Last month we sent S. for one day to the German school. Her own school was closed, so we took the chance to see how she would get on. I didn’t have great doubts that she would be able to follow the lessons, but when I left her in the classroom in the morning, I couldn’t help worrying a bit. So we were really happy to hear that S. enjoyed the day and came back full of enthusiasm. When I spoke to the teacher later she confirmed that S. was able to participate without difficulty and seemed to have liked the day a lot. More so, the teacher thought that S.’s German was really good.

The day encouraged us in our belief that S. is fit enough to go to a German school, but it is worth looking at the day in more detail. S. has a good starting point as her general listening and speaking skills are good, but she can’t write in German yet. There might also be problems when it comes to specific subjects where she needs to be able to express specific knowledge in German. S. said for example that she found it quite difficult to understand the mathematics lessons, which I found very surprising. In the following I will take a closer look at the different areas.

Understanding/ listening: Let’s start with the most reassuring area. S.´s understanding of German is really good, absolutely native speaker level. When I read books to her she usually knows all the words, even if the texts are demanding. Whenever we went to Germany S. never had any problems following German speakers. Further proof comes from the German course S. started after the summer. She goes there once a week and her teacher pointed out to us that S. has a very rich vocabulary, also in comparism to the other girls in the course who all speak a very good German. S. shouldn’t have problems in understanding what is going on in the lessons, even if it comes to more specific language. Of course initially she won’t know the odd word used in a specific context but I believe she knows more or less what German children of her age know.

Speaking: Speaking shouldn’t be a problem either. S.’s speaking is almost mother tongue level, only a slight Italian accent gives her away. S. is perfectly able to express more detailed thought or to retell a story in details. She prefers talking in Italian but sometimes when she is talking to me she switches languages without thinking about it and the fluency seems the same: “Oggi ho visto una ragazza, die ist zum Strand gegangen und ha giocato con un aquilone. Sometimes obviously she knows terms actively only in Italian and struggles to come up with the right German word, but I am sure this would get sorted quickly if she went to a German school.

What concerns grammar S.’s German is basically correct, sometimes she makes a little mistakes concerning grammatical cases: “Den Haus habe ich gesehen” (German for:I saw the house). I was surprised when she seemed to make these mistakes more often in recent weeks, but I then realised she had become more aware of the complicated German rules for grammatical cases and made some mistakes applying rules wrongly instead of following her feeling for language.

Reading: Another area in which S. generally should be fine is reading. She definitely prefers reading in Italian but also German is not too much of a problem. When we last stayed in Germany she read one Hexe Lily and two Bibi Blocksberg books in three days. These books are written with bigger letters for younger children, whereas S. in Italian reads a whole Harry Potter book in no time. I suppose though that S. would catch up with the German reading in no time.

Writing: Until the summer S. had never tried any writing in German. That was the main reason why we registered her to the German course where she will also do some German writing. So far we are really pleased with this group, as there are another five girls with a very good level of German and they do great exercises in story telling or games that help to boost the vocabulary. Also in writing they have done some work, but S. is obviously still far from writing properly. If she wanted to go to the German school we would have to put much more effort

Specific subjects: It may sound odd, but S. struggled most with “German” mathematics. I believed mathematics was the same in all the languages, but I was told that it isn’t.  I still haven’t fully understand where the great differences are but apparently certain operations are done differently in different countries, written division for example. This however shouldn’t be too difficult to learn. A general problem however seems to be that most people prefer using numbers in their strongest languages and it takes them more time to grasp foreign numbers, even if your language skills are really good. Memorising phone-numbers in a different language is for most people really difficult. German numbers are especially weird as you say “zweiundvierzig” (two and fourty) instead of forty-two. Language shouldn’t be the limiting factor though in mathematics.

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