Eins, zwei, drei…

German is a language I am familiar with. I am by no means fluent in it but I have been exposed to it throughout my school career. By primary 6 I was being taught the basics and I continued with my learning until S4.

The problem was that when I transitioned into high school my prior learning was not valued. I was to start again from the beginning until I was ‘set’ in terms of my ability! As a result all this time later the elements of the German language that have stayed with me are the basics and not the complex grammar and vocabulary I was taught in later years.

Furthermore when I was given the opportunity to visit Germany in my third year at High School I found that none of what I was learning, from a seriously outdated and a little bit stereotypical textbook, was completely irrelevant to life within the country. I didn’t know how to read a train timetable or ask where the toilet was. I found it difficult to order food in restaurants and in one particular incident I was forced, by my lack of vocabulary, to order an orange flavoured ice cream! Another memorable occasion when my German skills lacked was on a trip to a theme park. My friend and I were attempting to order chips and asked for: ‘Ein Pommes, bitte.’ The German man serving us proceeded to place a single chip on a plate and laugh at us.

The point I am trying to make here, other than that my German is severely lacking, is that we need to be equipping our children with the same level of language education as other countries across Europe and the World give to theirs. Why is it that our children reach secondary school and use modern languages as a chance to chat and muck around? Why is it that we, as British people, think that there is no need for us to learn another language? Where did this idea that ‘Everyone else speaks English anyway!’ come from? When in actual fact ‘75% of the world’s population do not speak English, and only 6% of the world’s population speak English as the mother tongue.’

The 1+2 scheme appears to be a step in the right direction in terms of changing Scotland’s approach to learning other languages. The idea of starting from a young age is sensible and mimics the approach of various other countries who are successfully producing bilingual children. The addition of a third language (or second additional language) in middle and upper stages is a great way of introducing children to new cultures and providing them with further opportunities. With this being said, at a time of economic trouble, is it really feasible to provide the resources needed to accommodate for children with mother tongues other than English? Or to train staff up to a standard to be able to teach a language in enough depth…or to have a grasp of more than one additional language?

I know that for me German is all I know, and as I expressed above I don’t know an awful lot! I don’t think I’d feel entirely comfortable if I was to be teaching a class French or Spanish or any other language. Is it down to myself as a teacher to pursue this and increase my knowledge base as I would do in any other curricular area? Or is it the responsibility of individual schools or councils to provide training to their staff?

In terms of our language inputs within university I am enjoying the refresher they are giving my dusty old German vocab! I would have perhaps liked to learn French instead so that I had a basic knowledge of both of these languages but due to staffing issues this was not possible. The German inputs are interesting and collaborative. By sharing teaching ideas we are building up each other’s repertoires of resources for teaching foreign languages, not just German!

The use of rhyme, songs and games and their role in introducing children to a new language or new vocabulary is discussed within Teaching Foreign Languages in the Primary School (Kirsch, C. 2008.) The repetition and rhythm within these types of activities is key to embedding language within our classroom and within our children. So far within our inputs we have covered Greetings, Numbers and Age. These are the types of things I still remember from my own language learning experience.

One of my main wonderings is what types of things do children in successfully bilingual countries teach their children and at what age? Is starting with this type of content relevant now that we are choosing to start teaching it so much earlier? And to what level must teachers be at within their own understanding of languages in order to facilitate progressive learning from Primary 1 right through to Primary 7?



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