give an example of an authentic genre. Students would then do exercises on learning the vocabulary, grammar, and generic features found in such a genre. Finally, students would have practice in creating a recipe together -- what is commonly called "joint negotiation" -- and finally produce a recipe of their own as a production stage (Marshman and Derewianka, 1997, p. 8--1). Students who are taken through this "curriculum cycle" can be expected to be more successful at producing whole texts than those who have learned from a grammar-based, or function-based syllabus. (Critchley 2007)
In this way, teachers encounter an opportunity to teach writing to students in a communicative and joyful way.
It is impossible to satisfactorily describe the multitude of text types to be found in language calendars. What has been important up to this point, however, was to give a first impression of the functionality of these calendars as well as of the teaching potential they entail as far as linguistic and factual knowledge is concerned.
Exercises focusing on grammar or vocabulary represent another important part of language calendars
3.1 Grammar exercises
The grammar exercises language calendars contain comprise a certain variety of different items. Some of them are more, and some are less traditional. The first of the exercises quoted here aims at finding the generic terms of specially regrouped words of English vocabulary (Harenberg Sprachkalender 2006, 28.09.2006).
This is a monolingual approach to vocabulary revision. It does not only aim at the foreign language itself, but also at the learner’s ability to think logically, thus representing a pedagogical, learner-friendly way of teaching foreign-language vocabulary. In addition, there may always be one or two words in these four-item packs which the learner does not know and which he will acquire after having done this exercise.
Another learner-friendly approach to vocabulary learning is represented by the exercise A family tree (Harenberg Sprachkalender 2006, 16.11.2006). The family tree used here is a very simple one. However, it enables learners to make up various relationships which, linguistically speaking, are sometimes quite complicated, like the terms mother-in-law or sister-in-law. With the easiest possible means, the language calendar provides learners with additional vocabulary - an approach which is playful, which gives them the opportunity of playing with language rather than doing dull vocabulary revision sessions. This, again, shows that the methods chosen here make the learning of foreign languages easier.
Grammar and vocabulary are neither seen as something unpleasant nor as something which is to be avoided rather than to be learnt. These exercises imply a clear affirmative towards grammar and vocabulary, an attitude which is conveyed to learners who will then do their grammar and vocabulary more willingly than they ever would if the approach utilized in the language calendar were a more sober and a less playful one
3.2 Crossword puzzles
Crossword puzzles are a constant component of language calendars throughout all languages. They will be analyzed on the basis of three examples.
The first crossword puzzle refers to words beginning with the letters au- in English (Harenberg Sprachkalender Englisch 2006, 17.08.2006). The sense of this exercise lies in finding some so-called ’hard words’, which means that their pronunciations or meanings are not obvious, sometimes not even to native speakers of English. As this is the case, the answer key is given (audition, auditor, aurora, autarchy, autocue, auto-start, autumn). The learner’s only task consists in finding the correct sequence so that vertically, the answer auction can be found. If this answer key were not given beforehand, this crossword puzzle would even be better. However, although they are given, the puzzle provides learners with the opportunity of acquiring words that they might otherwise never have come across.
Another crossword puzzle refers to Christmas (Harenberg Sprachkalender Englisch 2006, 28.12.2006). In this puzzle, there are eight words or proper names, about half of the letters of which are given. They are placed horizontally. These are: plum pudding, carol, tinsel, chestnut, turkey, Boxing Day, Santa Claus, Jesus. The missing letters must be filled in, and vertically, the answer presents must be found. Indicating some of the letters of these words at random shows the learner-friendliness of this presentation because the addressees are encouraged to find the answers even if they do not have the slightest idea of them at first sight.
Another interesting way of presenting a crossword puzzle is to show a matrix (of five horizontal and eight vertical lines) in which somewhat meaningless letters are lined up (Harenberg Sprachkalender Englisch 2006, 29.06.2006). Learners must find the words pot, bar, jar, glass, sheet, piece, loaf and bowl in this screen so that they can be linked with the given words tea, soap, jam, chocolate, water, paper, advice, bread and soup in order to form such countable expressions like a pot of tea, a bar of chocolate, or a jar of jam. This puzzle gives learners a creative access to qualifiers. By doing this exercise, they will use such expressions (more) correctly in the future.
The crossword puzzles which language calendars provide generally refer to a well-defined lexical field. This reference is intentional. Unlike crossword puzzles presented in magazines or traditional textbooks, those presented in language calendars constitute a microform of crossword puzzles which can be filled in easily and which allows learners to concentrate on the essentials. The advantage of this lexical delimitation consists in that the words to be found are located in one and the same thematic field and will therefore be memorized easily.
