Caesar's Career in English – Bilingual Instruction (Integrating a Foreign Language with School Subject Matter)
It's Monday, 9.55 am. The bell echoes throughout the school and, for just about 20 young men and women of Class 11, the first double period in the basic course in history after the Autumn Break begins. The topic: Caesar.
The teacher asks what helped Caesar advance his career. The first answer: He sailed to Rhodes so that he could be trained by Apollonius to become a gifted speaker at the best school of rhetoric of the time.
A foreign language as a natural vehicleBut this morning "Rhodes" is not called "Rhodos" (as it is in German), the "orator" is not called "der Redner", and "training" is not called "Ausbildung". In short: the class is taking placed in English. The text that the students were to prepare during the holidays was an excerpt from Plutarch's biography of Caesar translated into English – with added vocabulary in German and English.
What is surprising – along with the high level of abstraction of the answers – is that everyone is speaking English as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Not once during the double period is it necessary for the teacher to remind a student to use the target language. Nobody seems to think at all about talking in German in the class.
Gradual acclimatisationAre these school students particularly talented? That is something they deny unanimously. "Everyone can do it; you just get used to it," Alexandra said. In the bilingual section of the Mataré secondary school in the 5th and 6th years they have two, in the 7th year one more period of English a week. As of the 7th year, geography is taught in English and, in the 8th class, politics as well. Politics is then replaced by history in the 9th year. History and politics finally become the bilingual subjects in Year 10.
In the upper secondary school (Sekundarstufe II), the bilingual sector is continued up to Abitur (the university entrance qualification) where, along with English as an advanced course (Leistungskurs), the students also select a bilingual subject (geography or history) from the sector of basic courses (Grundkursbereich) as exam subjects in order to gain a highly-valued additional qualification.
"Because we are continually practising, we can speak much more freely and fluently," Alexandra explains. "When I have to speak English outside school, I always notice how much of what we learn here I can use. You would hardly believe it."
Good results refute reservations"When we built up the bilingual section in the 1980s, many colleagues had considerable reservations," their history teacher, Norbert Richter, told us. "Many asked themselves whether academic standards would not suffer if the language of tuition was English. Now we know that the level is at least as high as in the other courses." This is confirmed by the students themselves who deliberately compare what they have learned with the other courses. "We learn just as much," Sascha remarks. And what he particularly likes is that here he can practise discussing political topics in English.
It is easy to see that his teacher is also enthusiastic about teaching specific content-orientated subjects in a foreign language. Norbert Richter is pleased to point out that, according to his experience, any fears that competence in one's native tongue might suffer were ungrounded. "The students have a completely new openness and flexibility in using language – and their native tongue also profits from this."
Continuity instead of isolated modules52 per cent of the roughly 900 students at the Mataré secondary school attend the bilingual section. The head of the school, Jörg Winterwerb, sees the recipe for success in the conscious decision in favour of a continued bilingual stream from the 5th year right up to Abitur.
To illustrate this, he tells a story: "At one of our school's Open Days, a gentleman told me that he didn't think much about this 'circus' we were running in order to advertise our school. And then he told me how he had tested the school by his own method: 'I just spoke in English to the first student I met in the corridor – and got a fluent answer in reply.' After that he enrolled his child with us."
Improved chances for university and a career"I hear again and again from former pupils that interviews in English are cut short after a few minutes because the command of the foreign language is so convincing," Norbert Richter reports proudly.
The advantages of their choice are also clear to the 16- to 17-year-old pupils in the basic history course. "If I want to study abroad, it's bound to help me," Laura comments. "Besides, today it is especially important to stand out from the crowd and to have a few extra qualifications at one's disposal." And the disadvantages? "The envy of the others," Sascha says, and laughs.
If Caesar wanted to prepare his career today then his route would not lead across the Mediterranean Sea to Rhodes but perhaps rather across the Rhine to Meerbusch.
works as a freelance publicist in Bonn
Translation: Moira Davidson-Seger
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
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