The German Federal Foreign Languages Contest: Are video tasks difficult?

Sometimes even most successful projects have to re-invent themselves. The German Federal Foreign Languages Contest was first established in 1979, with 133 young students participating; meanwhile, there are more than 15.000 contestants every year.

Wolfgang Hallet is Chairman of the Advisory Board of the German Foreign Languages Contest

Over all these years, those willing to participate in the first round of the contest were presented with a reading assignment and a self-made audio that had to be submitted. In the 2017-18 round, contestants were presented with a new task for the first time: They had to submit a two-minute video in their favourite foreign language based on a thematic task that expected them to either present a fictional hero of theirs from a book or film or a living or historical popular person or personality that they find important or fascinating for some reason. This way, the organizers hope to better address and enhance young people’s enthusiasm to participate, to encourage students to present more of themselves and their interests (and knowledge!), and to better meet young people’s own communicative, medial and information practices in the lifeworld.

This is the new task as presented on the website of the contest:

Is creating such a video difficult?

For those not experienced in making videos it’s creating the video that comes to mind first. However, for most young people this is not a problem at all. It is part of their everyday smartphone life and experiential routine; and it is because of this that also rather simple, but well-made smartphone films can be rated accordingly or even as excellent.

Moreover, although the quality of the film is part of the overall assessment, the focus is upon how someone presents their story, how well this is accomplished in the foreign language, and how convincing this is realized in moving images. Last but not least: The website of the foreign languages contest does not only present a jaunty video by a young youtuber with tips on how to create a good video, but it also offers a step-by-step instruction for video makers which can be recommended not only for contest participants but for everybody in school education and personal life who is interested in making short videos:

The real difficulty lies in creating an informative portrait of a (real or fictional) person in question and tell their story in an impressive manner. Accounting for everything that goes into the creation of such a video makes it possible to realize what the actual challenge is.

A good video requires

  • a profound, research-based knowledge of the person or literary character selected for the video portrait;
  • an awareness of, and a reflection on, how to best communicate why a person is relevant and important for oneself, but also for others;
  • an appropriate choice of images that are best suited to convey the relevance and importance of a person to others;
  • the ability to create a convincing portrait and a good story in a 2-minute sequence of images;
  • a proficiency in the foreign language, including thematic terminology and complex syntax, that makes it possible to communicate all the informative details in the video;
  • decisions on what one’s own (potentially fictional) role as a presenter and speaker in the video is, e.g. that of a narrator, commentator, journalist etc. and
  • on how this role is presented and performed, e.g. as voice over, as a journalist present in the video etc.

A first preliminary round of reviews of some of the submitted videos showed that many participants did not only manage the filmic presentation perfectly well, but they also presented an impressively broad range and selection of deliberate, by no means arbitrary choices of personal heroes and personalities, ranging from Elon Musk and a Japanese musical protagonist to Queen Victoria.

The current reform of the contest assignment formats is aimed at offering young participants in the SOLO contest more options to demonstrate their enthusiasm in using foreign languages, more possibilities to be creative and more room to present their views of the world and ways of actively designing it. At this point, I believe that we are allowed to conclude that the new video format succeeded in doing so. In a nutshell: Young language talents in our schools now have the opportunity to show that they are themselves personalities in whose life other languages and other worlds beyond their own have their natural place. 

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Copyright © 2018 Wolfgang Hallet