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Foreign Language Pedagogy (Fremdsprachendidaktik) ca. 1970-2000: Context of and milestones in the development of an emerging academic field in (Western) Germany

Sabine Doff


Ce chapitre retrace la genèse de la pédagogie de l’enseignement et de l’apprentissage des langues étrangères (Fremdsprachendidaktik) en tant que discipline universitaire en Allemagne (occidentale) entre 1945 et 2000, en mettant l’accent sur les décennies entre 1970 et 1990. Sur la toile de fond du contexte historique (section 2), elle montre en quoi ce développement peut être considéré comme une étape cruciale dans l’histoire récente de la recherche et de la théorisation de l’enseignement des langues. Les jalons stratégiques et structurels ainsi que la discussion des idées clés de ce processus sont présentés dans la section 3 dans le contexte de l’institutionnalisation des disciplines de l’enseignement des langues étrangères. Ce processus a commencé avec la création de chaires distinctes pour la pédagogie des langues vivantes, c’est-à-dire le français et l’anglais, dans les « Universités de l’éducation » (Pädagogische Hochschulen) après 1945. En prenant comme exemple l’enseignement de l’anglais, la plus grande sous-discipline, ce chapitre montre comment l’identité académique d’un domaine plutôt jeune s’est développée dans l’Allemagne (occidentale) de l’après-guerre. La relation théorie-pratique ainsi que le dialogue avec les disciplines dites « référentielles » peuvent être identifiés comme les principaux facteurs qui ont joué un rôle décisif dans ce processus. L’article poursuit cette ligne d’argumentation dans les années 1990 et 2000 dans une section finale (4) avec un bref aperçu des nouveaux horizons dans le développement du domaine.

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  • 1 Foreign language education (Fremdsprachendidaktik) is understood here as connected with the subject (...)
  • 2 This chapter is based on the following previous works on the same topic: Do 2008 and 2010 (both co (...)

1The genesis of foreign language teaching and learning pedagogy as an academic discipline is a crucial step in the history of language teaching research and theoretization in post-WWII (Western) Germany. This argument is highlighted in the following paper by showing milestones of this process in the context of the institutionalization of foreign language education disciplines, This began with the establishment of professorships for subject education of the so-called modern languages, that is primarily English and French, at universities, in particular at specific colleges of teacher education (Pädagogische Hochschulen) after 1945.1 Using English language education, which covered the largest sector in the field (see footnote 2) as an example, this chapter shows how the academic identity of a rather young field developed in post-WWII (Western) Germany and which factors played decisive roles in this process with a focus on the two decades which determined its genesis (the 1970s and 1980s).2 As the argument will demonstrate, a broad variety of so-called academic referential disciplines played a salient role in this process.

2Early on, English language education was a model for other subject education disciplines. This can be seen, for example in the journal Die Deutsche Schule 60(4) which was dedicated to English language education in 1968. On the one hand, this marks the special status of English but, on the other hand, it emphasizes that the remarks also serve as an example for other subjects (Roth and Blumenthal 1968: 217). Since English strengthened its status established by the Hamburger Abkommen (Hamburg Agreement) 1964 (Hüllen 2005: 132-133) as the most important school language, the development of English language education in the 1970s and 1980s can be considered a model in view of the aspects discussed here. In this phase, English language education was the most widespread and, in its genesis, the most advanced foreign language education discipline thus is the focus of the following argument.

1 Context and self-concept post-WWII

3After a rather slow start in the decades immediately following the end of WWII (see Hüllen 2005: 131ff.), the academic field of “learning and teaching foreign languages” began to expand significantly in Western Germany at the beginning of the 1970s, and this development continued well into the 1980s. This process can be seen in the emergence of new related disciplines such as language acquisition and language teaching research as well as in the development and professionalization of modern language education. The following chapter is concerned with the whole field, illustrating main directions and trends using English language pedagogy as an example, since this was the largest, and in many ways, the dominating sector in the field (see footnote 2). However, much of what is explained subsequently also applies to the academic field of modern language (for example French), acquisition and language teaching research in general.

