What is the most useless subject in school

Foreign language acquisition: Useless early start


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The sooner the better is the motto of educational policy when it comes to foreign language teaching. Every elementary school student now has two or three hours of English or French per week. Lessons begin in the third grade at the latest; in some federal states, the first graders start into the new language world with songs and games. Throughout Germany, English ranks first, with French dominating in some regions. Other languages ​​only play a minor role.

The euphoria with which early foreign language lessons started a decade ago was great: the children should grow into the new language through play, learn it more easily and master it more fluently than earlier generations of pupils and, at the same time, grow into cosmopolitan citizens. But meanwhile disillusionment has spread. Particularly clear criticism comes from the foreign language teachers in secondary schools. In a survey carried out by the German Association of Philologists in 2009 among English teachers at grammar schools, the majority expressed their negative opinion on the results of early foreign language teaching. Little has changed in this judgment to this day, says the president of the association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger: "The teachers have to start all over again in the grammar school. The results of the elementary school lessons as they are currently taking place can hardly be built on. " The lessons are too playful, they are often too demanding and demotivating the students, and sometimes they are even taught the wrong pronunciation.

The inadequate qualification of many primary school teachers is a problem, confirms Heiner Böttger, Professor of English Didactics at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt. Programs for foreign language teachers in elementary schools were only established after classes had started. "These new courses offer a solid education. Those who have completed them are very well prepared for the task," says Heiner Böttger. But only one in five foreign language teachers in primary schools has just completed such a degree. The majority of the hours are still taught by non-specialist teachers who had to undergo rapid training. The courses, often sponsored by school book publishers, sometimes only last a few weeks. The success of the lesson depends heavily on the previous knowledge of the language and the methodological talent of the teacher. However, advocates of early learning are not frightened by such inconsistencies. Your goal remains to teach foreign languages ​​from grade one in all federal states.

For many immigrant children, English would be the second foreign language

These efforts were dampened by a report on Baden-Württemberg's educational policy that the former director of the Max Planck Institute for Educational Research, Jürgen Baumert, presented together with other scientists last year. The advice of the educational researchers to the politicians of the state, which is one of the pioneers of early foreign language learning: The beginning of the English and French lessons should be moved from the first to the third grade to cover the time freed up in mathematics and, above all, in to invest in German lessons. "Every fourth student in a year bears a high risk of massive early learning difficulties and later functional illiteracy," says Marcus Hasselhorn, psychology professor and one of the authors of the study. "We want to close the growing gap between these and the inconspicuously developing children."

Another argument of the reviewers: For children from, say, Turkish migrant families who only have a poor command of German, English would be the second foreign language and an additional burden. However, the experts could not provide any scientific evidence for this assumption. The Baden-Württemberg minister of education at the time announced that the recommendations would be implemented quickly, but then postponed the decision until further notice in view of violent objections from the camp of advocates of early foreign language learning. Heiner Böttger is also one of the critics of the report. Playing the subjects off against each other is the wrong way. Instead, he suggests differentiated teaching in order to do justice to the different levels of performance.

However, these discussions only marginally touch the birth defect of the entire foreign language concept: It consists in the educational policy error that starting early when learning a foreign language is in itself a guarantee of success. Children of primary school age, so the idea, would acquire the foreign language almost as effortlessly as their mother tongue. This phase should not be allowed to pass. Linguistic studies show that there is indeed a time window for such natural language learning. However, it already opens in toddler age and begins to close again at the age of seven or eight.