Special Concerns for German Tutors

by Frédéric Cyr, class of 2002


  1. Genders
    Often, students think that nouns in German are logically assigned to genders. This is generally false. Only nouns ending in 'e', for example die Lampe, can be associated with the feminine gender, but again, there are several exceptions. The only way to learn noun genders in German is by memorizing them.
  1. Cases and Endings
    In German, cases play an important role in determining the meaning of sentences. The nominative, accusative and dative cases allow the writer to locate the subject, direct and indirect objects in the text. Usually, the nominative case points to the subject, and the accusative and dative cases respectively indicate the direct and indirect objects of sentences. To help students clarify their writing, you should spend time making sure they understand this concept. Then, once again, students must know the genders of the nouns they are using. This will allow them to properly assess the respective article, adjective, pronoun, and when necessary, noun endings.

    At any time, as with all aspects of German writing, it might be helpful to provide students with examples when dealing with case endings. For instance: Der Mann wirf mir den Ball zu. “The man throws me the ball”. Der Mann is nominative since Mann is masculine and has the article ending der. Therefore, the subject of the sentence is der Mann. Den Ball is accusative and is the direct object, since as a masculine noun, it has the article ending den. Finally, the personal pronoun mir is the indirect object, for it represents the dative form of the first person.

  2. Avoiding the “English Way” of Writing
    Like other foreign language students, German students tend to write German using the “English Way” of expressing their thoughts. It is important that you to let them know how various languages express similar ideas in different ways. In other words, a word-by-word translation can lead to misrepresentations of ideas. In such cases, it might be useful to give the students the proper “German Way,” while at the same time helping them make sense out of the foreign expression or saying.

General Tips for German Tutors at Union

  1. Working Closely with the Faculty
    Like other professors at Union, German professors have different expectations from the Writing Center. Therefore, it helps if you consult with each of them to find out what they want from you in helping their students. Some might request that you work with their students, especially when they are advanced, until most mistakes are fixed in their texts. Others prefer that you merely underline the mistakes and let their students correct them on their own. In all, meeting with each professor at the beginning of the year will not only establish a good relationship between you and the German department, but will clarify what you can and can’t do with each student.

  2. Make Yourself Known
    Since German is a rather small department at Union, you might find yourself tutoring very few students. Hence, taking the time to schedule appointments with each class at the beginning of every term will greatly enhance your popularity. To introduce your friendly self to the students, while taking the first step towards them will definitely facilitate your approach from unwilling or shy students. In the same way, make sure to let them know of your hours, and email address if you are willing to have them contact you personally.