4It can be stated that language acquisition research focuses on language acquisition in a natural environment, in particular on recurrent and generally valid patterns in these processes (see Felix and Hahn 1985; Wode 1974). Language teaching research has paid special attention to individual language learning processes, preferably in (instructional) contexts inside and outside school, including psychological factors. Further attention was devoted to empirical research methods and inductive procedures (Koordinierungsgremium 1983). These are focal points in the disciplines just mentioned, between which, however, smooth transitions to the subject education of the new languages existed from the beginning. However, the latter still differ substantially from the former in that they cover their subject area in a language-specific manner and that foreign language teacher training is one of their core tasks.

5In this extended frame of reference, English language education needed to relocate itself during the early 1970s, in the context of the (English) teacher education curriculum reforms. The integration of most colleges of teacher education into universities meant an adaptation of grammar and non-grammar school teacher training. From then on teachers for all primary and secondary school types were academically educated at universities, a privilege that up to then had been reserved for grammar school teachers (Gymnasiallehrer), the traditional German grammar school leading to the Abitur. This process suggested a rethinking of the importance of subject teacher education in cooperation with the educational sciences and the (English) subject sciences within these programs. For English language education, this meant it had to define its central importance in a substantive and methodological new conception of university education of English teachers for all types of schools (see Standop 1970).

6The foreign language education disciplines saw their main tasks essentially in the following three areas:

(i) the development or improvement of a theory for foreign language teaching and learning in close cooperation with practice (Müller 1979: 133, 138-139),

(ii) “relevance filter function” within university teacher education, which involved selecting curriculum-relevant study content from English studies with a view to strengthening professional orientation (Butzkamm 1975: 32-33),

(iii) self-reflection within English studies with regard to “contexts of the use of English studies” (Schröder 1977: 41) in terms of social relevance and individual educational demands.

7Only the first aspect was largely undisputed. The latter two led early on to debates in English studies and also within the teaching English as a foreign language subject discourse (Butzkamm 1975; Heuer 1979; Jungblut 1974; Müller 1979). A draft widely accepted in the 1970s and aiming tointegrate the three points mentioned above, assigned the following functions to the foreign language education disciplines in the first phase of teacher training:

Foreign language education takes over the consolidation of the basic or auxiliary disciplines for the purpose of solving occupation-specific problems (...) it should be a discipline that is sufficiently close to practice questions to ensure a connection and crosstransfer between theory and practice. (Müller 1975: 144-145)

8Even if a highly practice-oriented functionalization takes place and the significance of foreign language education theory formation remains out of the picture, such a model nevertheless illustrates a clear signal of the autonomy of the disciplines of foreign language education. Another sign of this was the increasing activity on the level of the association and conference work. A differentiation in the relevant professional associations could be observed, reflected, for example, in the rise of the profile of the Association of Modern Foreign Languages (Fachverband Moderne Fremdsprachen/FMF; primary field of reference: schools and study seminars of all school types) and the founding of the German Association for Foreign Language Research (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Fremdsprachenforschung/DGFF; primary field of reference: research). If one follows the development of the conferences started in the 1960s for Fremdsprachendidaktiker (foreign language educators; this term was first used in the title of the Neuss conference in 1972, see Hüllen 1973), then one can observe an increasing number of participants documenting a rising professionalization and internationalization of the field.

9With the founding of the DGFF in 1989, the disciplines dealing with the learning and teaching of modern (foreign) languages finally received official representation, supported by a foreign language education conference held every two years and the publishing of the academic journal, the Zeitschrift für Fremdsprachenforschung (Journal of Foreign Language Research).

10Expansion and differentiation are also reflected in this phase on the level of relevant publications on the acquisition of greater foreign language education knowledge. These included specialized bibliographies and manuals, by means of which a systematization of the language and terminology of foreign language education and foreign language teaching began in the early 1970s. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the first PhD theses appeared, often in English language education (see Sauer 2006: 14-16). During the 1970s, the number of doctorates in the disciplines concerned with the learning and teaching of foreign languages grew slowly but steadily, while in the 1980s it nearly quadrupled (Sauer 1988: 56; see Sauer 2006: 15-37).

  • 3 For example, Bibliographie Moderne Fremdsprachenunterricht (Modern Foreign Language Teaching Biblio (...)

