Category Archives: Schools

Bilingual kids better at prioritising tasks and multitasking

From the moment H was born we have been committed to the idea that she should be brought up to be bilingual. This is in partly because of the evidence that it would beenfit her in life and also that she could engage fully with both cultures. It’s interesting to read this new evidence of the benefits of being brought up bilingual:

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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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Trying to look good in house shoes

It’s common place in Austria for people to wear house shoes (referred to as slippers in England) around the home. The same house shoes are also a requirement for children in schools. On entering her school H goes straight to her cloakroom and swaps her boots for house shoes before bouncing up the stairs to her classroom.

For H and her primary school friends house shoes represent no major issue. But consider the challenge for your average teenager seeking that cool swagger or disinterested slouch down a corridor. I leave you dear read to contemplate the challenge and the effort required (and sometimes achieved) to secure the required look. For the rest of us whether at home or in public the house shoe produces a distinctive shuffle but does help to keep the floors clean.

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It’s Thursday afternoon and after a quick lunch Helena and friend Leona will be spending the next few hours at Showtime. This is Vienna’s English Theatre’s ‘Youth Performing Arts School’ and another example of the two languages world in which we live here in the city. The schools bilingual teachers work with young people up to the age of 18 years teaching drama, dance and song. Helena enjoys the drama and dancing but claims not to be so keen on the singing. I suspect from the odd comment made that the singing issue has more to do with the ‘children’s’ music played in her class as she is never shy to sing the whole of the Mama Mia album and anything else deemed ‘cool’.

I asked the two girls what they like about Showtime and through big grins the responses were:

‘The acting and its fun to learn and play’ says Helena.

‘The dancing and its fun to learn and play’ says Leona.

So we have some clear consensus here and two future stars of theatre and dance – if they’re not do busy having fun.


Filed under Schools, Theatre, Vienna Life

Vienna Bilingual Schooling

Helena attends one of Vienna’s state run bilingual primary schools and the system also operates at the middle/senior school and kindergarten levels. Morning drop-off and afternoon pick up finds an interesting mix of German and English being spoken by parents and children at the school gate and the surrounding streets. It’s noticeable how conversations will switch between the two languages, especially amongst the children.

I rather like the website statement regarding this approach to education: ‘To prevent language from being an obstacle between people – that is why there is ‘Vienna Bilingual School’. In these schools’ bilingual classes comprise a 50/50 split of native English and German speaking children. All the children study the same Austrian curriculum and work with a combination of Austrian and native English speaking teachers.

For Helena school starts at 8am and finishes at 1pm, after which she settles down to between an hour to two hours home work each day. She usually heads off to her room with the announcement of whether she has home work in English and/or German (and Maths) today.

On a personal level Helena generally operates in German with her friends and class mates at school, unless the ‘cool’ kid happens to be an English speaker. Given that Helena has always been brought up to be bilingual the two language environment has been less of a shock to her than the difference in the approach between the English and Austrian teaching systems. Of course Romana regularly notes that this bilingual environment would be so much more enriched if I got on with learning German….a saga I think for another day.

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