What's Hard in German?



   and ahrclogo


Project description

The project “What’s Hard in German?” (WHiG) seeks to systematically identify linguistic structures of German that pose a specific difficulty for the acquisition of German as a foreign language.

Conventionally, this is done by observing learner errors. However, if learners avoid difficult elements, this method fails. We claim that the relative underrepresentation of structures in learner data implies that these structures are difficult to acquire. Therefore, we propose a systematic study of underrepresented structures.

WHiG is led by two teams: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and Bangor University.

The German side of WHiG attempts to identify learner difficulties regardless of the learner’s mother tongue (L1), i.e. problems that do not result from interferences of the learner’s L1. The methodology relies on written data from the learner corpus FALKO (fehlerannotieres Lernerkorpus, “error-annotated learner corpus”).

We aim to develop a method of retrieving the systematic underuse of particular structures in the learner data. These findings are then further evaluated by a qualitative analysis. The method offers new insights into the perceived complexity of German and the learnability of German as a foreign language. More generally, this method will help to evaluate theories of foreign language acquisition and open up new research perspectives in this field.

The British side of WHiG examines the structural acquisition process for these difficulties specific for advanced learners of German at British universities. To this effect, a learner corpus of British learners of German is being compiled and analysed qualitatively and quantitatively, triangulating the method mentioned above with further learner surveys. Insights gained from WHiG aim – in the long run – to develop didactic concepts and materials in Great Britain that particularly take into account the identified acquisition problems.

WHiG Symposium 2011

  • 'What's Hard in German? Structural Difficulties, Research Approaches and Pedagogic Solutions'
  • 18th-19th July 2011
  • Bangor University

WHiG Workshop 2012


Corpora: Access

Go to the Annis, the online corpus platform. In the left-hand menu, select each relevant  corpus. For WHiG, these are:

  • FalkoEssayL1V2_0: the essay corpus of German native speakers
  • FalkoEssayL2V2_0: the essay learner corpus
  • for a better overview and sample searches, watch our clips and copy-paste our search queries on our Annis page

Corpora: Query

In the top part of that menu, type in your query. For example, to search for the German word "Sprache" (English "language"), type "Sprache" (with the double quotation marks). You can also click on the "Tutorial" button for further query options.

At the bottom of the left-hand menu, select how many words you want to have displayed before your queried item in "Context Left". Similarly, "Context Right" displays the indicated amount of words after the queried item. You can either have the results displayed in ANNIS by pressing the "Show Result" button or you can press the "Export" button and select more printer-friendly formats.

Corpora: Search Results

The results are displayed on the right-hand side of the screen. Please allow some time for every feature to be loaded. For each search result, there are 6 expand-collapse buttons: the first 5 display the multi-layered annotations, such as lemma, part-of-speech ("pos"), or target hypotheses ("ZH1" and "ZH2). The sixth expand-collapse button shows the entire text ("Volltext") written by the student.

Downloads for WHiG partner universities (1-page A4 PDFs)

Project duration

July 2009 - June 2012

Project leaders

Prof. Anke Lüdeling, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

Dr Astrid Ensslin, Bangor University

Research staff


Marc Reznicek, Chan Jia Wei


Dr Cedric Krummes

Our research partner

Dr. Sylvia Jaworska (Queen Mary, University of London) for phraseology, formulaic sequences, and corpus-based learning and teaching.

Working with our corpus data

Researchers can request the Falko (L1) and WHiG (L2) corpora: fill out our license and consent form and return it via post, email or fax +44-1248-38-3239. We will then send you the files via email.

Partner universities

  • Aberystwyth University, Department of European Languages
  • Bangor University, School of Modern Languages
  • Bristol University, Department of German
  • Cambridge University, Department of German and Dutch
  • University College London, Department of German
  • Lancaster University, Department of European Languages and Cultures
  • University of Leeds, Department of German, Russian and Slavonic Studies
  • Queen Mary, University of London, School of Languages, Linguistics and Film
  • University of Sheffield, Department of Germanic Studies


Dr Astrid Ensslin

'What's Hard in German' Project

School of Creative Studies and Media

Bangor University

College Road

Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2DG

Tel: +44-1248-38-3619

Fax: +44-1248-38-3948

Email: a.ensslin@bangor.ac.uk



Conference papers and posters

Invited Lectures

WHiG Impact: Hands-on workshops & Learning and teaching materials on how to write German essays