German supremacy at risk


Children in Austria are to learn English from the age of six instead of nine, in a minor revolution that is toppling German as the country's main language of instruction.

English is to be increasingly used in secondary schools as the main language for teaching mainstream subjects ranging from maths to biology.

Already core subjects are being taught in English at select Vienna state schools in an initiative launched this term. While most Austrian schools have English language courses, it is the first time that other parts of the curriculum at state-funded schools have been taught in English.

"Germany has lost its monopoly as the language of instruction," said Kurt Scholz, Vienna's city councillor for education.

He cited people's increased mobility and the globalisation of the world economy as reasons for the change. Students can choose to take subjects such as history, maths and biology with instruction in both languages, with native German and English-speaking instructors teaching in tandem, while other subjects, such as the arts or literature, can be taken in English or German.

According to Elisabeth Gehrer, the country's education minister, primary schools and teachers will be given five years to adjust to the change. She said that by 2003, all six-year-olds will be learning English, although she admitted there had been difficulties in recruiting teachers in England for the job.

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