In Germany, the future is bilingual | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 24.09.2011
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In Germany, the future is bilingual

Germany has over 150 bilingual primary schools, teaching children from non-German backgrounds in their mother tongue. But German students also benefit from a bilingual education.

teacher in a classroom

Bilingual primary schools are getting more popular

Children in their first year of school are practicing their singing in a bilingual school in Cologne.

"Una gotita desde el cielo ha bajado hasta el suelo," (a drop has fallen from the sky to the ground) is a Spanish song they're trying to perfect.

Teacher Sandra de Nieto de Diego heaps praise on the students, encouraging them by making their bilingual education enjoyable through music.

"The Spanish-speaking kids help the German-speaking kids understand the lyrics," she says. Most of the children in the school have at least one parent from a Spanish-speaking country.

Fostering integration

The Catholic primary, or elementary school, in a southern district of Cologne has been a German-Spanish school for a year now. "The idea is that children are welcome to use the language they were brought up with," Principal Margit Faix explains.

Speaking a language other than German at home used to be a barrier to integration, but in fact it broadens children's horizons and is definitely a bonus, Faix says. She herself has a Spanish-language background and knows from her own experience how hard it can be to stick with practicing her parents' mother tongue and integrate into German society at the same time.

Bilingual tradition

teacher with pupil

Now, what's giraffe in Spanish again?

Bilingual education in Germany has been around since the 1970s. After West Germany and France signed the treaty on Franco-German cooperation in 1963, secondary schools started offering French-German bilingual sections.

Now, Germany has over 600 schools that offer some form of bilingual education, with 150 of those at primary level. The state of Rhineland-Palatinate alone has reorganized 13 schools this year, to allow them to offer bilingual classes.

Each school has a different approach to bilingual education; at Faix's school in Cologne, students have one Spanish class a day. Social and natural sciences as well as art are taught by two teachers simultaneously - in German and Spanish. That way, there is no need for additional classes in Spanish, much to the relief of many parents.

"It's good for their self-confidence because it's part of their identity, an identity that shouldn't be neglected," says Martina Schmidt, mother to 7-year-old Sol. Her father is from Chile and speaks Spanish with her at home. Schmidt thinks it's important that Sol hears and speaks Spanish outside her home and that she learns to read and write it as well.

Investing in the future

But it's not just children from bilingual households who attend bilingual schools. Many German parents opt for such a school because they see it as an investment in their child's future, especially if they're taught in a language other than English or French.

It not only stands them in good stead for future job applications, but children can also learn a lot from each other, a concept that yields better results than simply relying on parents to teach their language.

pupils with traditional sweets cones on their first day of school

These pupils are awaiting their first bilingual day of school

German authorities have cottoned on to the trend by supporting bilingual schools, mostly at the primary level. "The first one in Cologne was the German-Italian school, which was followed by schools in other languages," says Rosella Benati, migration adviser for the local council in Cologne, who has helped establish several bilingual schools in the city.

In 2009 and 2010, the council added German-Turkish and German-English classes in some elementary schools. The German-French class that has been around for many years in the city has adjusted its teaching methods.

"There, teachers are also now using the kids themselves as resources, by encouraging them to learn from each other," Benati explains. The next stage for her is to find secondary schools that will allow students to continue their bilingual education.

Author: Antje Hollunder / ng
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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