Teaching modal particles
Modal particles (Modalpartikel in German, also known as Würzwörter (‘spicing particles’), Abtönungspartikel, Satzpartikel or Modaladverbien (Schemann, 1982; Acosta, 1984; Thurmair, 1989; Helbig, 1990; Weinrich, 1993:843-856; Duden, 1995:371-2)), are a source of confusion for students because of the many different types of meaning they can express. These words, which are so frequent in colloquial German, are extremely difficult to explain to foreign language learners. Incredible as it may seem, German grammars barely mention these words, and German language textbooks use them without offering any type of explanation (Neuner et al., 1987:50; Aufderstrasse et al., 1993:18). However, students who wish to attain an appropriate level of communicative competence in German must be aware of the wide range of functions these words possess as well as their importance in spoken discourse.
This chapter offers a structured explanation of modal particles for use in the second language classroom, and discusses their usefulness in ascertaining the broader meaning of the context of the situation. First, we describe the grammatical and pragmatic functions of some of the most common modal particles in spoken discourse where a good understanding of the context is essential to comprehension. The second part of our study is an explanation of some of the most relevant meanings of each of these words (e.g. aber, auch, bloß, denn, doch, eben, eigentlich, etwa, halt, ja, mal, nur, schon, ruhig, vielleicht, wohl), as well as the different attitudes they can convey. This explanation is followed by a series of exercises through which students can practise the identification, function and general usage of these terms.
Classification of the modal particles
All modal particles are function words, and thus belong to the same category as adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions. Students must be made aware of