The motivational aspect of these crossword puzzles is created by the fact that learners will finish a given puzzle on one day. If the crossword puzzles were more complex, learners would have to leave them unfinished before working on the next task on the next calendar sheet. In this case, learners would be left behind with a feeling of unease. Thus, the way in which crossword puzzles are realized in language calendars provides learners with positive feelings of achievement and success.
These reflections show that the crossword puzzle is intentionally used in its microform. In a majority of cases, it is topic-oriented and provides learners with tremendous motivation potential. The traditional type of crossword puzzle is, thus, functionalized in a very efficient way.
The following chapter will deal with the answer keys given to learners and translations which they are provided with so that they can check their reading comprehension.
4. Answer keys and translations
As can easily be noticed in language calendars, the general feature of giving feedback to learners consists in providing answers to the exercises and riddles, and in translating the texts into their mother tongue (Harenberg Sprachkalender Englisch 2006, 24.12.2006).
In principle, there is no objection to be made to these methods as they represent more or less the only possible design for self-learning materials. Yet, it can generally be criticized that for every item, only one answer is given. However, the grammatical exercises are conceived in such a way that only one answer is possible. The translations of the texts, in their turn, reveal the structure of the English original though the translation into German is an idiomatic one. By means of this type of presentation, learners are enabled to see vocabulary “in action”. They can then decide which words are important for them, which they want to integrate into their mental lexicon and which of them they do not want to learn, due to their (un)importance for their own daily-life context. These factors are functional as well.
The next point to be analyzed is the seasonal orientation language calendars offer, which constitutes a typical feature of theirs.
5. Seasonal Orientation
The seasonal orientation of language calendars can best be exemplified by an important feast throughout the year. As an example, we will choose Christmas. The type and tone of the texts which are dedicated to the respective season may vary slightly. However, a feast of that importance will, in whatever form, be evoked in any calendar throughout all the languages. So, for example, on December 22nd, 2006, the following text can be read:
Presents under the tree
Liz has woken up in the middle of the night and thinks she has heard a noise downstairs. She is worried that it be burglars so she wakes Pete and sends him to take a look. Pete descends stairs very quietly and creeps towards the front room, which is where Liz thought she heard the noise coming from.
To his relief he discovers that they are not being burgled rather he sees Rob sitting by the Christmas tree, torch in hand, examining all of the parcels with his name on. Pete remembers that he was just as curious at Rob’s age so he isn’t too angry with him and just sends him back to bed.
(Harenberg Sprachkalender Englisch 2006,
This text conveys a typical image of how Christmas is celebrated in Great Britain, with presents placed around the Christmas tree, with curious children, and parents being afraid of burglars having entered their house, but finding that it is only their children who inspect their presents. This text may be taken as trivial, but in fact, it is not. It, again, conveys some potential of identification to the learners and gives them the opportunity of drawing their own conclusions with regard to cultural convergence or divergence.
The following text describes Boxing Day:
In England December 2006 is known as Boxing Day. It is a public holiday and traditionally a day of sport, with a full program of league football taking place. The day is usually spent with family and friends and is a good opportunity to test our new presents and recover from the excesses of the previous day.
There are several theories as to how Boxing Day got its name, none of which, however, have anything to do with the contest of sparring. The most popular of these theories is that Boxing Day originates from the Middle Ages when churches would collect money for the poor in wooden boxes. These boxes were then opened on the day after Christmas, and the money was distributed to the destitute.
(Harenberg Sprachkalender Englisch 2006, 23./24.12.2006)
What is interesting about Boxing Day is that although it is a public holiday, it is a day of sports - a combination which may be unusual for representatives of other countries. Another interesting aspect is the origin of the term Boxing Day itself. Here learners acquire an important term of British culture in an entertaining way which makes the topic interesting.
One day later, we find the following text:
Pete: Well Liz, this looks delicious darling. Thank you for cooking.
Mark: Yeah, thanks mum. Can you pass me the parsnips please?
Liz: Here you are Mark. Mmmh the turkey tastes good doesn’t it? Pete could you pass me the ` gravy
Rob: Who wants to pull a cracker with me?
Gran: Ok then Rob… Oops, you’ve won. What have you got?
Rob: A plastic moustache. Great! Now I can look like dad.
(Harenberg Sprachkalender Englisch 2006, 25.12.2006)
This text gives learners an impression of what people in Great Britain eat at Christmas. We are also told about the custom of pulling crackers. Though this approach is a humorous one, it still conveys important linguistic and cultural information.
In these texts dealing with Christmas, we find a typical feature of language calendars which consists in presenting the given information either in a serious way, by means of a short text that can easily be understood, or in a humorous way, through dialogues, which are not as deep as descriptions, but which create a vivid atmosphere of the situation evoked. Language calendars thus communicate a certain intimacy with people from other cultures and offer an linguistic context which gives learners relevant information about how to express these phenomena in the target language.
