Immigrant children 'should learn German early'

15th February 2006, Comments 0 comments

15 February 2006, BERLIN - Prominent German immigration researchers called Tuesday for more measures to improve the German language ability of immigrant children.

15 February 2006

BERLIN - Prominent German immigration researchers called Tuesday for more measures to improve the German language ability of immigrant children.

Hartmut Esser presented the results of the integration study (Photo: Expatica)

Speaking at a press conference at the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB), Hartmut Esser and Karen Schoenwaelder from the WZB's Programme on Intercultural Conflicts and Societal Integration (AKI) presented their report "Language - Migration - Integration". The report synthesises the results of scientific studies done on language and integration in several countries, including the USA, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany.

The researchers found that learning the language of the country of residence as early as possible is of vital importance to immigrant children's success both in school and in the job market.

"Sometimes what looks like discrimination, for example the situation of Turks in the German job market, is in reality due to shortcomings in language ability," commented Esser.

This was true internationally and was almost totally independent of the specific political and institutional situations in the respective countries, he said.

However he stressed that language was a "necessary but not sufficient condition" for integration, and that other factors could lead to inequality. "France has demonstrated that," he commented, referring to recent riots in French suburbs, which have a high proportion of immigrants.

The study shows that success in learning the language of the country of residence depends on various factors. These include the age at which the children entered the country, the level of education of their parents and the amount of contact to native speakers of the target language. Other factors included the language which families spoke at home and the degree to which the language being learned resembled the children's mother tongue.

He said that immigrant children are at a particular disadvantage when negative factors - such as poverty, poor schools, uneducated parents and a lack of opportunities to learn the language informally due to ethnic segregation - cluster together and reinforce each other. However improving just one factor was enough to show an overall improvement in language ability, he said.

The researchers stressed that immigrant children should start learning their second language as early as possible. They called on the German government to support immigrant children in learning German from pre-school onwards. "Above the age of 15, or even ten, it is already too late," Esser said.

Esser stressed that it was important that immigrant children should have the opportunity to learn the language in informal situations and not be forced to learn the language. "Motivation is critical," he said. "If the immigrant culture is seen as being inferior, then this will be de-motivating." The benefits of learning German should be explained to parents, he said, so that they are encouraged to help their children learn the language.

It is crucial that immigrant children have the chance to come into contact with native speakers of Germans on a day-to-day basis, he said. Hence kindergartens and schools should ideally have a balanced ratio of children who are native speakers of German and children of immigrants.

Esser suggested that schools might even consider having a "quota" of immigrant children, with a certain percentage of places reserved for children of immigrant families. However immigrant families should be left to decide themselves if they take up the offer or not, he said.

To improve the quality of teaching at schools with a high proportion of immigrant children, the researchers recommend employing more teachers who are trained to teach German as a second language.

Existing measures, such as language courses for immigrants which were introduced in 2005 in Germany, should be evaluated systematically to check if they are effective or not. The researchers pointed out that governments are spending a lot of money on measures without knowing if they actually work.

Esser welcomed the much-publicised initiative at the ethnically-mixed Herbert Hoover School in Berlin's Wedding district, where students have agreed to only speak German while on school premises. "I would have problems with it if it was imposed on the students, because then the motivation would probably suffer," he commented.

"But what they have done is the optimal combination," he added. "They said, we will do it ourselves, so the motivation is there, and they are simulating, so to speak, inter-ethnic contact. That is naturally admirable."


Copyright Expatica 2006

Subject: German news, language and integration

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