Language development programs Learning languages at day care

A number of projects shall improve the language skills of children of immigrant families.
A number of projects shall improve the language skills of children of immigrant families. | Photo: fatihhoca © iStockphoto

Children of immigrant families often hear and speak the language of their parents when they are at home, but while they are at day care or school they are immersed in a German-language environment. In recent years, a number of projects to improve the language skills of these children have been initiated.

Many of the kids don’t speak any German when they arrive at age two at the St. Albert Catholic Kindergarten. To better integrate them into day care activities, the facility takes part in Sprache macht stark! (lit. Language makes you strong!), a comprehensive language development program sponsored by the city of Ludwigshafen and the University of Mannheim that is currently running in about 90 day care centers. Foreign languages are part of everyday life here, for example when taking their jackets on and off upon arrival or departure, or when they set the table or do arts and crafts, but there is also targeted work being done in small groups.

Little groups for little students

“Two times a week I come in for a group of two to four kids. We sing, play and do arts and crafts, all while casually expanding their vocabularies,” explains Manuela Weiß, who completed a German-language developer’s course as part of the Sprache macht stark! program. “At the moment, for example, we work for three weeks on the subject New in Day Care. During that time we try to teach the kids a maximum of 20 words on the subject of kindergarten, such as “group”, “playground”, “play”, “read” or “paint”.” Weiß has noticed that the two-year-olds are very open when in small groups and tend to learn new words very quickly. Even parents come in regularly to get involved with the groups and see how they can support their children in the process of learning languages.

Parents promote family languages

“It is important that parents read aloud to their kids, play with them and accompany their activities while actively using their language,” emphasizes Livia Daveri, who represents Rucksack KiTa (lit. Backpack Day Care), a regional program in the workplace that helps children and youth from immigrant families. Parents play a particularly vital role in the Rucksack KiTa concept because its aim is not just to promote German (as the second language) but also bolster the children’s knowledge of their parental mother tongue. While the educators work primarily on German with the kids, parents are given instruction on how to better teach their kids the family language. For nine months at regular meetings, a minder gives the parents activities that they can do at home with their children. More than 6,000 families have participated in the project in Germany since its inception. “The children love it when their mothers practice with them every day, and the educators enjoy seeing the kids develop a better relationship with the parents as a result,” explains Tanja Biermann, coordinator of the project in Leverkusen.

Playful learning

“Children learn best when it’s fun,” says Krisztina Csörgei from the theater education center KREATIVHAUS in Berlin. For several years now, she and her colleagues have been running the program Spielend Sprache lernen (lit. Learn language while playing) in various Berlin kindergartens. “We often have a topic of the day that relates to a well-known fairy tale, like Snow White and the Giant,” explains Csörgei. “We bring the costumes and musical instruments, then we tell a short story and act a bit before getting the kids involved in various roles.” Csörgei is convinced that because theater pieces stimulate so many senses, and the children are constantly being made to deal with new situations, they learn new vocabulary quite easily. The words are then remembered when the children tell their teachers and parents about the experiences. “They make massive progress while experiencing a greater sense of confidence and fun with the language.” Musicians, costume and set designers, art therapists and of course theater educators all contributed to the original concept.