Learning German in public elementary school looks like a lot more fun than learning English. Gone are the sighs over grammar primers; banished are the cycle of tests.
That’s why, in Taiwan’s first pilot study for teaching public elementary-school children a second foreign language, it is mostly fun and games.
At the closing ceremony last week, the students flocked into the auditorium with their props, looking buoyant.
Photo: Chen Chih-qu, Taipei Times
They took turns onstage to launch into song, making up for what they lacked in precision with the willingness to sing very loudly.
Hsu Fu-hui (徐富慧), a mother of two, signed herself up to be a parent assistant in the pilot program. Throughout the past semester, she sat in on her younger daughter’s class.
“When the kids are in Chinese or English class it feels rote and it feels routine. Very textbook-based,” Hsu said.
“With this class, the atmosphere was extremely lively. They played games and collected points. No pressure.”
She may have gotten swept up in the atmosphere, too.
“I picked out a German name for myself, Johanna. My daughter is Hanna.”
NOT ENGLISH CLASS
Coordinated by the education non-profit Language Training and Testing Center (LTTC, 語言訓練測驗中心), this pilot is the first in Taiwan to teach public elementary-school students a second foreign language.
As with today’s English curriculum, the point of the course is train global citizens.
“But learning a foreign language shouldn’t only mean learning English, and a global perspective isn’t only a US-UK perspective,” said Liao Hsien-hao (廖咸浩), a National Taiwan University professor and executive director of LTTC.
Liao ultimately hopes to integrate his second foreign-language course into the national standardized curriculum.
But even when standardized, it won’t deliver content in the way of the standard foreign language course — or, not to name names, like English class.
“We have a very clear idea of our mission and that is to hold on to the children’s natural interest,” Liao said.
“A lot of teaching right now does not take care to maintain the child’s interest and that’s why they lose interest in English early on,” he added.
During the pilot, four classes at four Taipei City schools learned German, Japanese, Spanish or French for 30 minutes a week for 15 weeks, starting in February.
In a step away from today’s English lessons, the pilot de-emphasized phonics and slimmed down word banks, focusing instead on animating the cultural landscape of the language’s home.
“The most important thing for young children like this is sparking interest, which you can do through colorful details like the culture’s food or traditional dress,” Liao said.
The pilot also incorporated frequent sessions of active language use.
“Children aren’t like adults. They find it hard to simply look at a symbol and remember it,” Liao said.
“You have to help them in different ways, such as asking them to search [for the symbol]. Searching is remembering, but how do you make them search?”
Games like Bingo can encourage recall. Real-life situations can, too: At Ximen Elementary School (西門國小), students wrote greeting cards in Japanese. Students at Jin-hua Elementary School (金華國小) organized a Spanish-language concert for Mother’s Day.
The results of “fun class,” as one girl called it, are respectable but not miraculous.
The children can count to ten, point and name sundry objects and ask basic questions, all without looking anxious.
“Ich komme aus Taiwan” (“I am from Taiwan”), demonstrated “Lukas,” a fourth grader who learned German at Wuxing Elementary School (吳興國小). “Kommst du aus Taiwan?” (“Are you from Taiwan?”)
Chen Shun-he (陳順和), secretary-general of Taipei City’s Department of Education, said the city wants to see LTTC continue the pilot study.
LTTC plans to run the program again next semester on four schools.
“Right now we don’t have much field data about teaching a second foreign language at this age level in Taiwan,” Liao said.
“We’ll regroup at the end and based on results, see where to go from there.”
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