Deutsch? No problem

15th October 2004 at 01:00
Primary children merrily tackle German in a scheme which is enjoyed by teachers too, as Joanne Mimnagh reports

There are not many primary schools that are willing to offer German - schools usually opt for French and Spanish as many staff already have some knowledge of these languages.

But Deutsch? Kein Problem could be the motto for children in three primary schools in Liverpool who have been learning German for between one and three years.

The schools - Knotty Ash, Greenbank, and Dovedale - are part of Liverpool LEA's Centres of Excellence programme, which enables an advisory teacher to provide every child with two specialist-taught lessons a week and a follow-up lesson taught by their classroom teacher.

It has been found that introducing German brings many benefits. A sense of equality is created, as most staff are new to the language and there is a great team spirit and camaraderie in learning it. Lessons can be fun and most staff believe this can also provide an insight into language acquisition and the emotional aspects of learning a language.

Staff take part in each specialist lesson in their classroom and then replicate it. Once they have a comprehensive vocabulary they are confident with, the natural language learning environment is recreated without problem. Indeed, children accept that their teacher is going to use German in their literacy and numeracy hours, or perhaps in their PE lesson. Staff have sought cross-curricular themes on their own initiative and often build German into all aspects of classroom work.

The staff in these schools are fortunate to have the support of the LEA via advisory teachers and foreign language assistants, but even where this is not so, great things can still happen.

As one of these advisory teachers, I am keen to stress that incorporating German into the classroom need not be expensive. As a secondary-trained linguist, I am constantly seeking to put language into the primary class.

I take many of my ideas from teaching that occurs in classrooms all over Britain every day. Many of these activities lend themselves very nicely to a communicative languages lesson. The numeracy-hour style of teaching can incorporate German: children will be able to complete numeracy tasks with German numbers.

This is particularly relevant in the foundation and key stage 1 classroom, where counting sticks and other well-used ruses are evident in our foreign language teaching.

With a bit of imagination literature can be adapted to learning German.

Authors such as Eric Carle provide books which are both fun and entertaining for children, as are traditional tales. ICT is also wonderful and many games can be played on an interactive whiteboard, but sometimes the humble PowerPoint can enable you to tell a story and play noughts and crosses.

Song is vital and we use traditional and some more upbeat songs from the Goethe Institut and online bookshops. We have found that artists such as Detlev Jocker, Rolf Zuckowski and Die Lollipops are particularly popular.

We always celebrate our children's learning with a festival to show their achievements during the year. This involves drama, music and presentations.

A German day - when traditional tales are told, food is tasted, dances are danced - is also a good idea.

We work closely with organisations such as CILT, the National Centre for Languages (of which the school is a member). Anybody wishing to embark upon such an initiative should contact CILT to find their nearest pathfinder, who can advise and arrange training. Regional support groups are an ideal way to exchange ideas and inspiration.

CILT, the National Centre for Languages and NACELL, the National Advisory Centre for Early Language Learning: Tel: 020 7379 5101 www.cilt.org.uk

Goethe-Institut Tel: 020 7596 4000 www.goethe.deinsgblonenindex.htm

Eric Carle books www.eric-carle.com

Joanne Mimnagh is advisory teacher for German at Knotty Ash JMI County Primary School, Liverpool

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