FSI German: Too Old?

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reineke
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Re: FSI German: Too Old?

Postby reineke » Wed Apr 19, 2017 10:45 pm

I got the expression for free from TV shows. If anyone is looking for something more modern but still substantial, try to find Je parle l’Allemand [I (can) Speak German] by Editions Atlas, 1988. The audio is 32 hours long.
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Re: FSI German: Too Old?

Postby Speakeasy » Tue Apr 10, 2018 11:51 pm

Please note that I am not trying to revive the debate on the virtues and vices of the FSI German Basic course. Rather, while searching the Internet for related materials recently, I came across a now somewhat dated review by an Amazon customer which I found made for interesting reading and it occured to me that some other members might appreciate the reviewer's perspective. The review itself was filed (incorrectly) under an old entry for "Mastering German (Macmillan Series)" by A.J. Peck, which I can confirm is not in the least related to the FSI German Basic course.

Amazon Customer Review
(5 stars) by customer "Ginkgo", July 22, 2011
Old school. Ugly on the outside, beautiful on the inside. Pick text and audio carefully.

First, the mechanics of printing. This book is a lightly edited transcription of public domain language training material. The original text, which is available for free as a pdf file on the web, is a copy of an old manual government typescript. The Barron's upgrade is certainly set in nicer type and is easier to read. Unfortunately, many petty errors are introduced. For the beginner in German, this could be a problem. For those with even a little background in the language, it is merely annoying. One is left with a choice between the convenience of a book with a good typeface and petty errors, or an old typewriter script without the errors. My slight recommendation would be to have the typescript pdf file printed and bound at a copy center.

However, this book is just a part of a larger program.

This is a public domain, State Department language program left over from the 50's or 60's. The bad news is that the text is a reproduction of the original typewriter version and the original audio is terrible. But the good news is that the program content is excellent, and inexpensive remastered audio versions can be found that are very serviceable. This program is for the person who is serious about learning German. This is not a little traveler's phrase book or a language computer game. For serious self-instruction of spoken German and a complete basic grammar, this is still the only game in town.

The text is a reproduction of the original State Department, Foreign Services Institute (FSI), typescript. It looks to have been hand-typed on a manual typewriter, with occasional penned-in special characters. Artifacts are frequent and petty errors are common, but manageable. In short, ugly, but serviceable. Barron's has a prettier transcribed text with many introduced errors. Barron's book with units 1-12 is readily available. The final book, with units 13-24 is occasionally available as a used book. Following the introduction, which is actually instructions for use, and should be read carefully, there are 24 units, average length 28 pages, with a section on basic sentences, pronunciation, grammar, and drills, drills, drills, and drills. Taken together, they provide a very basic, but complete introductory course in German grammar and usage, with a strong emphasis on spoken colloquial German. In several ways the text will seem peculiar in comparison to modern general textbooks. The topics and vocabulary were chosen to be of interest to embassy employees. Speech and social patterns seem about 50 years old: Lots of "Sie" and very little "du;" and use of "Fräulein," etc. No inclusion of the current pervasive introduction of American English into spoken German. All this means that you get pure, unadulterated, traditional German `Hochdeutsch' from a half a century ago. This is a slightly lower register version of how you would have been trained by a professional had you attended the immersion program at the Goethe Institut class of Dora Schulz in Bad Reichenhall in the 60's. Upon completion, conversion to current spoken forms and English loanwords will be quick and easy.

The audio is another matter. There are two "problems."

Problem one is the choice of voice artists. These are obviously not professional voices. It sounds as thought they got Fritz, Frieda, or whomever from the office and gave them a microphone by the water cooler. Pronunciation seems to have several regional variants, none of which meets current stage German standards of Duden. And this is colloquial German. Lots of words run together. Lots of contractions. "Können" is pronounced "könn'n," rather than "könn- en," etc. And they talk at a regular, perhaps even fast, street tempo. But this is what you will hear on the street, so you may as well get used to it. If you need to read text and hear stage German or elevated German spoken clearly and slowly, and you should, you can listen on the web to the daily Deutsche Welle, Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten, or to SlowGerman, or for each word on LEO. Or you can hire a Skype tutor trained in German linguistics for German as a foreign language, not just an educated native speaker, or someone trained in German for Germans. But, then again, if you hire a COMPETENT tutor, and as a struggling student for many years, I would highly recommend it, they will take care of your language development, and you will not need this program.