11Bibliographies were used to systematize the ever-increasing knowledge of foreign language education and constituted a contribution to relevant dictionaries and reference works.3 A hitherto unprecedented attempt to systematize the knowledge and terminology of this young academic discipline is the Reallexikon der englischen Fachdidaktik (Lexicon of English Language Teaching), published in 1977 by Schröder and Finkenstaedt, which marked a great advance over previous attempts (for example, Eppert 1973; Köhring and Beilharz 1973). Twelve years later, followed the Handbuch Fremdsprachenunterricht (Handbook on Foreign Language Teaching, Bausch et al. 1989), a significantly further developed work which appeared in its latest – the sixth, completely revised – edition in 2016 (Burwitz-Melzer et al. 2016).

12Against the backdrop of the quantitative and qualitative changes described here, the self-concept of English language education during the 1970s and 1980s changed in the course of a realistic paradigm change, resulting in the orientation towards the learner: Previously, orientation had been widely understood as the application of different – especially linguistic – theories (Timm 1989: 36-37). However, teaching and learning processes themselves, and thus the formation of theories in the disciplines which were the subject of these processes with reference to the respective school subject (i.e. the subject education), became the central focus:

Subject education (Fachdidaktik), which is not too narrow, includes the entire learning process: the subject, the learning objectives, the hierarchical sequencing of the learning content, the teaching procedures, the level of development of the learner, the different learning groups, the textbooks, the type of performance and examinations, etc. (...). We are of the opinion that subject education is about to transform itself from the status of a theory into a science that realizes itself through research and teaching. (Roth and Blumenthal 1968: 217; see similarly Mihm 1972: 5)

13The described change was hinted at in the education sciences at the end of the sixties and was realized and implemented in English language education during the seventies (Hermann 1978; Heuer 1976; Rautenhaus 1978). This was apparent by means of new content concepts as well as in the reform of the self-image as an academic discipline. The history of the discipline played an important role here:

The way to revise modern language education does not … come from the abstract complexions of general education to subject education, but from a historical problem-processing of the subject education discussion, about a system-internal localization which problematizes the – only historically explainable – realities of foreign language education. (Mihm 1972: 3-4; see also Hellwig 1988: 16)

14The question of academic self-concept was deepened in the late sixties by historical studies (including Sauer 1968) and repeated during the 1970s (see, e.g., Pelz 1974), as will be shown in the next section.

2 Paradigm shift and consolidation 1970 - ca. 1990

15The academic self-concept of English language education was addressed at the beginning of the 1970s in a groundbreaking essay by Richard Matthias Müller with the title Dreizehn Thesen zur Fremdsprachendidaktik (Englisch) als Wissenschaft und ein Studienplan für Fremdsprachenlehrer (Thirteen Theses on Foreign Language Education [English] as an Academic Discipline and Curriculum for Foreign Language Teachers (Müller 1972). This essay forms the beginning of an intensified understanding of the topic, the transfer of the debate, the meta-level represents an important step in the development of English language education as an academic discipline. In this process, the central factors were the theory-practice relationship and interdisciplinary embedding.

2.1 From crisis to consolidation

16Müller (op. cit.) names three essential characteristics of foreign language education for English (hereafter English language education) as an academic discipline. It is a practical discipline linked to the sociocultural interest in learning English. It is also a technical and pedagogical discipline that deals with the optimization of procedures, on the one hand, and with teacher decisions, on the other. English language education interfaces especially with sciences such as linguistics (both theoretical and applied) and psychology, with which there is a complex, reciprocal relationship.

17However, unlike these related disciplines, English language education “always assumes the practical task of teaching foreign languages in its theory formation and leads back to this task” (Müller op. cit.: 208). The main domain of English language education is English teaching; in comparison to the subject-related education of other subjects, the medium, object and purpose of the teaching in modern languages are identical. This requires a particularly careful education in subject-specific pedagogy, which in turn requires a special function of subject teaching in the context of a teaching degree (see above).

  • 4 Compare the debate on the crisis of modern language education in the journal issue of Der Fremdspra (...)

