Why don't many students speak English?

languages: Do you speak English? Hell yeah!

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At the beginning of August the time had come again: a new one Harry Potter-Book hit stores and instantly became the best-selling book of the week - even though it's in English. Does a work in a foreign language belong on the German bestseller list? This is how the makers of the Book reports Still asked in June 2003, when the fans for the fifth volume of the magician saga stormed the stores. The question answered itself. Young readers in particular no longer wait for the translation. At Harry Potter, the Hunger Games or the vampire stories of TwilightAuthor Stephenie Meyer grab the original version right away.

Twenty years ago that would have been unthinkable: tens of thousands of young people read a book entirely in English. Voluntary! Nowadays, on the other hand, English is no longer a hurdle for more and more young Germans. Of course it is not. In Germany in particular, education is always under suspicion of decay. Whether arithmetic, spelling or history: if you believe the public debate, the current students are always dumber than their predecessors.

For English, on the other hand, the opposite is true: the English language skills of Germans are getting better from year to year, according to the British Council, among others, which conducts thousands of language tests every year. And researchers in Hamburg recently compared a G9 with a G8 year. There were seven years between the two tests. The level of performance at the end of the upper secondary school only differed in one subject: English. The students from the G8 class were significantly better.

The reasons for the upward trend can be found in and outside of school. English can be seen as an exemplary godsend of how teaching reforms, school policies and social changes interlock and benefit from one another. In this way, English lessons also show the benefits of a school reacting to changes outside the classroom.

Because almost all of the dark forces that teachers otherwise feel harassed by - globalization, digitization, economization - play into the hands of English teachers. They can neither complain about a lack of appreciation for their subject nor about reduced hours. Even the increasing number of immigrant children does not lower the level of learning. In all school comparisons, English has so far proven to be the only subject in which a migration background is not a handicap.

That could be confirmed this Friday. The Institute for Quality Development in Education (IQB) publishes the so-called country comparison. Every three years the IQB tests the skills of the ninth graders between Schleswig-Holstein and Bavaria in the most important subjects. This time, among other things, the researchers decided to study English.

If you take the 9d of the Theodor Heuss School in Homberg, Hesse, as a benchmark, you don't have to worry. We are in a normal high school in the province, without a special language profile or big city clientele, but with an English lesson that is typically innovative today.

It's the fourth hour, it's about Australia. The pupils should develop the meaning of typical national traffic signs. First they discuss the dangers of crocodiles, emus and koala bears on Australia's roads in pairs, then four. The English language skills of the 14-year-olds differ greatly. Some of them speak almost fluently, others still have to search for words. However, none of the students showed inhibitions to speak. For the next task, the students are presented with different fragments of a report on shark attacks on Australia's coasts. In short, changing conversation sequences ("speed dating"), they should bring each other up to date. Even now, nobody in the class evades in German.

Infobox IQB

British empiricism

The country comparison, which appears this Friday, is published every three years by the Institute for Quality Development in Education (IQB). To do this, the IQB researchers test the competencies of 14- and 15-year-old students in all federal states in the main subjects. This time the foreign languages ​​are next to German.

Previous studies show that the language skills of Germans have improved significantly over the years. The reasons for the increase in performance are believed to include elementary school English, bilingual teaching and the higher language level of the teachers. The level of English has improved over the generations. This is referred to by the private language provider EF. According to their index, Germans do not speak English as well as Swedes or Dutch. In contrast to other countries, however, the difference between the age groups in Germany is large. The younger the speakers, the higher their skills.

"The pupils should talk, talk, talk," is how English teacher Juliane Pohl describes the method and goal of her teaching. Pohl himself only speaks English during the lesson, relatively quickly and without a didactic undertone. As if she were speaking her mother tongue. At the end of the lesson, each student had spoken English for almost 20 minutes and listened to English the rest of the time. More communication is hardly possible.