Modern Foreign Languages - More German, bitte

10th February 2012 at 00:00
Defend the corner of a language that's a bit low on the uptake

While there has been a marked decline in the take-up of modern languages, it is also quite dispiriting that some languages have gained prominence over others. I teach all three main languages, but I feel German has had a raw deal recently, largely because French and Spanish are deemed to be easier. So why do I think more German should be taught in our schools?

Much is made of the "global economy" and it is true that this affects 21st-century society. It is also true that more people spend time on holiday in France and Spain than in Germany or Austria. But Germany is one of the world's economic powerhouses. German is spoken by the most people in the EU and is the language of our biggest trading partner within it.

The German language is rich and permeates so many subjects across the curriculum, quite apart from the obvious historical connection. We have the music of Beethoven, the drama of Brecht and the cinema of Fassbinder, while the literature of Heinrich Boll offers us insights into the newspaper industry of 21st-century Britain. These and other aspects of culture can easily be incorporated into the teaching of German.

And back on the linguistic level, we should also remember that there is an obvious case to learn German because it is a language closely related to our own. I often provoke my classes by telling them that English is simply a form of German that got lazy. I try to link phrases using an "agent language" such as Dutch:

- English: What time is it?

- German: Wie spat ist es? (Literally, "How late is it?")

- Dutch: Hoe laat is het?

Of course there is the complex grammatical element, but we must never allow ourselves to think that pupils should be given the easy route by learning an "easy" language. Students do not necessarily have to learn first how to construct language - they can learn it by example.

Let us fight against the zeitgeist, rid ourselves of the angst and refuse the Schadenfreude of others, and let's get more German taught in our schools.

Neil Jeffery teaches modern foreign languages at a secondary school in Herefordshire


Are your students questioning the importance of German? Introduce them to some wonderful aspects of German culture with Beansmeansbooks' PowerPoint and dominoes.

ValentineElad has shared a PowerPoint to help sell the advantages of studying German.

For a cultural introduction to Germany and Austria, try MFLTeacher1's presentation, which contains facts, a quiz and fun images.

Check out sbehren's "Facts about German" presentation. It covers food, famous people, football teams and companies.

In the forums

A lively debate on behaviour management in modern languages is rumbling on in the TES MFL forum. Do you reprimand your pupils in the target language?

For all links and resources visit

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