Senior Teaching Award for 2013 – Ms Undine Weber

Language acquisition can be seen as a necessary means to an end, namely to develop understanding between people and cultures.  So says Ms Undine Weber, Head of German Studies in the School of Languages and the recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award for 2013.

When the time came, Weber says, she didn’t want to leave school, which partially explains why she and many of her colleagues became academics! However, she warns that what is being embarked on is not always clear at the outset of an academic career. Teaching is unfortunately sometimes seen as being in opposition to research and therefore not carrying the same academic prestige. This view, says Ms Weber, is both factually wrong and disdainful and she is grateful for the importance which Rhodes places on teaching and learning.

Many academics begin their careers assuming they will be focusing on research, and then find themselves at a loss standing in front of a class, expected to teach. Again, Rhodes has the advantage here over many other universities, with the excellent Assessor’s Course run by CHERTL. Ms Weber was trained in the didactics of language and literature at her Alma Mater of Bonn University and was glad of this background when she started teaching.

In the past, German used to be taught in the same way that it was taught in Germany, however this is not viable today. Universities have to engage with the needs of economic markets, and yet language at university level needs to be more than just service courses. Ms Weber noted that she has undertaken some research into whether studying a foreign language increases cultural competence, i.e. the ability to understand, appreciate and interact with people of other cultures. Part of this research looks at whether increasing competence in language and culture is seen as a positive development or whether people feel that it alienates them from their own cultural background. And do they perceive the need for intercultural competence as an external pressure, in the race for professional advantages?

This research is important in the South African context where the phenomena of intercultural fatigue and essentialising has been the flipside of the cultural and language diversity of South Africa. Ms Weber’s research will provide a valuable insight into attitudes towards acquiring intercultural competence, and German Studies at Rhodes, she believes, can act as a valuable tool in the transformation of post-apartheid South Africa, fostering critical thinking and encouraging cultural integration.

Source:  Communications

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