18In the same year in which Müller’s contribution appeared, Mihm proclaimed a Krise der neusprachlichen Didaktik (a crisis of modern language pedagogy; Mihm 1972). With regard to the “inner aspects of educational reform”, Mihm (op. cit.: 3) emphatically warns against losing sight of the reality of teaching in modern language education, which would lead to a crisis in the relationship between teaching and research. He deplores the ever-widening gap between the teaching at grammar schools and the content and requirements of university education of future foreign language teachers, which he also sees through the expansion of English classes in other forms of schools and related changes in teacher education. Instead of reducing general teaching models (see, e.g., Achtenhagen 1973 [1969]), Mihm in the subtitle of his book advocates a historically-processed systeminterne Ortsbestimmung (intrinsic location determination) which, in accordance with Müller’s orientation to the so-called “subject disciplines” (Mihm’s literature teaching, modern linguistics and learning psychology), should be closely tied to teaching practice (Mihm op. cit.: 5). The provocative hypothesis of the crisis of modern language pedagogy raised by Mihm sparked a lively discussion,4 which showed that some participants – unlike Mihm – saw new opportunities for foreign language teaching in its expansion in traditional and new types of schools as well as in a wider range of learners.

19Black and Butzkamm went a step further than Mihm. They claimed that the crisis of modern language pedagogy was not only attributable to Mihm’s idea of the deficient relationship between teaching and research or school practice and foreign language teacher training. They further point out that this is rather a “crisis of research itself” because “foreign language education research has not yet discovered its object of investigation” (1977: 158). The solution could be reached by “foreign language education seeing their empirical base material in the tangible verbal and non-verbal interactions of foreign language learning and teaching events” (Ibid.). This is suggested in the so-called empirical turning point which was already in progress in the educational disciplines and which also led to new research methods in the subject-related educational disciplines and an intensive discussion of the subject area.

20The debate on the academic self-concept of English language education, which began in the 1970s, also played an important role in the following decade in the sense of “norm-forming factors” (Heimann 1962: 423) of the Berlin School:

The term Fachdidaktik [subject education] refers to the theory (teaching, science) of teaching and learning of a factual content, a specific knowledge and abilities. “English language education” [Didaktik des Englischen] can then summarize all the theoretical efforts, reflections, and research pertaining to the teaching and learning of the English language and the culture associated with the language. At the center of every subject education are the objectives and content, methods and teaching media of a subject (...). But also thinking about the conditions of the existence of a school subject, its legitimacy in the education system, its functions in the subject canon of a type of school or school level, belongs to the tasks of specialized didactics. (Sauer 1979: 19)

21In the course of the 1980s, the “question of legitimacy”, (Ibid.) described here in the context of the “discussion of objectives and norms” (Müller 1979: 134), increased in importance for the subject of English and thus for English language education within the framework of the continuing discussion on curriculum, the reform of the upper secondary level and the emergence of new school and university types, such as the comprehensive school. The number of relevant publications documenting this development, however, is significantly lower than in the 1970s.

22To summarize, a common view of English language education in the 1970s was that it was the link between the theory and practice of teaching English (Jungblut 1973: 66), linking the various elements of teacher education. In the course of the 1970s, the discourse on English language education, understood as an academic discipline, became more important. There were repeated calls for the subject and method of research to be a central requirement, for its recognition as an academic discipline, and for dialogue with the related disciplines to involve English teacher education (see section 2).

23On the basis of conceptually differentiated and institutionally anchored English language education towards the end of the 1980s (see Hüllen and Zimmermann 1990), a consolidation of the academic recognition can be assumed in this phase (see Doff 2008).

24Despite this internally established position, foreign language education disciplines faced questions of legitimacy towards the end of the 1980s: For example, the Resolution des Philosophischen Hochschultages (Resolution of the Philosophical University Day; quoted in Hüllen and Zimmermann 1990) stipulated that the tasks in foreign language education doctrine and literacy research could also be carried out by researchers in “other jobs.” The DGFF vehemently argued in a public statement against this, on the grounds that only foreign language education professorships (equipped with appropriate posts for the promotion of young researchers) can cover the subject area in its entirety in research and teaching as well as supervise doctoral and post-doctoral theses, which was especially important “in view of the developments expected in Europe after 1992” (Hüllen and Zimmermann op. cit.). At the end of the 1980s, however, foreign language education was firmly anchored institutionally in the academic subject canon, organized by the DGFF and represented in public, but its status as an academic discipline was (again) controversial.

