Placing English-speaking children in state school

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I am interested in any experiences with placing English-speaking elementary-aged children into the German public school system. We will be moving from the US to the Frankfurt or Munich area in January 2008, at which time we are planning to enroll our rising first-grader in public school. While we are trying to learn as much German as possible prior to the move, we realize our son won't be fluent until he is fully immersed for some time. How accomodating is the German school system for "German as a Second Language" students? Thanks in advance!

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Hi NCMama,

I'm not too sure if much changed since the eighties, but the English boy we had in class (here in Germany) did not live an easy life, I believe looking back now. Nobody treated him badly, we just could not communicate at all which made him an outsider. I'm not too sure about your possibilities in NC, but check out multilingual kindergardens or language schools for kids now for the remaining 6 months. It'll make it much easier on your kid.

 

Frankfurt and Munich are definitely the cities to think about as you will have also the opportunity to send your child to an englishspeaking school (private) if you so wish. That may not be helpful for your kid's language skills, but it'll make the pretty dramatic transition much easier than being left at a school for the first time in his life with no language to communicate in. You could switch to German public school a couple of years later depending on how long you are staying.

 

Language is a great tool for expats generally to hold on to the 'good ol' past' as a security blanket in a new place where everything is different. Don't take that away from your son right of the bat...

 

All the best for your move!

Cheers

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A question also to consider is how old your child is. If he is under 7, he will probably have to spend the first half year in kindergarten (start enrolling now, you may be lucky even thought the registration deadline has passed)

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I am under the impression that the children of two non-native German speakers (or non-German speakers) qualifiy for language help in the schools -- much in the same way that non-English speakers qualify for ESL help in U.S. public schools (when the school districts offer such programs). It's something to ask the schools when you go (or if you have a relocation agent, perhaps they"ll know). Our daughter starts kindergarten this fall and we were told by the kindergarten that once she turns 4 she will get language help in the form of some pull-out program a couple hours a week.

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My son was 6 when we moved here 2 years ago. He started in the first class in a German school, he had no understanding of German at all but we were assured by all Teaching staff that at his age he would pick it up. We had a few weeks of tears, and then he settled down. Within 2-3 months he was chatting in German (basic), within 6 months he had noproblems to be understood and to understand others. Now 2 years later, he speaks sooooo quickly and in the local Hessisch slang with his friends. He puts me to shame! My 2 older teen sons can understand him more so but me? forget it!

 

Your son will have no problem integrating into the German school if he is of similar age. My son also attends a DAZ class (Deutsch as a second language) twice a week run by the school. Kids play with others kids whatever the language barrier and it is amazes me how there brains act like sponges and suck all the information up! Wish it was as easy for me.

 

Good luck!

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Thanks for the great advice from you all! Our son will be 7 when we move (we have a daughter who will be 5, so she'll be going to kindergarten for sure). I am very encouraged to know about the "DSL" possibilities.

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We moved here in 2004 from England, I could speak German reasonably well, but my wife couldn't at all, and neither could our two daughters aged 9 and 11 at the time. We enrolled the youngest in the local Grundschule (primary school) and the 11 year old in the Gymnasium (Grammar school).

They now, 3 years later, speak fluent German and are getting good grades at school , but we still only speak English at home

.

They have had no problems whatsoever settling down, in fact I feel they are sometimes given preferential treatment because people are so eager for their children to learn English and mix with English speaking kids.

 

The schools were both very helpful at first giving help with the language, but its amazing how quickly they learn just by mixing with other kids.

They finish school here at lunchtime leaving plenty of time in the afternoons to play or do sport, music, dancing etc.

 

You have to realize that Germany is also a multicultural society, with lots of people frm non German speaking countries moving here, so the schools are getting used to dealing with foreign speaking children.

 

We did think about sending them to an English speaking school before we moved here but have absolutely no regrets about sending them to German State school, as they would otherwise not have integrated as well into German life, and would have missed out on a fantastic opportunity to become totally bilingual.

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My (much older) friends have an 11 year old daughter who is finishing up her first year of Gymnasium (5th grade). She started German school at the beginning of 4th, and while she's had her ups and downs, she and her parents are generally satisfied with the decision to take her out of Dept. of Defense school on post and put her in the town Grundschule. At her age, it was partially her decision.

 

The Gymnasium in the nearest big town accepted her as a "guest student" since her German wasn't /quite/ up to snuff (and hey, native English speaker? Bonus!) She has till the end of the 6th year to get her German grade up. So far, she seems to be on schedule. By comparison, relatively few kids from their town end up at Gymnasium at all, so I think it really comes down to how involved the parents are. My friends hired a tutor to work with her and be a parent-teacher liaison, since their German isn't terrific.

 

7 years old? It might be rough the first few months, but he'll catch on quick and probably start talking to your neighbors for you by the end of the school year :)

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My sons were 8 when we came here , 8 years ago. Being in the middle of nowhere they went to the nearby village school which had little experience of foreigners. They were placed in the 3rd class which was age appropriate.The first morning we arrived, met their teacher who said "Kommt mit!" Off they trotted and that was that. At that age school ended at 11:30 so they attended the after-school Hort so they were well and truly immersed in the language. For the first 6 months they weren't given grades, after that they got the normal graded Zeugnis.