We see, then, that the seasonal orientation of language calendars represents a considerable advantage and thus stresses their attraction. Unlike traditional textbooks which also contain a certain seasonal orientation, only language calendars provide Christmas and other feasts or events at exactly the point of time when they are relevant. Due to this close link with the corresponding dates, language calendars convey a topicality as well as a mental context with the learners’ lives, which is unprecedented. This immediacy between the feast to be celebrated and its treatment in the text can only be granted by language calendars; only in this medium can it be exploited fruitfully. This aspect represents an important advantage of language calendars as compared to traditional textbooks.
We will now have a closer look at very strong point of language calendars: their continuity.
Language calendars are characterized by the phenomenon of continuity, which distinguishes them from traditional textbooks. This continuity is guaranteed by the fact that a new calendar is launched every year, which is not the case for traditional textbooks. Thus, language calendars represent permanent textbooks which are not limited in time and can, like in Germany, reach a tradition of up to twenty years.
Textbooks, in their turn, can be used for several decades as well, remaining more or less unchanged or coming in different editions throughout the years. However, we are not hinting at this point. While this phenomenon can be called ’continuity’ as well, the continuity of language calendars has other implications: It is not that the same language calendar is constantly published throughout the years – as is the case of traditional textbooks. What is pointed out here is the fact that every year, a new language calendar is published – a calendar which is totally different from the ones published in previous years. Through time, language calendars will thus accompany learners, providing them with a considerable amount of language learning materials and keeping up with language change, remaining continuously up to date.
Once learners, while using their language calendars, have obtained some success or understood that they can enrich or perfect their English in a joyful way, they will buy another calendar in the subsequent year. In this way, the positive effect produced by the calendars will be fostered further more: Learners will not only enlarge their knowledge more and more, but, by working continuously, the language items memorized before will be established firmly in the their brains. Thus, continuity is produced on two levels:
- macrostructurally, through the possibility of purchasing a new calendar year by year, and
- microstructurally, through the possibility of learning the foreign language day by day.
- the power of laziness. Due to their motivation to keep themselves updated on the basis of the chronological orientation and the small learning portions provided by texts and exercises, learners are enabled to constantly and consistently integrate new language items into their brains.
- the phenomenon of leaving acquired foreign language knowledge unused for too long and thus forgetting it. The regular use of language calendar texts and exercises enables learners to keep their knowledge of the foreign language alive.
From this perspective, language calendars prove to be superior to any traditional textbook. They provide an extremely efficient method of acquiring linguistic knowledge autonomously and of keeping this knowledge active.
Whereas important strong points of language calendars have been discussed and analyzed for far, the next point represents a problematic one. It deals with the links between texts and pictures.
7. Links between texts and pictures
An essential criticism which can be made about language calendars is the non-existent link between the texts on the one hand and the pictures or drawings which accompany them on the other. Three examples may illustrate this point.
Under the title We are planning our holiday online, there is a conversation between Liz and her son (Harenberg Sprachkalender Englisch 2006, 03.07.2006). Liz is booking their family holiday online, and Marc is astonished about that. However, he does not want to go along with his parents but will take care of their house. The drawing beside the text shows an Eskimo being in his boat on a lake with icebergs around, booking his holiday on his laptop, which can be stated from the fact that the screen shows a palm tree. Here again, apart from the two aspects of ‘holiday’ and ‘online booking’, there is no direct support between this drawing and the corresponding text. Such a representation does not help learners at all to contextualize the information given in the text. And, what is even worse, the picture misleads learners. Here again, it exclusively offers a humorous aspect. However, in order to be fruitful, it should offer a pedagogical aspect, it should increase the learner-friendliness of the linguistic units to be acquired.
Another text bears the title A Cold Wet Winter’s Day (Harenberg Sprachkalender Englisch 2006, 27.11.2006). In this text, we find Liz, who wants to do her Christmas shopping earlier but decides to do it online this year because of the heavy rainfalls which she does not like to be exposed to. The picture which accompanies the text shows an elderly gentleman who carries a bowl serving as an aquarium in which there is one single fish. The gentleman holds his hat above the aquarium so that the fish won’t get wet, but he himself will get all the wetter - and the fish is anyway. In this case, the only common point between the text and the picture is the bad weather. There is no lady, no Liz, being shown in this picture. There is no visual hint to Christmas shopping, none to online shopping. In the text, there is no hint given to an aquarium or a fish. This picture is exclusively meant to be humorous, but as far its own message is concerned, it is totally misleading.
One could say that a visual support is not necessary because the texts are translated on the backsides of the calendar sheets. This, however, is not a good argument. If there are pictures and drawings provided, they should correspond to the text they accompany. If they do not, they will do harm rather than good. Being humorous may be a nice side effect, and it may be motivating for learners. But why can the texts not be more humorous, having this humor supported by the pictures which go with them. So from whatever perspective we may look at this phenomenon, we will not find any satisfactory answer to justify the lacking support between textual and visual elements. This aspect remains to be criticized, and we hereby make an urgent appeal to the publishing house to change this habit.