2.2 Relation of theory to practice, interdisciplinary setting

25The two factors identified in the preceding section which were key in the development of the discipline in the 1970s and 1980s were intimately linked: On the one hand, the trend in scientification (which Appel attributes to “yearning for science” in the title of his 2006 paper) strives for a lively interdisciplinary dialogue with a growing number of related academic disciplines. On the other hand, there was a danger of losing sight of the reality of teaching, which was repeatedly criticized during the 1970s and 1980s (see Bach 1973: 5 and Schrey 1982: 206, 213-215). Klippel (2005: 438) justified this criticism with the social, educational, and political circumstances:

While the work in the 60s had been fuelled by the need to open up new practical fields for which teachers had to be prepared, the oversupply of teachers in the late 70s and 80s and the frustration experienced by those who trained teachers for unemployment, froze the impetus from the fields of practice. Research then sometimes became separated from the context which it was meant to serve.

26In order to counteract this danger, there were numerous appeals and efforts to keep an eye on the application of foreign language education, which had been a natural focus in the sixties, and to make the interdisciplinary orientation usable in this aspect as well (Klippel op. cit.: 435). Especially in the 1970s, a number of important publications appeared on this topic (for example, Hüllen 1976). At the same time, contemporary standard works (e.g., Butzkamm 1978 [1973], 1975; Piepho 1974, 1979) emphasize – albeit for different reasons – the necessity of theory formation in language pedagogy. An important difference, however, is the view of the theory-practice relationship. While the theory formation of Piepho is clearly subordinate to practice, Butzkamm’s approach develops practice from the diverse, even independent didactic theory and thus gives English language education a much greater importance as an academic discipline (Butzkamm 1975: 36).

27In the context of this discussion, research methods and subject areas moved into the focus of the foreign language education discourse as early as the 1970s (Flechsig 1971; Heuer 1976 and Mindt 1977). It can be observed, on the one hand, that in the 1970s the number of empirical papers in foreign language education influenced by the empirical turn and language teaching research increased significantly (Krohn and Doyé 1982).

28On the other hand, there were early warnings of a one-sided empirical fixation, and the norm-forming function of subject education was emphasized (Jungblut 1973: 69). For example, Heuer’s (1979: 75) prediction that “the empirical methodology is becoming increasingly important” was not confirmed comprehensively in foreign language education in the 1980s. Hellwig (1988: 42) chose to highlight

the loss of confidence in empirical and statistical data, the difficulty of isolating factors accurately in a too complex and variable context, the often high and protracted level of research, the scarcity of human and financial resources, data protection problems and difficulties in the approval of such research on site, i.e. at school.

29In the 1980s a turn to hermeneutic methods and analysis can be seen in the context of new literary education approaches (for example, Bredella 1980). This change had also appeared in the educational sciences (see Hellwig 1988: 42). On the basis of this development, foreign language education in this decade can be assumed to have had a pluralistic approach to research methods. This was the subject of a constant specialist discourse (e.g., Bausch et al. 1989: 383-444), which resulted in a sharpening of critical method awareness.

30This was an important element in the dialogue with the related disciplines of foreign language education which played an unremittingly important role during the seventies and eighties. This can be seen, for example, in relevant publications (see, e.g., Digeser 1983; Gutschow 1977) as well as in the subjects of various foreign language education conferences. Depending on the focus of the authors, the question of which are the most important reference sciences for foreign language education was answered quite differently in the 1970s and 1980s; however, what is undisputed was the role of linguistics (see Hüllen 1972).

31A controversial selection of reference sciences was made, for example, by Digeser (1983), who, in addition to linguistics, only named learning psychology and the subfield of psycholinguistics; the criticism of his approach was mainly related to the exclusion of educational science (see Kahl 1985 and Sauer 1988: 63). More broadly, the topic was repeatedly discussed at the biannual meeting of foreign language educators, for example, at the ninth workshop in Hanover in 1981. In one of the sessions, educational science, linguistics, literary studies and regional studies were discussed as the most important reference sciences for foreign language education (Gnutzmann et al. 1982). Noteworthy in this context was, to that date, the only foreign language education section was entitled “Didactics,” which Helmut Heuer conducted in 1985 at the Anglistentag (the yearly conference of the German Association for the Study of English) in Paderborn. In the proceedings he outlined a status quo of the central research fields of English language education (Heuer 1985: 464-465), in which linguistics and learning psychology, as well as literature education and language teaching and language acquisition research, emerge as particularly relevant related sciences.

