Academia Bilingual School in Basel, Winterthur and Terra Nova Bilingual School in Küsnacht offer balanced bilingual teaching. Lessons are conducted in German for one half of the week and in English for the other. This helps pupils develop outstanding language skills and an extensive vocabulary in both languages and in all subject areas.
Around a third of our students have a bilingual or multilingual background. But how do the other two thirds learn their second language? In this post, Jürgen Jaks, German teacher at Academia Bilingual School Basel, explains how he introduces his students to the German language.

Each child requires individual support so that it can be determined where they are in their development

‘The aim of my lessons is clear: I want to introduce the children – who usually speak English as a native language – to German in a way that allows them to follow the lesson and communicate. There isn’t one specific fool proof system for achieving this. Each child requires individual support so that it can be determined where they are in their development. Accordingly, I need to be able to offer pupils a variety of different learning experiences. The toolbox of methods and materials I use in my lessons is constantly growing.

The majority of my pupils learn their second language during the first three to four years at Academia Bilingual School. That means I won’t get very far with grammar and lengthy explanations for this age group. Instead, it’s much more important that I teach the language in a fun and varied way that brings all the senses into play. Learning through doing is the main focus.

For instance, we’ll begin the lesson with a poem that the pupils turn into a play. The children take on different roles and costumes and practise their lines. If all goes well, they’ll perform for their parents. This means the children don’t just learn the poem off by heart – they also think about the feelings, perspectives, and thoughts behind the lines and verse, immersing themselves deep in the language.

I use teaching materials to help plan my lessons. We work with the Jojo materials Grundschrift and Fördern. They’re very well suited to my lessons, as they have a clear structure and plenty of illustrations. They also feature a wide range of activities with different difficulty levels. This is another opportunity to tailor the German class to students’ individual levels.

Another great way of teaching children the language is through stories: Findefuchs, a story for children just starting to read, is a great example. The wonderful illustrations in the book help tell the story as I read it aloud to the children. Another story I use in class is about a little penguin who grows up in the Antarctic. When an unknown word appears, I don’t just translate it into English – I explain it or let the kids play out the situation the word describes. That’s a lot of fun for them – and for me, too!

Of course, we also use digital media. This helps pupils work independently. The two main apps we use (‘Anton Deutsch als Fremdsprache’ and ‘Appolino’) feature content that can be adapted to the individual child’s current level. They offer a wide range of content and motivate the class to get to grips with the language.

The list of methods and tools I use in my lessons is constantly growing and changing, as needed. What matters more than the method is that the kids want to learn the language because they’re part of a group, and they want to communicate with their fellow pupils. Sometimes, growing a child’s confidence is more important than imparting knowledge. Children generally have fewer qualms about making mistakes and take a lighter approach to new situations. That’s why it’s often easier for them to learn a language than it is for us grown-ups. However, my most important job is to find a way to connect with each child, so they can reach their learning goals. Seeing how much fun the children have as they learn German gives me a great deal of fulfilment.”

Jürgen Jaks has taught German at the Academia Bilingual School Basel since 2018.