A further potentially problematic point is the missing media support.
8. Media support
Another essential criticism which can be made about language calendars is the non-existent support by media. There are no CD’s, DVD's, audio cassettes or videos which provide learners with acoustic materials or visualizations.
Taking language calendars on their own, however, we cannot expect them to offer such media support. As a rule, language calendars do not address learners who start their language learning process from zero, without any basic knowledge. They rather address learners who have already acquired or who have started acquiring the language in question. These addressees, however, do not urgently need any support by acoustic or visual media. These learners know in what way the foreign language of their choice is pronounced. This criticism can therefore be neglected.
It would be desirable if language calendars offered some media support. This point, however, is not part of their concept. For the reasons mentioned here, their lacking media support, then, may be criticized, but only in a moderate way.
Language calendars do not come in one language only: They are published for several foreign languages. This aspect is of importance not only for the present, but also for the future development of language calendars.
9. Variety of languages
Another point of criticism about language calendars may consist in the fact that language calendars only exist for a relatively limited variety of languages. These are the languages which are most frequently learned in Germany, i.e. English, French, Spanish, and Italian. This criticism, however, is to be leveled as well because the economic interests of the publishing houses have to be taken into consideration. Asking for those languages like, for example, Chinese or Japanese to be adopted into the programs, or even such European languages as Swedish or Danish, would be unrealistic from an economic point of view. On the contrary, it is very positive that a language which is relatively little wide-spread in the world like Italian is part of the language calendar programs. Thus, in view of economic perspectives, the existing offer of foreign languages is to be considered as more or less acceptable, an extension of the programs in the long run being desirable.
10. Final remarks
The reflections made in this article have clarified that language calendars do represent a special type of textbook. They entail important characteristics of textbooks, with one essential component of traditional textbooks – the support by media – not being granted. This media support can, however, not be demanded. In this analysis, language calendars have proved to be a highly functional form of autonomous foreign language acquisition, especially for learners who have more than a basic command of the foreign language in question. For this reason, language calendars can be recommended for learning and perfecting foreign languages. This is true for learners who need some foreign language knowledge for their leisure time as well as for those who want to maintain their knowledge of a given foreign language, or who need it for traveling. Language calendars are also interesting for learners who want to remain lexically up-to-date, acquiring new words and new tendencies of current language usage. Due to their broad acceptance by the public, it is to be expected that language calendars already have fostered and will continue fostering the foreign language competence of Germans considerably . Language calendars should therefore be used in foreign language teaching: They are too precious to be used for self-learning only. If they were used in the foreign-language classroom, their positive effect would even be better.
Though only one language – English – has been analyzed in this paper, the aspects described here can be generalized towards any foreign language which calendars are offered for (cf. Tinnefeld 2005).
Just as we want to make an appeal to German publishing houses to improve the problematic points, formulated here, and to adopt the one or other foreign language into their programs in the future, and just as we are praising the publishing houses for inventing language calendars as a special type of textbook which entails its own justification, we would like to make an appeal to Asian publishing houses to produce language calendars for learners of English at least, but perhaps also for those of German, French or Spanish so that Asian learners can enjoy the same advantages as Germans do. Such a measure would definitely improve Asian people’s command of foreign languages even more and open up an economically interesting market.
At the end of the reflections made in this paper, some research potential of this new field will be pointed at. This will be exemplified in the form of some relevant questions:
- What type(s) of learners purchase language calendars? What are their motives to buy them? What are their expectations? Are these expectations fulfilled?
- What is the linguistic basis the authors of language calendars use? Is this an ad hoc basis or an empirical one?
- What positive impact can language calendar research have on the research on traditional textbooks?
- Are language calendars used in the foreign language classroom? If so, how? If not, why not?
- How can language calendars even be improved so as to better reflect topical self-learning theory?
- How can language calendars be given a media support although they do not provide any on their own?
- Will it be useful and desirable to create language calendars for English for special/specific purposes, e.g. for people working in the economy, in the legal field, in banking, in the field of health care, etc.?
- Will it be possible to promote the European concept of multilingual citizens - who possess reading and listening skills in several languages without necessarily being able to speak and write them - with the help of language calendars?
- Which languages, other than the ones they already exist for, should language calendars be published for? Can such a project be linguistically and economically successful?
- Should special language calendars be produced for young learners? In what ways should they differ from the calendars which already exist for adult learners?
Research projects like the ones mentioned above will provide us with further knowledge about this new field of research and will show how the best possible use can be made of this special type of textbook.
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