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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Language, Literature and Humanities - Corpus Linguistics and Morphology

WHiG - What's hard in German?


This project seeks to systematically identify linguistic structures of German that pose a specific difficulty for the acquisition of German as a foreign language (GFL). Conventionally, this is done by observing learner errors (see Borin & Prütz 2004 or Westergren-Axelsson & Hahn 2001). 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.

Access to the corpora
The corpus data are freely available and may be downloaded as well as queried via ANNIS. For further information, please consult the Falko access page.

Workpackage 1
Work Package 1 (WP1) 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. WP1 relies on written data from the learner corpus FALKO-A (Lüdeling et al. 2008). 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 GFL. More generally, this method will help to evaluate theories of foreign language acquisition and open up new research perspectives in this field.

Workpackage 2
Building on and incorporating the results of WP1, WP2 examines the structural acquisition process for these difficulties in British learners of GFL. The question is to what extent the difficulties apply to British learners and in what order difficult structures are acquired. To this effect, a learner corpus of British GFL learners (FALKO-B) will be compiled and analyzed qualitatively and quantitatively, triangulating the method mentioned above with further learner surveys. Insights gained in WP2 aim — in the long run — at the development of didactic concepts and materials in Great Britain that particularly take into account the identified acquisition problems.

Project duration
July 2009 – June 2012

Project leader
Anke Lüdeling
Astrid Ensslin (Bangor University, Großbritannien)


Marc Reznicek
Franziska Schwantuschke

Cedric Krummes

Partner Universities
Aberystwyth University, German Department
Bangor University, German Department
Bristol University, Department of German
University of Leeds, Department of German, Russian and Slavonic Studies
University of Nottingham, Department of German
Queen Mary, University of London, Department of German
The University of Sheffield, Department of Germanic Studies


  • Zeldes, Amir/Lüdeling, Anke/Hirschmann, Hagen (2008): "What’s hard? Quantitative evidence for difficult constructions in German learner data". In: Proceedings of QITL 3. Helsinki.


  • Zeldes, Amir/Lüdeling, Anke/Hirschmann, Hagen (2008): What's Hard? Quantitative Evidence for Difficult Constructions in German Learner Data. Helsinki, Finnland: Quantitative Investigations in Theoretical Linguistics 3, 2.-4. Juni 2008 [ Abstract] [ Folien]
  • Hirschmann, Hagen/Zeldes, Amir/Lüdeling, Anke (2009): Interaction between Colligation, Register and Surface Variability in German Learners and Natives. Osnabrück: Dgfs 2009, AG 6, 4.-6. März 2009 [ Abstract]
  • Hirschmann, Hagen (2009): Von der Restkategorie Adverb zur korpusrelevanten syntaktischen Ausdifferenzierung. Mannheim: Grammar & Corpora 3, 22.-24. September 2009.





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