Englischunterricht: English Class in German Schools

Your child is a native English speaker in the German school system. So now what?

Many of us expats are raising our kids multilingually. In many of these cases, our children are native English speakers. We’ve been told that this is a great thing to do, and I for one have been feeling good about our commitment to the one parent, one language method working out. My kids are indeed bilingual.

Haus house Maus mouse. The road to biliteracy might not be as expected. PHOTO: Bundesarchiv, Wikimedia Commons

We’ve left the early years and now we are in the German school system. Many German schools start with English language teaching in the first grade. In addition, there are many after school programs for kids to learn English, as well as school holiday intensives all so that German-speaking kids can get a leg up, headstart or jet propel into speaking fluent English. Some German families try to speak English with their kids despite a lack of fluency and some send their kids to international or bilingual schools. Again, I’ve been feeling good that my kids already have this coveted speaking skill under their belts. This has left us more time to focus on our quest to learn Korean.

Another aspect of this reality though is that English in the schools has been a bit of a pain in the butt. My oldest has complained of being bored. They often recite fruit names or body parts, things that are a piece of cake for her. Even if my daughter participated more in the way that would make the teachers think that she is getting more our of her class, I’ve also heard from another English-speaking family in the same school that while their daughter participates plenty in her English class, it’s nice for the rest of the class, but hasn’t really helped her English skills in the areas that need more attention such as reading and writing. Luckily, the principal of our school is aware of this unique need that a large handful of the students in the school have and she has been looking into creating a separate class for them. Unfortunately, this hasn’t gotten off the ground. I’d even tried to help in finding a teacher, but none of my leads worked out and the principal hasn’t had time to focus on ensuring that it happens. I would be delighted if the class was formed, but the question remains as to what my kids will do once they leave this school.

Presuming they are still in Germany and presuming they go to Gymnasium, they’ll likely have to start with English as their main foreign language. An American friend of mine whose daughter is now in the 6th grade has one piece of advice. Give up. Don’t fight it. What she means is that by correcting your child’s English homework as a native speaker is not necessarily going to get her a good grade. It could in fact be detrimental. As she rightly points out, if she were teaching German as a non-native speaker, there would only be a certain number of ways that she could say one thing. As a native speaker of English, she could say that one thing in various ways. Most likely, your child’s German teacher is not a native English speaker and is therefore looking for one right answer. Her advice is to just help your child know that one right answer so she will get a good mark.

Both my friend and one of our German babysitters who is studying to be an English teacher in Germany have both mentioned that some German English teachers (are you still with me?) have a hard time with native English speaking students. You can interpret this in different ways: they feel threatened by them and probably don’t appreciate their native speaking parents pushing them, they don’t like having to have the extra work of providing them more challenging work if requested to, and they don’t like to deviate from going by the book.

This argument is not encouraging, but it makes sense. Even if I am productive in helping my daughters with their written English by using workbooks at home, the dilemma remains that they still have English class in school where they have to get a good grade.

If any of you have any advice and stories on how you have seen native speaking children positively excel in an English in German school, I’m sure I’m not the only who wants to hear all about it


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