Science Workshops Facilitating career paths by learning German

The science workshops aim to illustrated how German and science teaching can be combined effectively.
The science workshops aim to illustrated how German and science teaching can be combined effectively. | © Liam Hartley

“Speak German – study Science”; under this motto, the Goethe-Institut Australien offers CLIL workshops that combine German with science content. During these workshops, students from year seven to year ten get the opportunity to explore the work of established scientists in small groups through the medium of German.

CLIL programs aim to promote bilingual education and multilingualism - a key competence in an increasingly globalised world and a cause that continues to require attention in the Australian educational system. In the case of CLIL in German (CLILiG), German language learning is combined with content from other subjects such as science, math or geography. The practice shows that the combination of German and science may be beneficial for students not only regarding their learning experience, but also in terms of career development.

Examples for combining language and science teaching

At the science workshops held at the Goethe-Institut in Sydney on 22 September 2017, Dr Sonja Dominik, Dr Marie Greyer and Dr Max Ott illustrated how German and science teaching can be combined effectively. 

Dr Dominik, team leader in quantitative genetics at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Agriculture and Food, used images to facilitate language learning in her workshop The sheep has a big bottom. Livestock breeding and genetics. Says Dominik: “I was explaining the rules of Mendel’s peas where he crossed a green pea and a yellow pea. I had pictures of peas and could point at the colour.”

Dr Greyer held the workshop 'GlitterBugs: How clean are your hands?' Dr Greyer held the workshop 'GlitterBugs: How clean are your hands?' | © Byron Martin Dr Greyer, PhD program officer at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity at the University of Melbourne, used a similar approach in her workshop GlitterBugs: How clean are your hands? “The combination of activities and visuals in this workshop help me to convey the broader or more general context of the science whilst exposing students to the German language at the same time. More specific or challenging vocabulary are explained in form of clue cards”, says Greyer.

Dr Ott, Senior Principal Engineer at Data61 at the CSIRO, explains that the subject he picked was fundamentally about solving number puzzles in his workshop Cyber security: How do we make digital information hacker-proof? “The connection with language is that [the students] (to some extend) are already familiar with the mathematics involved (essentially just adding and subtracting), so the language challenge is to perform the calculations in one’s native language but describing the procedure and result in a different one.” He adds that students may be more motivated to learn new vocabulary if they find the science topic interesting by itself.

In her workshop, Dr Dominik used images to facilitate language learning. In her workshop, Dr Dominik used images to facilitate language learning. | © Byron Martin Teaching German and science content can be connected in creative ways, as the examples illustrate. This enables students not only to improve their language skills – explicitly, through the acquisition of new vocabulary and, implicitly, through enhanced motivation – but also to achieve a better understanding of the subject. It may also be a confidence booster for students to understand a complex topic in a foreign language. Besides immediate content related benefits of CLILiG workshops, however, there are also more extended outcomes.  

Developing a career in science

CLIL workshops demonstrate career paths that have been strongly facilitated by speaking a second language. Dr Dominik says she “had a follow up call from a young lady from the German school, whose German was exceptional and I assume she might speak German at home, but she really enjoyed the topic area of genetics and was interested in work experience.” The workshops help to establish contact between students and professionals early on and may thereby positively contribute to student’s career development.

Moreover, there is a close connection between language skills and success in the science profession. Dr Greyer says “In the scientific community, the ability to exchange ideas is absolutely vital. It fosters intercontinental collaborations. Being able to communicate your science in more than just your own language can be an integral aspect for this but it also allows you to better integrate into the different customs and cultural aspects of another country.” German skills may thus contribute to heading into a successful career in science.

CLILiG workshops showcase the importance of German as a key language in science research and professionalism. CLILiG workshops showcase the importance of German as a key language in science research and professionalism. | © Melisa Savickas That such a career may take place, at least in part, in Germany is addressed by a presentation by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) at the end of the afternoon at the Goethe-Institut. This session gave students, as well as their parents, an overview over educational, research and professional opportunities in Germany and the financial support available through the DAAD.

Studying in Germany – enhancing competitiveness

Through the science workshops, students acquire new language skills and learn to apply them directly to a subject. This creates new opportunities, for example, to study, work or live in Germany. Dr Greyer points out that “[T]he German education system has an excellent reputation world-wide and what’s even better, students benefit form a mostly free education system.” Learning German in the context of science may also give students a competitive edge when they seek enrolment at the course and the university of their choice, as well as later in the competitive job market.

In conclusion, the CLILiG workshops at the Goethe-Institut showcase the importance of German as a key language in science research and professionalism. They facilitate language and science learning, establish contacts between students and science professionals, and enable students to acquire international experience in Germany.