AUBG Professor Diana Stantcheva: ‘Any and every foreign language is of value’
Diana Stantcheva, who teaches German at AUBG, joined the university in the fall semester of 2005. After obtaining her Master’s and PhD degrees from the Humboldt University in Berlin, she was a research fellow at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences in Berlin and has taught at Humboldt University in Berlin and at Goethe-Institute in Sofia. A German teacher, linguist and certified translator, she has authored a number of articles and two monographs. Professor Stantcheva, who speaks Bulgarian, German, English, Spanish, and Russian, has also been teaching Globally Connected Courses with a partner professor from Denison University, USA. Read our interview with Dr. Stantcheva to learn more about her work experience, teaching and research interests, and the activities she likes doing in her free time.
When did you first become interested in learning German?
I started learning German very early at the age of seven and it was a very interesting situation – a neighbor who was my friend and the same age as me enrolled in a German course and like kids do, I became curious and wanted to take a course of German as well. This was the reason to start learning German. So, I initially became interested in German by coincidence: due to the decision of the parents of the neighbor girl and my wish to do the same as my friend.
Please tell us about your academic background and your experience while obtaining a PhD from Humboldt University. Why did you choose to study there?
I started my studies at the Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" with German philology. After the second academic year, based on the grades during the first two years of study, the ten best students were sent to Berlin for a year to study part-time at Humboldt University with a DAAD scholarship. That is how I came to Humboldt University. In the beginning it was only for one year but then I had the opportunity to stay and to continue my studies there. The DAAD scholarship was only for one year and I had to work in order to be able to finance my studies in Berlin. I earned my Master’s degree in German linguistics and Spanish studies with a minor in New German literature from Humboldt University in Berlin. After that I received my PhD degree of German linguistics from the same university. As a PhD student I had a scholarship from the German Friedrich Naumann Foundation. I also have a teaching qualification for German as a foreign language from the Humboldt University. I am also a certified translator by the Senate of Berlin and sworn interpreter for the Berlin courts and notaries for German and Bulgarian. So, this is my academic background. I wanted to have all qualifications in the field of philology, from translation through teaching to linguistics and literature. In philology, there is this distinction between linguistics and literature, and then between interpreters and translators and thirdly there is also the teaching qualification. That`s why I did all the studies in linguistics and literature, the additional study in teaching and also the courses for translators and interpreters.
Which was the first work position you have had?
I suppose you mean the first job after graduation because as I mentioned in the beginning, I worked in Berlin during my studies. We had the possibility to work twenty hours per week as foreigners. And in the nineties it was not possible for my parents to pay for my studies so I needed to work. During my studies I worked as an assistant at the Legal Department of the Federal Institute for Special Issues of the Reunification, as a freelance translator for German and Bulgarian, and as a student assistant at the Institute of German Language and Linguistics at the Humboldt University. My first work position after graduation was at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences in Berlin and I was a research fellow at the research project “Kollokationen im Wörterbuch“.
Why did you decide to become a professor and what led you to AUBG?
As part of my additional studies “Teaching German as a Foreign Language,“ I had to complete an internship. And this internship was at the Sprachenzentrum (Language Centre) of the Humboldt University in Berlin. There I taught German to foreign students who wanted to study in Germany. This was my first experience teaching German and I enjoyed it a lot but I didn’t think that this would be my profession. Later during my time as a researcher at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences I was offered to teach German phraseology to German studies students at the Humboldt University. These phraseology seminars allowed me to gain experience and to get to know the teaching process at a university better. I started thinking that this would be my profession in the future.
I spent about fifteen years in Germany, but then I had to come back to Bulgaria for family reasons and I started looking for a job in Bulgaria. I found this working place at AUBG and I applied for it and I got it. So, I started teaching at AUBG in the fall semester of 2005 and I have been teaching about fifteen years at this university. I have taught various German courses including all levels of knowledge of the language, from beginners to advanced, as well as specialized language courses and cultural and literature courses.
What is it like teaching German in English to students from diverse nationalities?
It is challenging but also very rewarding. I use English only in the introductory courses. My language classroom is a German speaking classroom where students are required and encouraged to speak German from the very beginning. But, in general, having a mixed group of students from different nationalities always implies that the professor should know not only English, but also speak and know different aspects of the native languages of the students in order to compare those language systems with the language system of German. This way students can better understand the grammar and specifics of the German language in comparison to their native languages.
