Children can enjoy learning a foreign language if it’s fun and they can find a reason for using their new language. If they happen to live on the Dutch – German border, for instance, and can pop over the border to order chips at a German snack bar. I’m sure they’ll find it easier to remember the names of fruit, too, when they realise there’s a good ice cream place in the nearest German town.
Let’s speak German!
What are the most popular after-school activities in your town? Where I live in the Netherlands, sports and dancing are favourite by far, with relatively few taking music lessons and a handful taking part in organised arts and crafts. Learning a language is definitely a minority activity for primary school children, but one town on the Dutch-German border was surprised at how many people signed up for lessons.
When a group of local primary schools advertised a children’s German class on free Wednesday afternoons, they were expecting a few children to join. Instead, they were overwhelmed by the response. Over 250 children signed up, more than the 9 volunteer teachers could cope with. After a plea for help in the local paper, 63 people of all ages have volunteered to teach, and more are contacting the organisation every day.
The first lessons have already started with the basics of saying hello and goodbye. Now the volunteers are busy planning lessons and deciding how and what to teach. Werk aan de winkel!, as the Dutch say (lit. ‘work at the shop’, fig. ‘there’s work to be done’).
Why is learning German so popular?
- Not enough for children to do?
- Pushy parents?
- Ambitious children?
- Location, location, location!
Could the popularity of the course be because there is not much for children to do in the small town of Ulft (10,500 residents)? That seems unlikely as there is a new cultural centre with a music school, a library, as well as sports clubs including football and hockey and a swimming pool. So the enthusiasm for learning German seems a little surprising until you see where Ulft is, right next to the German border in the Achterhoek region of Gelderland. Whether the children themselves are enthusiastic or their parents have signed them up hoping to improve their marks later on at senior school, I don’t know. Looking further ahead, speaking German will be helpful in the cross-border job market and some of these children may even go on to study in Germany. Whatever the reason, the after-school German lessons have proved a hit. It will be interesting to see how many are still enjoying it in a year’s time.
Source, including video (in Dutch): item on Omroep Gelderland