In terms of language learning it was a complete sucess. My only regret there was that I didn't do enough about keeping up their written English skills, thinking that they had enough on their plate. Now their spelling is atrocious and they make many similar mistakes of expression and grammar as their German peers.

The school system itself I find is a disappointment; the curriculum rigid, rather old fashioned, totally mark orientated, huge amounts of cancelled lessons due to teacher shortages, not to mention "Hitze frei" days. Facilities poor, unbelievably no library in their secondary school. Once they were at secondary school you never knew what time of the day they might arrive home which gives teenagers enormous scope for getting-up-to-no-good. Poor home-school communication.

German education varies quite a bit from state to state so maybe you will be more impressed.

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Thank you all again for taking the time to respond. We are very encouraged, and we continue to plan to place our son, and eventually our daughter, in German public school. A major factor in deciding to accept this expat opportunity is in order for our children (and us) to fully experience the culture & lifestyle of the country to which we move. However, as we don't want our kids to fall behind in their English skills for their return to school in the US when our expat stint is over (2 to 3 years), we also intend to have some English lessons at home, especially as it looks like the German school day is a bit shorter than ours (approx. 4 hrs. vs. 6.5 (??)).

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Hi NC,

 

I like your post especially the "fully experience the culture & lifestyle .." part of my reasons for moving around. I have a little bit of a different experience and I hope it might help out. I was, years ago that child that moved from one culture to another at the age of 10 (with 2 brothers 8 and 4). Bascially, with normal kids that are outgoing and friendly and like to learn - in 6 months time they assimilate.

 

But you can help a lot now with a kick start.

 

Grab a teacher that will spend 2-4 hours a week play/teaching with the kids now. It will create some basics, no miracles, but if the can say simple phrases and get an idea of the existance of another language it is a plus. Join in with them a little too. Make it play, with flashcards, wordgames, colors, numbers, etc.

They'll do great with some minor moments of angst, to be sure, but by the time you leave (if, when) they'll have a new gift.

 

For my girls, also now moving into Germany, the two oldest are taking German at home and will be entering the French/German school - assuring degree equivalency between countries is a sine qua non to the move for my wife. The two youngest will be in full German play/school and I'm certain the'll be teaching me German in six months.

 

It is a really good idea that you keep your English as the home language with the kids (and try to speak German with hubby ;) ) as it will be the only situational practice they will get, which is more important than lessons.

 

Kids = no worry. Now what will you be doing to learn German?

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Thanks so much, Zemonkey, for your added comments and encouragement! We are hopeful our children, both bright (we think, of course!) but a little on the shy side, will adapt quickly. Especially as it seems the German public school system seems accomodating, based on these posts. Plus, at the ages of our kids, we feel they are still adept at learning a new language. Good question though, as to how my husband and I are preparing ourselves! My parents immigrated to the US from Germany a few months before I was born (although my mom is from Finland), and I've always heard German spoken between my father and his many sisters (we spent every third summer of my youth in Germany & Finland). I'm concerned about my husband though, as he will have to quickly adjust to the European business world! We've started some basic German lessons. Thanks again for your advice!

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If I were in your shoes, I'd be a bit wary that your kids don't get tracked into a "Pestalozzi schule." These are ostensibly for the "speech-impaired", but they end up being dumping grounds for unmotivated foreigners.

 

We send our kids to an international school, and both have made it into a highly-competitive bilingual dual-curriculum program which seems to be the ticket. I'd highly recommend it. Even if one has to take the bus and/or eat macaroni & cheese to afford the tuition, it's well worth the money ... and cheap, cheap by UK/US standards (plus you can write 30% of the tuition off on your German taxes).

 

It isn't about the language ... the German schools are simply substandard and one shouldn't gamble with one's kids eventually getting into a good university.

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I'm in the same situation. ( I actually tried to post this question weeks ago but was having registration problems) I have 2 children, 9 and 11. We live in Japan now, but will be moving to the Stuttgart area. I want my children to attend German schools so they won't be cut off as I feel they were here in Japan, since we had the kids attend Dodds school here in Yokosuka-with only a 2 weeks notice that we were moving to Japan I felt we had little choice! We'd never lived on base before--when we lived in Spain, Italy, and England we were off the base and I learned to speak Spanish and Italian fluently. Japanese was another story! My husband speaks tourist German, and I am confident that I will do fine after a year. After dealing with hiragana, katagana, and the odd Kanji, I am looking forward to the Roman alphabet again.

 

Anyway, my son is going into 3rd grade, so I don't think he would be a problem. He's a bit nervous, though. My daughter is 11. She is more confident in her abilities to go into a new system, though she would prefer to stay in American schools. She's a first-rate student, scored very high on her Terra Novas, and should be on the gymnasium track. I don't want her dumped into a second tier school just because her German won't be very good for a while. I'm having them tutored in German for a few hours a week, but it really is to get them used to the idea of moving to Germany. I'm confused as to whether Baden-Wurrtemburg is moving to having primary school lasting until 8th grade. Maybe they've moved back to 8th grade those terrible "sorting out" exams as well? I have the German sister-in-law of a friend calling around the greater Stuttgart area for me--she's in the Black Forest region so she can't actually visit anyplace for me.

