How differences between language students in class become an opportunity for everyone

Babbel shares tips and tricks to help encourage individual and collective language learning.
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This article is the first in a series of guides and suggestions for German classes with refugees — by Babbel. The articles introduce useful teaching methods regardless of prior pedagogical experience. Here, we summarize the experiences we’ve gained as part of our workshop for volunteer German teachers. The workshops are organized by Babbel language learning experts.

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It’s mind-blowing to see how many people in Germany help refugees every day, and how little is reported about it. At Babbel, we understand how important it is for refugees to learn the German language. This is, after all, the only way that they can lead an independent life in Germany. To support this goal, we are constantly in contact with committed volunteers who want to know how they can improve as teachers, and how they can teach German to refugees in the most effective and engaging way. Thanks to our many years of didactic experience and our ability to encourage individual learners, we are able to offer sound advice on how to effectively teach large and diverse groups of people — groups with different source languages and different learning paces. As didactic and language experts, we regularly organize workshops addressing these topics in our offices in Berlin which are open to everyone. We have gathered the most important tips and tricks and compiled them for you here:

In class, opposites attract

It is important to understand that diverse learning groups require a specific style of teaching. Students aren’t categorized into groups according to knowledge level or learning capacities. Here, rather, the goal is to ensure that everybody learns together, regardless of learning performance, talent, age or culture.
Learning a language is an individual process, and here, learning success depends on many factors. For example, some might learn better with pictures or sounds, others prefer to learn in the morning rather than in the evening, and for others grammar is very important. Learners also differ in their learning objectives — some might wish to obtain a certain level of German for a job or a degree course, for example.

Furthermore, factors such as the learning environment, prior knowledge, motivation and language learning experience play a big role. By using two pedagogical approaches, teachers can turn these different requirements, which are also referred to as the heterogeneity of the learning group, into an advantage. The diversity of the group makes learning not only interesting, but also motivating!

One has the cucumbers, the other has the dill

The following tips result from two pedagogical approaches: internal differentiation as well as practical and action orientation. The following is an example of how differences can be beneficial for each individual in the group:

Internal differentiation

The goal here is to allow learning groups with different learning strengths and requirements to learn successfully. In practice, this means that smaller learning groups can be formed within the larger learning group in order to promote individual learning abilities, talents and interest of all learners. In this way an individual’s motivation, productivity and creativity can optimally improve while at the same time strengthen the feeling of togetherness through stronger identification. The aim of internal differentiation is to stabilize the entire group (and therefore each individual), minimize conflicts, increase self-responsibility (by self-directed learning), learn independently and promote teamwork and cooperation while strengthening the sense of togetherness.

Learning vocabulary interactively is something that language learners can do using maps and directions: Getting one’s bearings in a new environment is a great way to practice a foreign language, and can be performed with relatively few materials. The language teacher shows all the participants where they are on a map (for example a city map, an underground map or on a mobile phone using Google Maps), and students then decide where they would most like to go by examining the map and considering what they are interested in.

Practical example

Option 1:


Two learners with varying degrees of German knowledge


A map section (2 copies or panel)


The advanced learner explains to and shows the other learner his or her way and points out certain landmarks along the way.

Option 2:


Two advanced learners

A map section (2 copies or panel)
One learner describes his or her route on the map section (the learning partner should not be able to see it), and the other learner outlines it on his or her own section of the map.
A concrete example relevant to everyday life in Berlin is directions from the train station to the foreigners’ registration office in Tiergarten, Berlin.

Practical and action orientation

A real-life atmosphere should be created in activity-oriented foreign language classes, so students feel that they are using the language as in daily life. It is also important that they experience as much as possible using their five senses. The more the senses are being used, the more they will remember. In 1969, Edgar Dale put together a learning pyramid which illustrated the connection between our senses and our ability to remember what we’ve learnt: The more we use our senses, the more we can remember. As the Chinese proverb goes, “I hear and forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.”

Practical implementation:

You can put this into practice, for example, by interactively learning vocabulary with shopping lists (e.g. learning different types of fruit written in the target language); learning vocabulary forms a major part of foreign language classes. The trick here is to find forms of learning among heterogeneous learning groups which everybody in the group can use. In this way, daily vocabulary learning is highly recommended.

Practical example:


Teacher and/or student


Fruit, such as apples.


The language teacher shows the group an apple and says “Apfel” (apple), followed with, “Das ist ein Apfel” (this is an apple). Then he or she describes the apple in more detail by explaining the color and shape of the apple, identifying certain grammatical forms. He or she can, for instance, also say “ein Apfel” (an apple), “der Apfel” (the apple), “zwei Äpfel”, (two apples) and so on.

Using this technique, both beginners and advanced learners will be integrated into the learning process. For instance, beginners can specify how they say “Apfel” (apple) in their mother tongues or establish connections with other languages (Apfel → apple). In a second step, the pupils can actively create shopping lists regardless of their level, and then show it to the rest of the group. In doing so, any learning material which appeals to the student’s sense of perception can be used.

These two practical examples show how learners can be actively involved in German classes using the approaches of internal differentiation, as well as practical and action orientation regardless of prior knowledge and/or capabilities. Ideally, this will create a feeling of togetherness and the diversity of the group benefit everyone.

Anyone interested in pronunciation exercises for refugees is welcome to join Babbel’s workshops (for more information:

Already participated? We would love to hear from you! Feel free to share your experiences with us below!

Alina Wagner

Alina is PR Manager at Babbel. She studied political science and communications — with a focus on development policy in Latin America — in Berlin, Buenos Aires and São Paulo. She is fluent in Spanish, English, German and Portuguese. Apart from languages, seeing the world, and getting to know people and their stories, her interests include equality, philosophy, dancing and singing. Alina lives in Berlin.

Alina is PR Manager at Babbel. She studied political science and communications — with a focus on development policy in Latin America — in Berlin, Buenos Aires and São Paulo. She is fluent in Spanish, English, German and Portuguese. Apart from languages, seeing the world, and getting to know people and their stories, her interests include equality, philosophy, dancing and singing. Alina lives in Berlin.