Smiling faces while practising German vocab? Surely some mistake... but as Sebastian Lander found out, an initiative involving football practice with some of Arsenal FC's coaches has generated new enthusiasm
It's 3.30pm at Fortismere School in Muswell Hill in north London. The classrooms are empty, apart from a mixed group of Year 7 and 8 girls and boys who are practising their German football vocabulary. If it weren't for the smiling faces, you'd think it was afternoon detention. It is in fact the opposite, as these students have chosen to spend their free time in the classroom, sorting their Fu'ballplatz from their Fu'ballspiel. The incentive is that later they will be learning top football tips from one of Arsenal Football Club's community coaches.
This after-school project is Double Club: German, a six to eight-week programme combining 45-minute sessions of German language learning with 45-minutes of football training. Flexibly aimed at Years 7-10, the initiative is part of the Double Club scheme run by Arsenal's community division, and the latest module in a series which includes literacy, numeracy, ICT and French. The German module is a joint initiative between Arsenal FC, Goethe-Institut London and the-voyage, a British-German youth portal dedicated to furthering cultural awareness and making language learning more accessible.
The concept of using football-related material set against the backdrop of the 2006 World Cup in Germany in June, is to encourage pupils to learn German through themes relevant to them, says Arsenal Double-Club co-ordinator Scott Cohen. "Lessons aim to motivate pupils to continue learning German at GCSE level," he says, "and the hope is that even if they've come for the football, they will improve their German."
It is clear that while the prestige of Arsenal is a draw for the Fortismere students (not all Arsenal supporters), the learning is also fun. The group is working from lesson books and an interactive website, created by Goethe Institut London and the-voyage. There are basic football-themed features, games, quizzes and a footballer interview. Pupils can also use the website to showcase their own work by publishing poems and songs, and posting online football dream teams.
The lesson is teacher-led by head of modern languages David Reading, but it is clear from the chatter and laughter that this is not an average lesson.
David explains: "Our message to the kids is to come and have some fun, learn some German, play some football and meet some people you wouldn't normally meet from other tutor groups."
Twelve-year-old Johnny Sabage, a Manchester United supporter, says the reasons he signed up to the club were, "to get better at football and better at German and it gives me something to do after school".
While the course materials are based on the German curriculum, lessons are not a direct continuation of pupils' school-time lessons, stresses David.
"The exercises are not reinforcing what they may have done in their most recent German lessons," he says, "but this is an enrichment opportunity and with an after-school club, the emphasis has to be on fun. We do think about dovetailing as much as possible to normal lessons, but never lose sight of the fact that it needs to be accessible to different groups of people. The beauty is that you can have 20 different students working on 20 different things and they can work on a level they feel comfortable with."
The fact that Double Club: German is not based on ability and is not assessment-driven appears to be delivering long-term benefits for students, in terms of both behaviour and learning. "They are using transferable skills that will be useful to them for the rest of their lives, like using a dictionary, internet skills and their knowledge of German geography,"
says David. "And their football-related vocab, grammar and tenses feed into the curriculum. Five boys who have signed up have behavioural problems but I haven't had to censure the kids once. The project allows us to reach them in a less formal environment. They get a chance to shine in a different environment and if they can come and do something non-competitive, they are seen on their own terms. It shifts the emphasis and the interaction you have with the kids".
After the lesson has finished, the pupils race out of the room and head for the school's Astroturf, where Arsenal community coach Jamie is waiting to show them some of the ball skills used by the professionals. At the end of the programme, students have the chance to visit the Arsenal stadium at Highbury to compete in a German day football tournament against other Double: Club German schools. Twelve-year-old Amy, a die-hard Arsenal fan, adds shyly, "I know that the German is more important, but I prefer the football."
* Double Club: German can be used for after-school, holiday or curriculum time classes. Contact Oliver Benjamin at the Goethe-Institut London. Tel: 020 7596 4013
Email: Benjamin@london.goethe.org www.goethe.delondon
The cost is pound;10 per child per term.
To view course materials visit www.the-voyage.comdoubleclub
For more on Arsenal FC visit www.arsenal.com
For useful links on learning German, visit the German Academic Exchange Service at london.daad.de
A new interactive DVD, Soccerlingua, aims to teach teenagers basic English, Spanish, Italian and German through football. It is the result of an EU-funded education project, part of the LINGUA 1 action of the European Commission Directorate General for Education and Culture, developed with ZOOtech, pioneers of DVD-EXTRA technology. The DVD features interviews in each language with fans at Euro 2004 and an interactive quiz in the form of a football tournament. A Soccerlingua book is also available.
Prices: pound;16.99 (DVD); pound;14.99 (book); pound;29.99 (DVD and book) from www.soccerlingua.net www.zoo-tech.com
This languages, PE and biology initiative - which has attracted contributions from 21 international footballers, including England's Steven Gerrard - offers a top prize of a trip to Munich to join the World Cup party in early July. The scheme encourages 12 to 18-year-olds to complete multilingual fitness projects based on their football heroes by June 1 using free resource materials, and to form fitness teams to train together at school. The resources include 15 worksheets, an interactive quiz, posters and a website with materials in German, Italian, Dutch and Czech.
Organisers are the National Centre for Languages (CILT), German publisher Zeitbild and the Physical Education Association.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.cilt.org.uksportstarwatch.htm