The ISZL Podcast: Why Can’t I Learn German?

The ISZL Podcast: Why Can’t I Learn German?
Joanna Cull

ISZL Podcast host Joanna Cull looks into why so many English speakers struggle with learning German in Switzerland.  

ISZL’s German programme is an important part of integration into our community in the heart of central Switzerland. Our students visit local areas to take part in Swiss traditions, and our youngest students start their language journey with their Mittagstich, or German language lunchtime.

Is Switzerland the ideal place to learn German?

For the ISZL Podcast, our Communications Manager Joanna Cull spoke to our First Language Coordinator and the convener of the ISZL Multilingual Academy, Dr Lorna Caputo Greenall, and High School German teacher, Michael Huber.

Lorna Caputo-Greenall began by explaining that Switzerland is a very different language environment to Germany or even Austria. Swiss German differs not only from High German, or Hochdeutsch, but has several of its own distinct dialects, meaning you can travel for an hour in the car and find distinct differences in the dialect.

She explained that in the US, where they grade languages according to difficulty, German is rated as a harder language to learn than French or Italian, which may explain why people have learned other languages more easily and found German a challenge.

Talking about what works in supporting children to learn German, Lorna suggests modelling yourself as a language learner.

I think it's really important for children to see role models. If you're a parent, I would say, you should be a good risk-taker with language. And if your children see you making mistakes, experimenting, trying to make connections with people by using German or Swiss German, then they will, too

Michael Huber said his advice to parents was to find what sparks interest for students:

If they are interested in football, and they read an easy football magazine, just the exposure to the written language definitely helps building vocabulary. Another thing to consider is what do we actually want to achieve by learning a language? Do we want to be perfect in grammar? Or do we just want to be able to communicate?

He added there is light at the end of the tunnel:

Once you have the basics of grammar within the first year of German, second year of German, everything sort of becomes repetitive. Once you understand these structures, it all falls into place. So when other languages in a later stage of learning seem to become more complex, we all have to do the hard stuff up front in German and then we don't cruise, but it definitely gets easier after a while

Overall learning German in a multilingual country like Switzerland poses unique challenges for students, however, with the guidance and insights provided by language coordinators and teachers, our students can overcome these challenges and acquire proficiency.  Our guests agree that the rewards of language proficiency and cultural enrichment definitely make it worthwhile.

Listen to the full episode now on Apple, Google or Spotify.


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