Learning the Local Language: German in Public Swiss Schools

Bridging the Gap: Oral Proficiency vs. Written Skills in German

Clients with children attending local schools in Switzerland often approach me with a common concern: despite being fluent German speakers, their children struggle academically. As an experienced German teacher, I know how easy it is to underestimate the complexity of achieving proficiency in academic German.

The Learning Curve

Acquiring everyday language skills, essential for daily communication, typically takes about 6 months to 2 years. In contrast, developing academic German language skills, particularly in conceptual written language, takes much longer—around 5 to 8 years. These skills are crucial for educational success and future career prospects.

The Proficiency Gap

Consequently, there is often a significant gap between everyday language proficiency and educational language competencies among DaZ (German as a Second Language) children. While children and teenagers may communicate fluently in spoken language within one to two years, they often struggle with the linguistic tools and structures necessary for effective learning at school.

From everyday German to Academic German

Teaching German as a Second Language in primary school lays a foundation for language development. Initially, instruction centres around immediate, tangible, and concrete experiences. Language activities are closely tied to specific situations, supported by illustrations, and primarily rely on conceptual and oral language. Even the first written texts in primers or those produced by children reflect this everyday language style.

As primary school progresses, the importance of written skills, including reading and writing, significantly increases.

Challenges with Academic German

Despite receiving intensive support in the first two years, non-native speakers often lack continued language assistance in Swiss public schools. This gap in support significantly impacts advanced DaZ (German as a Second Language) students, who encounter specific challenges and pitfalls in mastering the German language. Closing the gap between oral proficiency and writing skills requires explicit and repeated instruction and practice.

Consequently, many advanced DaZ students still underperform in tasks involving text production, logical structure, and organization. This includes presentations, descriptions, reports, visual stories, retellings, personal narratives, experiment instructions, and solving text-based math problems. The lack of ongoing language support hinders their ability to excel in these areas, affecting their overall academic performance.

Supporting DaZ Learners

By understanding the unique complexities of achieving written proficiency in German, educators and parents can provide targeted support to DaZ learners. Parents who worry about their childrens’ academic performance might want to consider getting support from an experienced tutor.

Explicitly teaching the rules and structures of written language, fostering vocabulary development, and providing ample opportunities for practice can help students bridge the gap and thrive academically in their German language journey.

Language resources to support your child:

Do you need advice and guidance on how to support your child with local school and language learning? I am an educational consultant and a qualified German teacher with over 20 years experience in teaching German as a Second language. Get in touch to learn more about my services!

Leave a Comment

Stay In Touch

Sign up for updates on upcoming webinars and talks

Upcoming Webinars:
August, 22nd: Starting School in Switzerland

Insightful informational event for parents of students starting local Kindergarten and primary school in Switzerland
All you need to know about:
  • The local Kindergarten and school system.
  • How to get off to a good start 
  • Cultural differences 
  • How to best support your child