Why couldn't we learn English in school?

Today is the job of the professions. "This is a teacher", Nicole Sölch explains to her fourth graders and points to one of the pictures on the blackboard. Later the teacher at a Bavarian elementary school asks: "What do you want to be?" Sporadic requests to speak from the students, one of whom does not want to take any of the jobs shown, but prefers to become a "youtube filmmaker".

Since the 2005/06 school year, teaching in a foreign language has been compulsory in Germany's primary schools. In many places, young students have been introduced to languages ​​since the turn of the millennium. In areas near the border, the language of the neighboring country is sometimes taught, for example French in Saarland. The majority of primary school students, however, come into contact with English first, in most federal states in the third grade. Six countries start in the first grade, for example Baden-Württemberg.

"Let the children open their mouths"

Classes are intended to "lay the foundation for the acquisition of multilingualism and for lifelong foreign language learning", writes the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs in its latest report on the subject. Because of this claim, there has been a lot of criticism of English lessons for the little ones in recent years: grammar school teachers grumbled that it didn't do anything; In studies, researchers have shown that foreign language classes start far too early or far too late. In 2009, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, head of the Philologists' Association, described the "hasty introduction" of this foreign language course as one of many "failed reform snaps".

A lot has happened since then. A good half of the current English teachers in elementary schools have actually studied the subject. In previous years, most of them had only acquired an additional qualification on the job to be able to teach English. Heiner Böttger, Professor of English Didactics at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, says: "We are in an intermediate phase, in a few years we will have a completely new standard." The BIG study that Böttger carried out with colleagues shows that the students have already taken a lot with them at the end of the fourth grade. The study, which will only appear in September, is the S.üddeutsche Zeitung in front. To this end, 2000 fourth graders across Germany were surveyed about English lessons, and their knowledge was tested.

Even in the underperforming group, the majority wanted to learn more English. In addition, the students proved that they can grasp simple listening texts well and understand an even larger part in written form. This is why the scientists say that "multilingualism can and must be a real goal in primary schools". The good performance in reading comprehension is surprising, as writing is rarely taught in most countries. "The children should open their mouths and get a feel for the language," says teacher Sölch. In the two hours of English per week she therefore teaches her fourth grade monolingual. It then takes a while before she has declared her future career as an "archaeologist". But with visual support - digging movements with their hands - the students understand what is meant.