Problem two is the recording quality. If you buy directly from the Federal Government and many vendors, the audio has pops, hisses, dead air, gurgles, volume inconsistency etc. Rough, very rough, Fortunately, Plurality Languages sells a version that has been electronically remastered, and those severe problems have been removed, although volume is inconsistent from file to file. There are also a series of free mp3 files on the web that have been cleaned and seem pretty good, but are a pain to download.

How does this fit into an overall program of learning German? An old rule of thumb is that it takes about 2000 hours of study for an intelligent adult to become completely proficient in a foreign language. Some languages, such as German, take a little longer. Some, such as Japanese, take a lot longer. If you read the recommendations for German by Goethe Institut or by University of Vienna and puzzle though their class and homework recommendations, it should take about 2100-2300 hours to reach this level, designated C2 (proficiency). Along the way, are levels A1 (beginner) and A2 (elementary), B1 (intermediate)and B2 (upper intermediate), and C1 (advanced). If you are an absolute beginner, this complete FSI program should take about 480 hours, or about 15 months at one hour a day, and should place you somewhere in A2. You should be able to speak, and understand much spoken and written German and communicate on non-abstract topics. This assumes you actually study the program and work the exercises aloud. It is work. It is not fun. These are drills. They work. You are building language engrams - uses of and responses to the language that are highly intuitive, seemingly without conscious thought. To lighten things up, but this probably would not work for engram-building or study hours, you should go on the web and listen to some movies and programs on ZDF or ARD. In summary, by the time you are finished, you will certainly not be fluent in German, but you have a modest beginning on the language, and be able to handle the most common daily non-abstract affairs. You will probably be better at speaking German than most American students who have completed 2-3 years of university German.

Serious self-study alternatives to this program are few. Most are childish or incomplete. And all seem inefficient. On the web are similar public domain courses, and free, but less complete. Pimsleur has good pronunciation, but is limited in scope, is expensive, and has no corresponding serious text. Rosetta Stone is hideously expensive and the web demo seems more like a child's computer game. All of these can be tried free online. You will be disappointed. Other sources are excellent, such as Schulz and Griesbach's legendary old school text, but these do not have any audio, so cannot be used without a tutor or prior German skills. The point is that your time, not your dollar, is the expensive part of language acquisition. Be efficient with your time. Despite the advertisements and airport kiosk banners of Rosetta Stone or web pages of Rocket Languages, you cannot purchase your easy way to language proficiency. If you want to spend money, hire a competent tutor.

The program is not intended to be an academic study of German, i.e. grammar and usage is only taught to the extent necessary to further spoken ability. If you want some linguistic study, you have lots of choices. Try Hammer's Grammar and the associated workbook or when you are ready, the appropriate volumes of Duden. Also, this is also not a little program of survival German for travelers. If you want that, you have lots of choices, such as those by Berlitz.

Vendor selection for this program is important. Perhaps the worst vendor is the US Government, NTIS. It is expensive, low quality, and now incomplete. Barron's and several other commercial vendors vary in quality, segments, price, and audio format and quality (generally, but not always poor). The entire 24 units are often broken up into units 1-12 and units 13-24, and called FSI German Basic Course I and II. And you can now download a pretty good version of the pdf text and mp3 audio on the web, but the files are big, and the downloads are tedious. The best current vendor seems to be Plurality Language, and their companion com site ForeignServiceInstitute. Prices are great, delivery is fast, and you can get the entire set on one DVD. I once had a problem with audio files, and they resolved it quickly and at vendor's expense. But the big advantage with Plurality Language, is that the sound of their remastered audio files is CLEAN. Remember, your time, not your dollar is the real cost. Get the best copy you can.

Despite all of the problems with text and audio, the quality of the content justifies five stars.

You can learn basic spoken German from this program on your own if you have the motivation. It is all up to you.

