The goal is understanding

31st March 2006 at 01:00
Soccer's showpiece is a golden opportunity to motivate pupils to learn languages and to break down other barriers. Rachel Pugh reports

It was less a battle on the terraces than a stand-off in the studios. Eight girls from the expressive dance group called In.depend.DANCE at Anthony Gell school, Wirksworth, in Derbyshire, came face to face with the nine hip-hop dancers from Wollenbergschule in Wetter near Frankfurt. The German pupils did not like the English pupils' music, were suspicious of their dance style and afraid of not looking cool in front of their peers.

Veiled hostility on both sides and added tension caused by language difficulties led to an uncomfortable first day. But overnight teenagers from both countries and their teachers realised the true purpose of their visit: to explore the World Cup themes of conflict and resolution through dance. If they could concentrate on that, then they would get along better in real life.

Fresh from the three-day trip, the Wirksworth teenagers talk thoughtfully of how they established ground rules for the visit: that anything said in sessions must be translated. They began learning each others' dance styles, they experimented with dancing as Anglo-German duos and the final, triumphal and amicable performance was accompanied by the German youngsters' music.

Cora Whitney, 15, says: "I am not particularly interested in football, but I saw the World Cup as a really good way of bringing our two communities together."

This unexpected baptism of fire turned into a rewarding lesson in cultural relations, ending with firm friendships and the promise of a return visit by the Wetter pupils to Derbyshire this autumn.

Schools all over the UK are finding that the World Cup is a potent tool - particularly with boys - in stimulating an interest in a country many still see in the prejudiced light of Second World War films. German language learning is dropping. Last year 105,280 took GCSE German, 31,000 down on 2001. Yet the Confederation of British Industry says firms are crying out for German-speaking employees .

But football and World Cup enthusiasm has helped Wood Green high school, Sandwell, in the Black Country, to buck this trend. At this multicultural sports college 80 out of 120 Year 9s want to study German because of a successful sports-mentoring scheme the school runs. This took 20 fast-track sports students in Year 10 to the Richard Wossidlo Gymnasium in Ribnitz-Damgarten on the Baltic coast to teach two groups of German pupils six British sports: quick cricket, rounders, netball, tag rugby, croquet and bench football.

The scheme, financially supported by the Black Country Languages Pathfinder, arose from interest in Germany sparked by previous World Cup events. It gave students an incentive to buckle down and learn the language to get the essentials of their sport across in the language of their hosts.

Beverley Whiteside, Wood Green's head of languages, says:"You can tell pupils until you are blue in the face that industry needs German-language speakers, but if they are never going to meet a German person, they say 'What's the point?' The World Cup and this scheme have really opened up possibilities."

Groups of Year 10 GCSE German pupils have used World Cup themes to create worksheets for lower-school pupils, including quizzes and questions about the stadiums, the German cities where they are located and the players involved. Year 7 and 9 pupils are doing more detailed work using a work pack from MFL Cable Educational (see box), focusing on the World Cup.

Anthony Gell school's experience is that football frenzy can be used to teach many skills. During the recent exchange to Wetter, of which the dance troupe was just a small part, 30 youngsters logged into a special computer room there focusing on the World Cup languages and produced multi-lingual posters with football-linked wording. They also visited the Frankfurt stadium where England will play Paraguay in the first round.

When the German youngsters visited Wirksworth last autumn as part of the 20th-anniversary celebration of Anthony Gell school's links with Wollenbergschule, pupils produced a joint bilingual newspaper with a World Cup theme.

During the previous World Cup, school pupils honed language skills with students from Nottingham university by producing commentary in German to taped matches and devising typical post-match interviews. In art, groups collaborated to produce six huge posters featuring sporting language, another made an installation of a super-life-sized Greek goalkeeper. In music, they looked at football chants to create an international rap.

CILT, the National Centre for Languages, believes that the World Cup influence can be used beyond the classroom to tackle the problem of obesity and unhealthy lifestyles among many teenagers. They are supporting the EU-funded Starwatch project combining a resource pack (available online) and an online competition (with prize tickets for the World Cup), which aims to motivate students to discover other European languages but also be more aware of the benefits of exercise and healthy food. The best entries will win a trip to the Starwatch final event in Munich on July 4, a huge youth festival attracting 100,000 young people.

The Goethe Institute is also capitalising on football fever to stimulate interest in German language and culture. Working with Arsenal football club, it is sending a language teacher and a football trainer into 30 London schools to give sport and language taster sessions based on a day in the life of Jans Lehman, the Arsenal goalie. The scheme is likely to be extended to other clubs after the World Cup.

The institute has also produced a series of postcards of famous British footballers with information about them on the back in German, available to schools online via the Goethe website. It is also running German taster days in 30 schools boosted by a goal-scoring competition and fortnightly courses for English fans to teach them what to say and do to get by in Germany.

At Anthony Gell school, sixth-former Andrew Brown makes clear his love of German and his enthusiasm for talking soccer. "Football gives people a common subject," he says. " You can go anywhere and start a conversation."


MFL Cable Educational www.cableeducational.comStarwatch email Institute www.goethe.delondon Anthony Gell school's visits were funded by Anglo-German Teacher Fellowships scheme, managed by the British Council.

www.britishcouncil.orglearning-school-partnerships-germany-teacher fellowships.htm

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