Who said German was hard?

23rd January 1998 at 00:00
Register, dinner money, packed lunches, home lunches - a normal primary school morning routine with pupils volunteering to count heads. The difference is that primary 6 at Fossoway primary near Kinross are doing it all in a "hard" language, German.

With the time-honoured tools of the trade - flashcards, mime and the natural environment - teacher Tina Middleton continues the current topic of the weather. Mrs Middleton is one of the 40 per cent of teachers working linguistically "from scratch" (one year's study at secondary school) in the German teacher training programme in Perth and Kinross. She apologises for having to use the occasional cue card and professes to keeping "just ahead" of her pupils. But this can be an advantage, she says,giving her an empathy with pupils.

The national training programme has provided a confidence-building model for both speaking and teaching the language. During the 27-day course, trainee primary language teachers have to prepare lessons for fellow students some of whom were, according to Mrs Middleton, "really good at German". So the differentiation skills necessary for the language classroom are learnt in a natural context.

Fossoway is not typical, however. It has two trained teachers of German, although the Perth and Kinross policy is to diversify language teaching. Kate Walker, the head, teaches the P7 class and believes the current programme has been the most positive attempt yet to introduce modern languages to primary schools. "Previous efforts have been a bit of a damp squib. The secret lies in the teacher being able to manage the language experience appropriate to the children, not necessarily to have someone who is completely fluent in the language. If I wanted the superduper model,I could plug the pupils into a PC or an audio-cassette."

The commitment of the education authority and, just as crucially, the head of the local secondary modern languages department, is crucial to the programme's success, Mrs Walker says. She believes both ingredients are present in her case.

Fostering Fossoway's growing European ethos, school partnerships have been made through the European Comenius scheme (co-ordinated by the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges) with schools in Hungary, Holland and, most importantly, with a school in Lubbenau in the former East Germany.

Enthusiasm for the scheme was immediately evident in the school with displays of photographs, information, newsletters and project plans in the main corridor. E-mail has started to cruise between the schools and the language of home, families, pets and interests is a high priority for class teaching as relationships develop over cyberspace. The culmination was a visit by pupils to Lubbenau in 1996.

Pupils proudly show off their colourful worksheet folders and wall displays and Fossoway has found that working on some good Scots expressions stimulates pupils' curiosity. "Jaiket", they learnt, was simply Jacke in German. This surely would be ultimate irony: the Scots language, displaced from the classroom, coming to the rescue of German.

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