Navigating the Challenges of Academic German Mastery: Supporting Kids at Local Swiss Schools

The gap between oral proficiency and written skills

Clients with children attending local schools in Switzerland often approach me with a common concern: their children struggle academically despite being fluent German speakers. It’s easy to underestimate the complexity of achieving proficiency in written German.

Acquiring everyday language skills, which are essential for daily communication, usually takes about 6 months to 2 years. In contrast, it takes much longer, around 5 to 8 years, to develop academic language skills, particularly in conceptual written language. These skills play a crucial role in educational success and future career prospects.

Consequently, there is often a significant gap between the levels of everyday language proficiency and educational language competencies among DaZ (German as a Second Language) children.

While children and teenagers may already communicate fluently in spoken language within one to two years, they often struggle with the necessary linguistic tools and structures for effective learning at school. Understanding informational texts or writing coherent compositions can be challenging for them. Additionally, comprehending and explaining complex concepts during classroom discussions can pose difficulties.

Challenges with text production

Many DaZ students underperform in tasks involving text production, logical structure, and organisation, such as presentations, descriptions, reports, visual stories, retellings, personal narratives, experiment instructions, and solving text-based math problems.

From oral to written language in primary school

Teaching German as a Second Language in primary school lays a foundation for language development. Initially, instruction centers 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 in overall language activities

Learning writing skills in German

With written skills becoming increasingly important, it becomes critically important to teach DaZ children the rules of conceptual written language.

Developing a strong command of written language requires a solid understanding of morphology, syntax, and an extensive vocabulary. Students need to learn how to construct grammatically correct sentences and comprehend linguistic structures to enhance their own comprehension and facilitate effective written communication.

Effective instruction in grammatical knowledge goes beyond merely explaining the language system. It guides students towards the proper use of language. Over time, children develop greater language awareness, building upon well-founded explicit knowledge and a growing sense of language. This enables them to develop proficiency in their second language.

Nevertheless, even advanced DaZ students encounter specific challenges and pitfalls in the German language. Closing the gap between oral proficiency and writing skills requires explicit and repeated instruction and practice.

By understanding the unique complexities of achieving written proficiency in German, educators and parents can provide targeted support to DaZ learners. By explicitly teaching the rules and structures of written language, fostering vocabulary development, and providing ample opportunities for practice, we can help students bridge the gap and thrive academically in their German language journey.

(Sources: Rösch, H. 2015, DaZ Kä

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