 

I wish I could put my kids in a private school, and it is very easy to say that one should just take the bus and sacrifice everything for the kids' education, but we can't claim any reductions on taxes, and I don't see how we can somehow find an extra $40 K (after scholarships) since I doubt I can get a job that will be anything but a low-pay base job. I've though about Montessori schools, etc., as well. I've thought about putting my daughter in the Patch Barracks school for the last year of their elementary school, but once we are"sucked in" I am afraid that they won't want to leave the safetly of American schools.

 

I guess what I am looking for from this post is just some encouragement that not taking the easy way this time is the right way. I want the kids to be bilingual. I think truly being immersed in a foreign culture will be worth all the problems, and my daughter can still have plenty of time to get ready for college in HS. I do think it is smart to make sure that they keep up in English; I've had friends in Spain and Italy who were surprised at how quickly their kids lost some fluency in writing in their native language after only a year or so out of school. I remember reading Sally Quinn's bio--she said that she was rased on different American bases in Germany. Somehow that seemed very sad to me.

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I wish I could put my kids in a private school, and it is very easy to say that one should just take the bus and sacrifice everything for the kids' education, but we can't claim any reductions on taxes, and I don't see how we can somehow find an extra $40 K (after scholarships) since I doubt I can get a job that will be anything but a low-pay base job. I've though about Montessori schools, etc., as well. I've thought about putting my daughter in the Patch Barracks school for the last year of their elementary school, but once we are"sucked in" I am afraid that they won't want to leave the safetly of American schools.

My German neighbour has her daughter in a Montessori school nearby. The girl is developmentally young for her age (9), and the local school authority wanted to place her in the lowest tier school with a whole bunch of Turkish immigrants which completely horrified the mother. She tried to get her daughter into a "normal" school but the authorities wouldn't budge. But from what I understand, Montessori schools here have a reputation as being good for these sorts of "outcast" students, or those with learning problems. Supposedly very few Montessori students go on to university in Germany so I'd be leery of placing an intelligent child in a Montessory school here in Germany.

 

With my German niece we had a different problem. She is slightly dyslexic, but very bright. The local village school decided she wasn't good enough for realschule or gymnasium and placed her in the lowest tier (again with many Turkish immigrants and problem kids), where she got quickly bored and had marks high enough to lead her new teacher to ask what the heck she was doing there. The school authority finally agreed to bump her up to realschule, but insisted that she repeat the year which was unacceptable to my sister-in-law. We had her tested at the university in Tuebingen where she scored very high. In the end, she was placed in a private aufbaugymnasium boarding school where she has done so well over the last three years that she can realistically be expected to go on to university if she chooses.

 

I guess what I'm saying is that if you run across a bad apple in the teacher barrel, then you may have little recourse other than placing your children in American or private schools. The system as it is set up in Germany seems to turn the teachers into omnipotent god-like beings with the right to decide whether or not a child should even have a decent shot at a good education. :angry:

 

Don't mean to worry you since it is quite possible that you won't run into any problems with the local German teachers. But be aware that it can be extremely difficult to deal with the teachers since they have the full right to label your child as too stupid to even get the chance for a rewarding future.

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We will be moving to Braunschweig, at some point next year, with 2 girls aged 11 and 8. My husband moves out in January. Currently we are living in Italy, (9 years),and my children speak perfect Italian and English. They have gone to the state schools here.

I want them to go to a German state school, and mix, speak and learn with other German children. I know it will be hard for them, but I believe the benefits of full immersion are enormous. I have already experienced that in Italy.

 

I was just wondering if anyone could recommend any good schools in the Brunswick area?

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For local information/recommendations look in the section of this board that covers Braunschweig - that's North Germany, at the top of the page, then Niederschsen.

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Hello! New to this forum as my husband has accepted a new job in Braunschweig starting on the 3rd Jan.2011.

I'm N.Irish, my husband is from Blackpool.

We are currently living in Asti, Italy (9 years) and we have 2 daughters aged 11 and 8. They both speak fluent Italian and English, and we are actually excited about going to Germany, learning a new language and seeing a new culture.

We don't have the funds, nor do I want to send my children to an international school. It defeats the object of immersing into a new country, we will be there to learn the language, eventually, but at the minute it's zero!

But we were wondering if anyone knew anything about the schools in Braunschweig? To maybe recommend an elementary or maybe a gymnasium? How does your child get accepted into a gymnasium? How do they/you know they are smart enough as the teachers are meant to decide what level they are at when they are at elementary? Will they be helped, or am I really sending them into a minefield?

We don't have a choice as you go where the work is these days, but we love a challenge.

Have read all the comments, more negative than positive. Would love to know if there are any families giving it a go in Braunschweig, and what their experiences have been?

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