Children from multilingual families face great opportunities and challenges in the German Department. These children are already accustomed to switching from one language to another and thus have good prerequisites for taking a bilingual school-leaving certificate like the German International Abitur. On the other hand, children who grow up speaking several languages are not firmly rooted in any language in the same way that children from families that speak only one language are. That is why school and parents must work together closely in order to meet the special learning needs of children from multilingual families.
In Hong Kong our pupils grow up in an environment that is strongly influenced by the English language and offers numerous opportunities to use English outside school. The situation is different as far as German is concerned, as this is a language that children only rarely hear and speak outside school and family. That is why a special coordinated effort is required of parents and school when it comes to learning German. It is basically true to say that
- the more your child hears and speaks German,
- the more positive his/her experience of the German speaking aspects of family life,
- the more closely school and parents work together,
- the better he/she will learn German.
What does this actually mean? How can you help your child to gain the best possible command of German? The German speaking parent plays a key role, serving as a language model, but the non-German speaking parent can also provide lasting support for the language learning process by showing an interest in and appreciation of the German language and culture.
The following tips and recommendations are intended for families with children in all age groups. Please select those ideas that apply to your family situation.
In the family
- Spend as much time as possible with your child and consistently speak German with him/her from the start. Play with your child and read German books aloud to him/her.
- Make sure that communication in German within the family is not limited to just a few words. By setting an example in the way you speak German, you can help your child to express himself/herself in longer, coherent sentences.
- Avoid using a mixture of languages. Continue to speak in German even if your child answers you in English (or in another language spoken within the family). The more German he/she hears, the better he/she will understand the language and the easier it will be for him/her to develop German language patterns.
- Explain to your home help why you speak to your child in German even if she does not understand this. Teach her everyday German. If necessary, summarise essential information for your home help in English.
- Listen to German on cassettes and CDs with your child and watch German DVDs together. Speak to him/her about his/her impressions and questions – in German, of course. You can obtain information about suitable listening material from the school librarians.
- Watch the news and other programmes together on Deutsche Welle.
Other German speaking families / German speaking institutions
- Encourage your child to make friends with children from other German speaking families and arrange for the children to visit one another. Do handicrafts with the children and have parties together.
- Make use of offers outside school where German is spoken, e.g. private playgroups, events put on by the German speaking Protestant and Catholic communities, the German Speaking Ladies Group or the Goethe Institute.
- Speak to the Head of the Kindergarten if you need advice on expert pre school German tuition.
Contact with German speaking countries
- Keep in touch with German speaking grandparents and relatives. Have your child speak to them on the phone regularly.
- Spend your holiday or a part of your holiday in a German speaking country. Repeat stays in places that are clearly different from Hong Kong in a positive way (e.g. at the grandparents’ house, which has a large garden for playing with pets) will help your child to develop an emotional link to the German language and culture.
- Encourage your child to take part in holiday sports courses, practical social training or practical training in a company in a German speaking country.
School and parents
- Take advantage of the Afternoon Activities offered by GSIS.
- Show an interest in the progress your child makes with the Antolin reading programme used in the Primary Department. Encourage your child to read fiction and non-fiction on topics that interest him/her. You can find recommendations on what books to read in GIST, the monthly circular sent out by the School Management. Books in German are available from the school library and in the school shop.