International German Olympiad Fun Language Competition

Participants of the IDO in Frankfurt am Main.
Participants of the IDO in Frankfurt am Main. | © Goethe-Institut / V. Badiu

From 3 to 16 August 2014, the International German Olympiad (IDO) brought around one hundred pupils from 48 countries together in Frankfurt am Main. It was not only their language skills that were the focus, however.

Around the world, 12.8 million young people are learning German at secondary schools. This year, the best of them were invited to take part in the Goethe-Institut’s International German Olympiad (IDO) – the biggest German language competition, and one that has been staged every two years since 2000. National preliminary rounds determine who goes through to the competition proper, each country being allowed to send two winners born between 1995 and 2000. As a result, 95 young Olympians were selected from 48 countries and all the world’s continents – from Afghanistan and Brazil to China. Vietnam and India were also represented, both of them countries “where German is enjoying a particular boom just now”, according to IDO project leader and juror Bernd Schneider. For the first time, Iran also sent a candidate.

It’s the taking part that counts

“It’s the taking part in an Olympiad that counts”, stressed Goethe-Institut secretary general Johannes Ebert when welcoming the competitors to Frankfurt am Main, going on to say that one key focus of the IDO – apart from enjoying the competitive element – is also on the idea of intercultural exchange. “We get young people together from all over the world who are united by their enthusiasm for the German language”, agrees Bernd Schneider. The youngsters are not only supposed to compete against one another, but above all with one another. “That’s why two disciplines see them working together in international teams”.
German Olympiad competitors are classified according to the language levels A2, B2 and C1. “School systems differ hugely around the world”, explains the project leader, “so the level that can be reached varies accordingly from country to country.” At their respective levels, the students of German are put to the test in three disciplines: their tasks include compiling a wall newspaper, giving a presentation and taking part in a quiz.

Competing in three disciplines

At the IDO 2014, the wall newspaper was supposed to convey above all the young visitors’ personal impressions of the city of Frankfurt, mostly using photographs, songs or poems. The presentation involved international teams reflecting upon topics such as money or the environment and nature – in the form of a PowerPoint presentation, a theatre play or an interview. Last but not least, the quiz section saw participants listening to a story and then recounting it to the illustrator Reinhard Michl, who then prepared an illustrated version of their narrative.

Scores were given not only for language proficiency but also for intercultural skills. For instance, Anahita Hosseini from Iran – who won the bronze medal in the A2 language level group – was awarded the Fairness Prize by the international jury for her willingness to help and her ability to work in a team.

Tongue-twisters and Danube steamer captains

International German Olympiad 2014 – national preliminary round in Romania

Project leader Bernd Schneider was particularly pleased by the fact that “German was actually the only language spoken throughout the IDO; even amongst themselves the students did not switch to English”.
For most of the young people, this was the first time they had visited the country whose language they are learning. “There are hardly any trees in Bangkok; it’s much greener in Germany”, enthused 18-year-olde Puyisa Sangprechardt from Thailand, winner of the gold medal in the A2 category. “The German mentality is unusually open”, noted Erik Kovalik, also 18, from the Czech Republic. He praised above all the opportunities for exchange: “It’s really interesting to be able to chat to learners of German from Asia or Africa”. The IDO also gave the young Olympians the chance to compare notes on what makes the German language particularly tricky or useful. According to 15-year-old Hayiningbudi Sadswati from Indonesia, for example, “‘Entschuldigung’ is a difficult word”, while the favourite word of 17-year-old Andrew Thompson from New Zealand is “Donaudampfschifffahrtskapitän” – meaning the captain of a steamer ship on the river Danube.

Exchange between teachers

It is not only the students who profit from the IDO – the teachers who accompany them from their respective countries of origin do too. As part of the IDO supporting programme, they were offered an intercultural seminar. Praising the event, Lahbabi Mohammed-Yassir, a German teacher from Fes in Morocco, said: “The seminar gives us an opportunity to share our experiences, for example in terms of our different teaching methods”. As his Indonesian colleague Anisah Shoumi emphasized: “It is by encountering other cultures that we become acquainted with our own”.
Many of the teachers were already interested in German as youngsters themselves, like Philippa Watson from Wellington in New Zealand: “I had the choice between German and French. A young and enthusiastic teacher motivated me to take German.” As a result, Philippa spent four years studying the violin in Düsseldorf.

Ready for the future

“Many of our participants later want to study in Germany”, says Bernd Schneider, explaining that the IDO gives rise to networks for the future. Furthermore, IDO alumni can keep in contact with one another via “Deutsch für dich”, the Goethe-Institut’s community website. “The Olympiad was one of the reasons why I decided to study in Frankfurt”, reported Brigitte Horvathova from the Czech Republic, who took part in the 2012 IDO. Incidentally, the dates of the next German Olympiad have already been fixed – it will be taking place in Berlin from 17 to 30 July 2016.