32In this context, the twelfth official meeting of foreign language educators, which first took place in 1987 as a congress, with the general theme “The relationship between subject education and its reference sciences,” should also be emphasized. This shows the great importance of the thematic complex in the specialist discourse in the second half of the 1980s (see Doyé, Heuermann and Zimmermann 1988; Hellwig and Keck 1988). At the end of the eighties, the Handbuch Fremdsprachenunterricht named such important related disciplines as applied linguistics psychology and sociolinguistics, as well as educational sciences, learning theory and learning psychology, literary studies as well as cultural and regional studies (Bausch et al. 1989: 13-61). However, the theoretical basis of the foreign language education disciplines was much more than the sum of important findings from related disciplines. One of the main tasks of modern language pedagogy was no longer a pure application of knowledge from the so-called subject disciplines, but the critical reflection, selection, and methodological implementation of their insights (Jungblut 1974, see similar Mihm 1972 and Heuer 1979: 73). In the formation of a theory of foreign language education, it was now a matter of generating genuine questions with regard to the learning and teaching of languages in instructional contexts in order to then implement them in practice and of doing so with the help of important findings from relevant reference disciplines. A good foreign language education theory in this context is according to Stern (1983: 32)

a theory (...) which will strive to provide a conceptual framework devised for identifying all factors relevant in the teaching of languages and the relationships between them and for giving effective direction to the practice of language teaching, supported by the necessary research and enquiry.

3 New horizons in the 1990s and 2000s

33German reunification of 1989 changed Europe dramatically and advanced foreign language learning in the context of the European community. This applied to schools as well as to other frameworks such as adult evening classes, further education and even extracurricular and spare time activities (Hüllen 2005: 150). The importance of the English language remained (and, for the parts of Germany which had belonged to the GDR, became) significant. Thus English language teacher education and the academic disciplines concerned with English language learning and teaching continued to expand the status they had begun to acquire in (former) Western Germany since the 1960s. A look at these recent decades of foreign, in particular English, language education in Germany reveals that the theory orientation from the 1970s onwards was expanded and thematically diversified further (see, for example, Burwitz-Melzer et al. 2016; Doff 2017).

34Some of the main thematic strands which can already be recognized in the research and academic debate of recent decades are the following:

The Common European framework of reference

35This European curriculum of language learning and assessment was developed in the 1990s and first appeared in a German translation in 2001 (Europarat 2001). In its wake, questions of standards, standardization, testing, and competence-orientation increased considerably in importance.

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL)

36Interest in this topic area has remained high since the 1990s (Hallet and Königs 2013). This seems to be in line with the continuing interest in bilingual education, especially given increased demands for multilingual learning.

Learning and teaching about culture(s) in the language classroom

37The current discussion on inter- and transcultural learning has found active interest in foreign language education in Germany.

English language teaching in primary school

38This area has become especially interesting due to changes in the primary school curriculum of various German states during the 1990s, where schoolchildren begin learning a first foreign language (in most cases, English). Thus, for reasons of both educational politics and methodology, research on language learning in primary school has grown exponentially in the past few decades.

Language teacher education and teacher training

39This field has garnered much attention, possibly due to the increasing demands for more language teachers working in highly diverse environments (primary schools, special needs education, adult education). This area addresses concerns of how well teachers are being trained in modern language pedagogy and in which ways teacher – instead of student – education may be improved.

Multimedia and language learning

40In this area, Germany still lags behind traditionally strong CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) and TELL (Technology Enhanced Language Learning) research communities such as North America, but interest in the use of new technologies has been growing and this is reflected in the comparatively large number of academic theses conducted in this field.

Language learner autonomy

41Again, various developments have led to this becoming a focus theme, including the organizational anchoring of language resource centres at universities, the necessity for people in quite differing employment areas to become multilingual and – unfortunately – either reduced funding for language teaching (at post-secondary level) or time constraints on people already employed in the private sector. Such practical considerations have thus led to increased interest in possibilities for promoting language learning in situations outside of the traditional language classroom.


