A Berlin boost

8th June 2007 at 01:00
It was energising to speak nothing but German for five days. It freshened up my language skills, and expanded my vocabulary. But it was the chance to immerse myself in German culture that was most invigorating.

We saw some incredible exhibitions and museums, and had a guided tour of the Reichstag, which is stunning. We visited radio stations and newspapers, where we talked to editors about current cultural issues. There were excellent lectures on Berlin's evolution from the 1930s onwards, and then we could explore for ourselves the major historical sites. The Holocaust memorial, in particular, was incredibly moving.

To make a language relevant to young people, you need to link it to the culture and history of the country. Taught out of context, languages can seem pointless. Chatting with classes about my experiences and showing the photographs has created a lot of interest. Pupils like to hear personal anecdotes, and it can bring the subject alive. Berlin has a grey image, but it's actually a vibrant, inspiring city, with a young population. I've enjoyed dispelling the myths, and now we're organising a trip with pupils in June 2008.

In planning that visit, I'm drawing heavily on what I learned from my recent stay. I'm working with colleagues in the art, history and geography departments, to ensure a cross-curricular experience. Even the biology department will be involved, with a day at Zoo Berlin. The week gave me a change of perspective. After 22 years in teaching you sometimes need to rekindle your passion.

It reminded me why languages matter. They allow you to access the culture and riches of another country. Seeing what Berlin offers will inspire pupils when they're struggling with the trickier points of learning German Gavin Hunter teaches modern languages at Deans Community High School, Livingston, West Lothian. He was talking to Steven Hastings

The details

Berlin Aktuell is run by The National Centre for Languages (CILT), in association with the Goethe Institute. It's a five-day residential course in Berlin designed to deepen teachers' cultural understanding of the city.

Cost (1,600 (approximately pound;1,088). Grants are available through the Comenius scheme.

CILT also runs overseas courses for teachers of French, Spanish and Italian. Visit www.cilt.org.uk.

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