Update 6 May 2012

After several months study with the mp3 files from the commercial ForeignServiceInstitute and the free dot org site (just search for FSI German Basic), I switch my recommendation to the free files. The commercial files have been cleaned such that the pauses for student oral response are too short for a good speaking pace. The dot org files give much longer (and in my opinion better) periods for student response. But if one likes to be forced to speak quickly, choose the commercial files. Just remember, the free files require several dozen tedious downloads.
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Re: FSI German: Too Old?

Postby Tristano » Wed Apr 11, 2018 10:33 am

I didn't read the rest of the comments. A lot of formal English and intellectual words makes me think that there is a religion war going on.
In the moment I'm writing I'm eating a sandwich with chocolate spread and I regret not having a beer with me.

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I think about language learning not as a sequential but as an iterative process. It is more likely to see an unicorn that meows and dances a polka (dream incubation/lucid dreaming techniques are helpful here) than learning every word, sentence, rule or structure correctly at the first attempt.
The German spoken 100 years ago is the same language that is spoken now. Learning old vocabulary and old structures doesn't prevent you to learn their modern variaties. When we learn something, we have to let go the idea that we have to master it from the beginning. Using those old-fashioned vocabulary when speaking with someone won't prevent you to be understood in the same way that you will be still understood when your accent is strong, or you phrase with a wrong word order, or you get a case wrong. The main difference is that you are not learning something wrong, but something that was correct and it is still part of the language. Everybody gets acquainted with the old language and has to study it at school.

What is the big deal if you use an old-fashioned word? Someone will laugh, you can laugh together. It's nice! You will get corrected and you will further build your knowledge up. If the resource is solid, it gives you anyway a boost. Even if the resource is perfect in every aspect: you will still need to study and learn further. It's time to stop with the 'learn a language in 3 month' concept. Learning is a marathon. If you take it as a sprint you won't go very far away. You will just be more communicative in the short term, but far away from perfect.
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Re: FSI German: Too Old?

Postby Speakeasy » Thu Apr 12, 2018 11:39 am

FSI German / FSI French - Updated
Those readers who had given up all hope of ever finding a modern audio-lingual course for the study of German or French might find encouragement in the announcement of a project to publish “updated” versions of the FSI German and FSI French courses. The sheer mass of materials to be transcribed, updated and re-recorded is imposing, I sincerely wish the team that is working on this self-financed project much success. I would gladly support a crowd-funding initiative to spur them on. I had completely forgotten about the discussion thread below. Many thanks to Stefan for his reminder!

FSI Basic Courses “Updated”: Dr. Brians Languages
https://forum.language-learners.org/viewtopic.php?p=80991#p80991
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Re: FSI German: Too Old?

Postby Cavesa » Thu Apr 12, 2018 10:35 pm

Speakeasy wrote:Serious self-study alternatives to this program are few. Most are childish or incomplete. And all seem inefficient. On the web are similar public domain courses, and free, but less complete. Pimsleur has good pronunciation, but is limited in scope, is expensive, and has no corresponding serious text. Rosetta Stone is hideously expensive and the web demo seems more like a child's computer game. All of these can be tried free online. You will be disappointed. Other sources are excellent, such as Schulz and Griesbach's legendary old school text, but these do not have any audio, so cannot be used without a tutor or prior German skills. The point is that your time, not your dollar, is the expensive part of language acquisition. Be efficient with your time. Despite the advertisements and airport kiosk banners of Rosetta Stone or web pages of Rocket Languages, you cannot purchase your easy way to language proficiency. If you want to spend money, hire a competent tutor.


I think this is the key here. There are serious self-study alternatives. There are actually tons of them. Majority of the stuff published by German publishers like Hueber is for serious learners. And if people see no problem in having to check the ortograph and up to date usage, why would using a monolingual source be more of a problem?

The problem is the very common polarisation FSI vs. toys and crap with more marketing than content.

This is not the reality. A German learner has tons of high quality options in every price range. It may have been a problem a few decades ago, but definitely not any longer.

