Interview with Tyler Carrington

Photo courtesy of Cornell College
Photo courtesy of Cornell College

Tyler Carrington

Visiting Assistant Professor of German Studies

B.A. in German from Wheaton College; M.A. in German from Middlebury College; M.A in History from Loyola University Chicago; Ph.D. in German History from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Reed: “How did you end up teaching German?”

Carrington: “…I have long loved the German language, ever since I learned my first German word–Wirbelsturm, or tornado–in third grade…My 19th-century ancestors also came to Iowa from Germany and Switzerland, and family legend holds that my grandpa only spoke Iowa-German as a youngster. So it was only natural that, when I started high school and had to choose a foreign language, I chose German…while I went to college with no real desire to continue with German, a great teacher there turned out to be the difference-maker for me and my future career. A student on my dorm floor in fact told me one evening that he was taking a German class and that it was pretty cool, and I ended up enrolling just for fun in a German course. That first course proved to be the first in a line of many German courses in college, and I actually graduated a year early and went to Germany to do an MA in German through Middlebury College.

“I knew from the time I started college that I wanted to be a professor. Professors held for me a certain aura, and actually being a professor sounded like great fun–I was right about this, even if I was wrong in thinking that I’d look good in JNCO jeans in junior high. I have also always loved performing, too, and lecturing and leading class always appealed to me in this sense, as well… So my first MA in Germany was supposed to be the setup for a Ph.D. in German and ultimately a German professorship. As it happened, I became fascinated by German history while in Germany, and I applied in the end not to a German Ph.D. program but to a history one… when I began applying for academic jobs, I applied to both history and German jobs. I ended up doing both at first, and landing here at Cornell in German Studies–which we conceive of in a fairly broad way: all things German…language, literature, history, art, music, film, contemporary politics, business, etc.–has been kind of the best of both worlds, not to mention a dream come true. When asked throughout my graduate career where I’d like to end up, I told people Cornell College. You’ll have to believe me on this; it is true. Now I’m here, and having a blast.”

R: “What appeals to you about the German language? About teaching?”

C: “…I think there has always been something about German itself that has kept me going. German is funny, to put it simply; it is also extraordinarily elegant and formal, at times, and this too is funny. German, like perhaps no other widely-spoken language, also allows you to make the most fantastic and fantastical compound words, and the result is that German either has a word for pretty much anything or will allow you to create a word for it. It’s a lot of fun… Teaching German is simply the art of communicating this love for a fun language and a fun culture to students, and I haven’t yet had a student be able to resist its charms. Teaching is always fun for me. I love being in the classroom; I love telling bad jokes to the students and hearing their pity laughter; and I love, more importantly, seeing them get excited about this material.”

R: “What’s your best advice for students seeking to learn a new language?”

C: “My advice on this front is to find someone else who doesn’t speak it very well and to make the process of learning fun and funny. Making mistakes can be funny…Enjoying what you know, even if it’s only a few words, and having fun even making up new words–this is what can sustain you and keep things fun. Of course, the other key thing is interacting with the culture as much as possible. You may not find that everything in the target language culture is fun or really your cup of tea, but finding some things you love can help keep things fresh.”

Jess Reed, Co-Editor-in-Chief