Metoula, or MeTouLa, was a general teach-yourself method for language learning, developed 1854-6, named after its founders, Charles Toussaint and Gustav Langenscheidt. As a correspondence and book-based system, it lasted well into the twentieth century. The didactic process also involved a new system of phonetics, in use until its replacement by the IPA. The process is based on the idea of using literal translations, and reading and speaking, rather than the learning and application of grammar structures; essential elements were interlinear translation between languages, phonetic transcription, and a commitment to frequent repetition. Added to this the process was from foreign language to known language, via phonetic transcription, rather than from the known to the unknown.
Aimed at adults competent in High German who wanted to learn languages for everyday conversation, the Metoula method by the first decade of the twentieth century involved the use of voice recordings. The first course, including a collection of 36 printed learning letters, was French, which between 1856 and 1881 ran to thirty editions. From 1912 MeTouLa also published phrasebooks, aimed at travellers, and thematically arranged, with a grammar, index, pronunciation guide and map of the foreign country.
The common practice for English phrasebooks for soldiers to be developed, sometimes naively, from travellers’ phrasebooks is often contrasted with what may be thought of as German competence in creating phrasebooks specifically for the purpose of facilitating the management of incursion into hostile territory. Less thought of is how German soldiers were equipped for conversations with people speaking the languages of compliant people or their allies, the several languages of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Turkish, Arabic, Flemish, and so on.
This MeTouLa volume helped Grenadier Reicherts in his dealings in Hungarian; acquired on 12 July 1916 it begins with Hungarian pronunciation and grammar, a list of useful words in Hungarian and images of coins, before moving on to vocabulary and phrases (German to Hungarian) in fields such as medicine, shopping, food, clothes, entertainment, but not military activities; and finishes with a hefty section advertising the extent and virtues of the MeTouLa publications, including a list of languages the sprachführern were available in (including Böhmisch – Czech – Ewe and Haussa). In this friendly environment Grenadier Reicherts would have been able to ask what time it was (p162), pay 10 heller to send a letter weighing no more than 20 grammes (p123), and complain that the fire had gone out (p87). And ask ‘where does that route go, where are they going?’, which might have applications in areas of tension. How many Central Powers soldiers carried phrasebooks for the dozens of friendly languages? And did many develop to encompass both relaxed and campaigning situations?
Note also ‘Amerikanisch’ as well as ‘Englisch’. Hmm.