I would understand this kind of opinions "FSI is simply superior to the cheesy and diluted courses for classrooms", if we were talking about French. There is a real problem in the French learning publishing and the awesome resources are hidden in tons of crap, so the sentence with time being the expensive part of learning definitely applies there. But from my observation, the serious stuff/ crap ratio is extremely good in the shelves devoted to German.

As far as audio drills go, there is Glossika or some of the deutsche welle resources might fit, and perhaps the Language Transfer will be good. For grammar drills, Hueber has a dozen workbooks (or more) in a rather classical and serious style, and Schubert or Klett have others too even though I think Hueber is the most "old fashioned" of those three (which is a good thing in this context). For vocabulary, there are some good decks for Anki or Memrise users.

So, I think the expectations we have from a course like FSI can be fulfilled by other tools nowadays, so there is little reason to spend time with a course that needs lots of research on top of the learning itself. And I think it is so even if you don't use FSI exclusively. It is a good point that we shouldn't rely on one course, not even FSI, but why use it at all in that case, if we have serious alternatives?
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Re: FSI German: Too Old?

Postby Speakeasy » Thu Apr 12, 2018 11:38 pm

Amazon Customer Review
Thank you, Cavesa, for your considered comments. For the record, and with genuine respect, I wish to underscore that the "quote" that you ascribed to me (by invoking the quotation function) was in fact an extract from the Amazon Customer Review. Nevertheless, I freely admit to supporting much of the reviewer's point of view. We have no way of knowing what the reviewer's background is, what his experiences in independent language-learning are, to what extent he is aware of the availability of the higher-quality materials for self-study, and a host of other issues. Nevertheless, he seems to have spoken from some experience which he has clearly reflected upon. It is a shame that, as indicated by his unique writing style, he is not a contributor to this forum.

Quoting Speakeasy
Please note that I am not trying to revive the debate on the virtues and vices of the FSI German Basic course. Rather, while searching the Internet for related materials recently, I came across a now somewhat dated review by an Amazon customer which I found made for interesting reading and it occured to me that some other members might appreciate the reviewer's perspective.
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Re: FSI German: Too Old?

Postby Random Review » Fri Apr 13, 2018 3:59 pm

zenmonkey wrote:
reineke wrote:
Speakeasy wrote:
reineke wrote: ... For example, I've read somewhere that "gnädige Frau" is not used today ...
It seems that we have managed to register yet another round of the ritual -- and trivial -- disparaging of the FSI German Basic course.


For the record, I was quoting someone else's question. "Gnädige Frau" is a useful expression. The critics have a point in that in everyday conversation this expression will probably be heard in some passive-aggressive situation. Does the presence of a handful of odd expressions invalidate an entire course? I don' t think so. FSI is primarily about drilling key language structures. Basic grammar changes slowly. In that sense FSI is a very modern course.


I'd classify it as a "barely useful" expression. I've used for the comedic effect because FSI was one of my early tools. I learned. Dear sir, could you sell me some matches. Where is the embassy? The airport is over there. And all sorts of phrases about passports.

I usually pull these early memories of my German learning out when I want to make my daughters laugh.

The FSI German material is dated but very useful and I would certainly recommend it. Because despite the odd phrases in the material, it id memorable and very well structured. ASSIMIL also has quite a few odd words that may not be that useful, but the comic effect drives learning and enjoyment. If you are aware of the limitations certainly use it.

My concerns with FSI where more about the quality of the recordings (some that I had were not useable) and the mimeographed quality of the pdf that I got. It made the learning experience ... interesting.

So, I'm in the camp - no, not too old, it's good material that I found useful but it does have its limits. Caveat emptor.
Would I use it again? Absolutely. And then move on quickly to other material.


Honestly the biggest reason for using it is that there is simply nothing else like it (maybe the DLI Basic Course could be, I've never managed to get the audio and the pdf's to match). I'm very far from being gifted at learning languages and yet errors in basic grammar such as case and gender agreement are occasional rather than habitual with me; which is odd, because with most other learners of my not-very-high level, their case and gender agreement is all over the place. An example: around a year ago I had a nice conversation in German and Spanish with a gifted polyglot Norwegian (is that a tautology with the younger generation there BTW?); his German was considerably more advanced than mine, but I could hear that his case and gender agreement were weaker.

