Courses for Volunteers Nonprofessional Teachers

Speaking fluent German is one thing; teaching it is something else. The Goethe-Institut is showing volunteers how they can pass on their German skills to refugees
Speaking fluent German is one thing; teaching it is something else. The Goethe-Institut is showing volunteers how they can pass on their German skills to refugees | Photo: Goethe-Institut

Volunteers are highly motivated and doing everything they can to ease refugees’ lives in Germany, even teaching them German. But just because you speak German doesn’t make you a teacher. The Goethe-Institut is now helping the volunteers. By Susanne Lettenbauer

The mood in classroom 4 of the Goethe-Institut in Schwäbisch Hall is inquisitive. Seventeen men and women find themselves seats. It’s a little like the first day of school, but the pupils are all past the age of forty. Regine Baumann, the institute’s educational director, welcomes the volunteers. As of today, the five men and twelve women will attend school once a week for two hours. They want to teach refugees German.

Demand for the course was high, says, Regine Baumann: “We only envisaged it quite recently and many people signed up for it. We chose seventeen participants and they are coming for the first time today.”

Some of them have been working to provide a good arrival to asylum seekers for months. One of them explains: “I’m already teaching foreigners and asylum seekers German and I’m simply interested in what can be done to better convey the differences in the languages.”

Another is a young English student: “I’ve never taught German as a second language. I’m expecting and hope for some inspiration, I would like to share with others, I am very excited.”

And there is also one of the sprightly, active retirees: “Honestly, I’m a complete novice when it comes to refugee aid, but I’ve done a lot of volunteer work in the past and cleared my plate a little because, for one, I’m interested, secondly, I just want to do it, and also I studied to be a teacher when I was younger and I think I’m probably suited for it.”

Question one’s own language

The course begins with a surprise and it does not sound anything like German. Instead, how does it feel to not understand a word for twenty long minutes? To constantly be called on by a teacher without having any idea what it’s all about. In this case it is the Yoruba language of Nigeria. This is exactly how the refugees feel during their first German lessons, explains instructor Karin Gardini Scheibler: “First of all, self-reflection, becoming aware how you behave when you come into contact with a foreign language for the first time. What feelings, what imagery, what thoughts arise? First you collect that and then go on. What can I take from that so that I don’t make mistakes in my contacts with refugees I would like to teach German?”

Question one’s own language, simply challenge regular idioms: the German course for volunteers is more than just a language course for nonprofessional teachers. The helpers should also be given a feeling for the situation the refugees are in, having to use an entirely new language everyday, explains instructor Scheibler. If Germans think they can teach the German language simply because they can speak it, they are wrong. German is very complex.

“It’s not easy to explain the structure of German. To teach it in very small steps so that the learners experience a feeling of success and learn a little more every day requires a certain method.”

More to learn on the web

Years ago, the Goethe-Institut offered integration courses for refugees in Schwäbisch Hall until the Federal Agency of Migration and Refugees cut their funding. The new German courses for volunteers are the institute’s first steps to get involved again in the present refugee situation. It was made possible by a hefty donation from Japan. Regine Baumann developed a separate syllabus especially for the courses.

“We drew up a curriculum that naturally also involves intercultural skills: the choice of subjects or the question of what to focus on; whether it makes sense to teach Duden grammar and whether it’s better to use role-play or read texts.”

Initially, the highly motivated volunteer German teachers will meet four times. The institute will then see what the next steps should be. Further training may be limited to the webinars on the Internet that begin in late October. From 20 October not only the course participants in Schwäbisch Hall, but anyone interested in learning the basics of teaching German can do so online for free.

Courtesy of Deutschlandradio Kultur. This report was played by the station on 12 October.