42The different sections of this chapter have strived to show how the 1970s were foundational for a differentiated, albeit partial understanding of English language education based on a solid theoretical grounding as opposed to classical neo-philological and educational theories. This development resulted in increased autonomy and a strengthening of English language education as an academic discipline. For example, according to a representative study guide from 1979, English language education is subdivided into the four branches: General Theory of English Teaching, Theory of Curriculum, Methodology, and Literature, and Regional Education (Barth and Halfmann 1979: 18-19). As the remarks in section 3 seek to make clear, in addition to these core areas, norm-forming functions of English language education became more prominent in the course of the 1970s. In connection with this, so-called issues of legitimacy and the history of the subject gained importance.

43These explanations show a clear quantitative and qualitative extension of the subject and methods of English language education in the course of the 1970s; a process that has continued well into the twenty-first century.

44In sum, it can be said that the functionality of Müller (1972), primarily the feedback of the theory and practice of teaching English, remains an important aspect of the self-concept of English language education as an applied academic discipline up to the present day. However, during the 1970s, partly due to a crisis situation, English language education further developed by focusing on a self-concept that no longer assumed the mere application of knowledge from other disciplines. The differentiation of the research object of foreign language education as well as the extension of methodology through empirical and hermeneutic approaches, contributed to the pluralism of methods in the 1980s. In this process, empirical research was one focus, but not the only one.

45The 1980s saw a consolidation of the results of the intense discussion that took place during the previous decade. At the beginning of this decade, there was widespread agreement on a broader self-concept of foreign language education which was formulated in a manifesto at the tenth congress of foreign language education (Kongress der Fremdsprachendidaktiker):

Foreign language education is an academic discipline that focuses on the teaching and learning of foreign languages in their sociocultural context. It develops and tests theories about this subject. Its interest in guiding knowledge is the constant improvement of foreign language education (Abschlussplenum 1985: 325).

46The main tasks of foreign language education at the end of the 1980s – with considerably reduced human and material resources – were still teacher (education), alongside both theoretically founded and practice-relevant research, as well as the focus on new target groups “in the sense of broad and application-oriented English studies” (Hellwig 1988: 48), which included literature, geography, mass media, and specialized languages as research subjects. English language education, still an important driving force in foreign language education, emerged stronger from the debates of the 1970s and 1980s in terms of its academic identity and was able to build a solid foundation to deal with the challenges arising from unprecedented changes in Germany and Europe in the decades to follow.

47In the wake of German reunification, (English) language education retained its important status as an academic discipline because language learning and language teacher education were considered salient issues in a multilingual European society. The methodological and thematic diversification of the field has continued well into the 21st century and thus testifies to the importance of this academic discipline in the history of language teaching research and theoretization to date.

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1 Foreign language education (Fremdsprachendidaktik) is understood here as connected with the subject-specic education of each foreign language, “related to common objectives (…) contents and methods of a group of neighboring subjects” (Schröder 1977: 42). On the development of foreign-language education in the twentieth century cf. Appel 2004, Doff 2010, Doff 2017, Doff and Wegner 2006. This chapter focuses on English language pedagogy for reasons explained later. It is not concerned with the quite distinct position and development of modern/English language (teacher) education in the GDR before 1989 (see Apelt 1990, Apelt 1991 and Wagner 2016). The terms „foreign language education“ and „foreign language peadgogy“ are used synonymously in the following.

2 This chapter is based on the following previous works on the same topic: Do 2008 and 2010 (both cover the time frame up to 1989), Doff 2020.

3 For example, Bibliographie Moderne Fremdsprachenunterricht (Modern Foreign Language Teaching Bibliography, started in 1969 by Reinhold Freudenstein) or Informationen zur Didaktik des Englischunterrichts und der Anglistik (Information on English Teaching and English Studies published since 1972 and led by Konrad Schröder and Thomas Finkenstaedt, see Schröder and Finkenstaedt 1972-1973).

4 Compare the debate on the crisis of modern language education in the journal issue of Der Fremdsprachliche Unterricht 1975 with contributions by Petersen, Hartig, Schröder, Gutschow, and others. See also Müller (1975).

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Sabine Doff, « Foreign Language Pedagogy (Fremdsprachendidaktik) ca. 1970-2000: Context of and milestones in the development of an emerging academic field in (Western) Germany »Documents pour l’histoire du français langue étrangère ou seconde [En ligne], 68 | 2022, mis en ligne le 11 décembre 2022, consulté le 04 mars 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Sabine Doff

Universität Bremen, Fachbereich 10: Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaften, Fremdsprachendidaktik Englisch

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