Why? Well, mainly thanks to FSI. I'll take the occasional anachronistic expression in exchange all day long.
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Re: FSI German: Too Old?

Postby Speakeasy » Fri Apr 13, 2018 6:04 pm

Random Review wrote: ... Honestly the biggest reason for using it is that there is simply nothing else like it (maybe the DLI Basic Course could be, I've never managed to get the audio and the pdf's to match)...
Yes, the DLI German Basic course manuals and audio recordings that were made available via the JLU Archives website do not match.

Nevertheless, a couple of years ago, an ardent supporter of the audio-lingual method somehow managed to track down a copy of the materials from the 1967 edition of the DLI German Basic course. Subsequent to suitable preparation, including assuring that the course manuals and the audio recordings do match, the files were submitted to Ericounet for uploading to the FSI-Courses-yojik website.

DLI German Basic Course (circa 1967) – A Language Learners’ Forum – November, 2015
https://forum.language-learners.org/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=1564

EDITED:
Tinkering.
Last edited by Speakeasy on Fri Apr 13, 2018 9:48 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: FSI German: Too Old?

Postby iguanamon » Fri Apr 13, 2018 8:50 pm

Speakeasy wrote:Déjà Vu (we’ve been through this before)
The question posed by the OP has been addressed numerous times on the HTLAL. To be brief, the argument advanced by some forum members is that the FSI courses include far too much out-dated vocabulary to be useful, so much so that they would do damage to one’s attempts at learning a foreign language, and that they should be avoided. The counter argument is that that a serious, adult independent learner of languages possesses sufficient sophistication to ascertain what is appropriate and useful in these courses and can be depended upon to use these materials wisely. ...

I'll preface this post with the following: I haven't studied German. I have used two DLI Basic Courses, the Portuguese Basic Course and the Haitian Creole Basic Course. The Portuguese course dates from the 1960's. Yes, it had some outdated vocabulary and was written pre-orthograpic reform. This wasn't a problem for me because I also used other resources to get modern vocabulary and spellings. The benefit of the drills and the way the lessons were integrated with the drills far outweighed these issues. Using DLI did not damage my Portuguese, rather it helped me tremendously.

If a learner is using an FSI or DLI public domain course from the 1960's, believe it or not, there are still people alive today who were born and learned to speak in that era and probably will continue to be alive (hopefully) for perhaps another 30 years or so. Being able to have a better command of a language, thanks to a thorough course like DLI or FSI far outweighs any risks of "sounding odd" from time to time. If a learner is not prepared, or doesn't want, to go beyond courses in learning, then ok... sure, get something more modern. Learners who want to learn more than the basics of a language and know that they should supplement their materials with reading, listening and grammar study, can really benefit from these courses.
Speakeasy wrote:...The FSI Basic courses of the 1960’s adopted the “audio-lingual” method of instruction that, at the time, enjoyed the wide-spread support of American scholars. I am not at all ashamed to say that I respond well to the massive repetition of the various sentence-pattern drills that form the basis of instruction in these materials. The vast majority of the vocabulary items and the grammar structures presented in the FSI German Basic course are treated in the drills and from my perspective, despite the occasional obsolete word, the true value of these materials resides in the opportunity to practice the drills. As an experienced language-learner, I do not expect the FSI course materials to be my sole resource for learning a language. I use them as I believe they were designed to be used and then move on to other resources with a view to advancing my learning. You can too! ...

Like Speakeasy, I respond well to these types of courses. I don't need "humor" or something to grab me in a course for my motivation to learn a language. A course to me is simply one means to an end. My motivation is already there when I decide to learn a language in the first place. Perhaps, others don't have the motivation that I have and need a more "exciting" course. Some people consider these courses to be "dry" and "boring". I consider them to be thorough and I know and believe every drill I do gets me that much closer to being where I want to be in the language. That's my fun and excitement. The modern vocabulary, usage and spellings come at me every day when I use my multi-track approach. edit: typos
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