German and double English?


At first glance it would appear that in attending a bilingual school H has the challenge of studying in both German and English. But look more carefully……..what English is she learning?

I’m obviously a biased father when it comes to my daughter. But I am in awe of the way that H has, at the age of eight, embarrassed the change from an English school environment (plus home learning for German) to a bilingual class studying in German and English. The switch is a dramatic change and one experienced by many of her classmates. Yet H and her friends sit around the table doing their homework in German and then turn to their English assignments without as much as the batting of an eyelid.

Now let me return to the issue of learning English in Vienna. In this new environment H is expected to study in and develop both her English as well as her German. But she finds herself developing her English language through both English and American resources. This therefore creates an extra dimension to her study. As we read and write, in our native language, we often work out and/or reinforce our understanding of new words and ideas through our familiarity with the context in which they appear, as well as from our understanding of the associated text. When H reads ‘Horrid Henry’ she recognises the school and his day to day situations/surroundings. When she reads ‘Horrible Harry’ – an America equivalent – she not only has to acquire understanding and meaning of new words, as well as the story, but also learn (translate) such words as ‘Principle’ into ‘Head Teacher’ or come to grips with the concept of the children standing in class giving the ‘pledge of allegiance’.

The difference between English and American may appear small to adult native speakers. However, when put into the world of an eight year old, with deadlines for homework and exams to pass in a bilingual learning environment, it might feel more substantive. So I will have to look to my thesaurus to find the words to more adequately express my awe for the English and American speaking youngsters (for some of whom English is only their second language) using the other cultures books to develop their  ‘English’ alongside German.

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Filed under Languages, Schools, Vienna Life

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