What does your typical workday look like?
This is usually a very long day starting very early in the morning, travelling from Sofia to Blagoevgrad because I live in Sofia and commute to work. I teach two or three courses in different levels in a day, I meet colleagues in the department and from the university and students for different reasons. Then I travel to Sofia and at about nine p.m. I am back home. So the typical workday is a very long day starting very early in the morning and finishing very late in the evening.
What moments and student achievements bring you the biggest professional satisfaction?
When I see that my students can use the German language in their lives for finding a job or for starting a Master’s degree studies in Germany or in other German-speaking countries, or when they use German sources for their research, for example. All these make me feel proud of my students because I see how they put into practice what they have learned in my classes from reading, listening, writing and speaking in German.
You have been conducting a research for the last academic year. Please tell us more about its topic, your other teaching and research interests, and the articles and monographs you’ve written.
In the last academic year I have been on sabbatical leave and during it I finished the German-Bulgarian phraseological dictionary which I had been working on with a colleague of mine from Germany. At the moment we are proof reading the dictionary and we hope that it will be published soon. And I have continued the work on my phraseology text book. I have also submitted for publication two articles on the use of text corpora of written language in teaching of German as a foreign language courses. Due to the coronavirus pandemic I had to postpone to the summer of 2021 my research stay at the University of Wuppertal in Germany which was planned for the spring semester of 2020.
I teach all levels of knowledge of the language, from beginners to advanced, as well as specialized language courses and cultural and literature courses. I like all my courses, but I think that the phraseology courses I did as independent study courses were those I liked most because they are also connected to my research interests. Some of my favorite research topics are phraseology, lexicography, foreign language education, terminology, and text corpora of written language. One of my lexicographical articles for example was about a German-Bulgarian dictionary by the Bulgarian poet, journalist, and translator Geo Milev. It is not well-known that Geo Milev did a German-Bulgarian dictionary, and in addition, the small dictionary has an intriguing creation story. It was published for the first time in 1940, 15 years after Milev’s death. Geo Milev completed the manuscript in 1916. Later the manuscript was revised by the Bulgarian writer, playwright and translator from German Dimitar Stoevski and then published by the Bulgarian publisher and translator Ivan Koyumdzhiev. For me it was very interesting to compare the manuscript with the print edition of the dictionary and to find out that there are considerable differences in the way in which the lexicographical information is organized, in the macro- and microstructure of the dictionary, in the translation of the German words as well as in the listed collocations and phraseological units. In fact, through his revision of the manuscript Dimitar Stoevski created a completely new dictionary.
You have also been teaching Globally Connected Courses with partners from Denison University in the U.S. What’s the goal of this project?
The first main goal of this project was to give our students more possibilities to practice their spoken German. In a typical class I have to teach them a lot of things – grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, stylistics, intercultural competence etc. and we often do not have enough time to practise speaking. Additionally, not everybody from the students is willing to speak in German in front of the class because they are shy or insecure about their German level. With the project we gave our students additional possibility to speak German with other students outside of class hours. And this on a variety of topics that my colleague from Denison University Dr. Gabriele Dillmann and I come up with. The second main learning outcome is the intercultural component because we have students from different countries participating in the project. This connection between students from diverse nationalities and their discussions about German and the German culture created a unique situation from an intercultural perspective. And a productive research topic, of course, for me and for my colleague Dr. Dillmann. For the time of the project, from 2013 to 2019, we have published four articles together about the project.
If teaching was not your profession, what would it have been?
Maybe a lawyer or an art historian. Or I would have liked to be a landscape architect.
If you have the opportunity to learn another foreign language in the future to the extend you know German, which one would it be and why?
I think any and every foreign language knowledge is of value. And Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is known to have said that “The more languages you speak, the more you are human,“ in German: “Je mehr Sprachen du sprichst, desto mehr bist du Mensch”. I speak German, Bulgarian, also Spanish, Russian and English. To the extent I know German I would like to know Chinese because of the people’s culture and also because not many people in Europe speak Chinese. And so perhaps when you speak Chinese very well, you have a lot of good job opportunities.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I do not have too much free time but during what I do have I like visiting art exhibitions, reading books and also planting plants and trees, and see how they grow and develop.