• Germany's news in English
Revolutionary teaching: Immersion at Phorms
A typical day, diving into different languages and culture. Photo: Silke Weinsheimer/Phorms Education SE

Revolutionary teaching: Immersion at Phorms

The Local · 8 Jan 2016, 11:46

Published: 08 Jan 2016 08:46 GMT+01:00
Updated: 08 Jan 2016 11:46 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Phorms is no ordinary school.

Even at the preschool level, a visitor might be surprised to walk in and hear four-year-olds seamlessly switching between languages as they set the breakfast table or help each other tie their shoes.

“Most of the kids switch so fast between English and German, they’re not even aware they’re doing it,” says Meadhbh Greene, a reception teacher at Phorms Campus Berlin Süd, originally from Ireland.

“We make sure that language is interwoven into the daily fabric of their lives.”

Since the Foundation of the first school in 2006, Phorms has been doing things a little differently, using two-way immersion on all levels from day one – in contrast to regular public schools in Germany where children must wait until the fifth or sixth grade before they are first introduced to English.

Phorms Education, which introduced a new model of education in Germany nearly ten years ago, now has seven schools in the country: in Hamburg, Berlin-Mitte and Berlin-Süd, Frankfurt City and Frankfurt TaunusMunich and the Josef-Schwarz-Schule in Baden-Württemberg.

“It really works because it copies how we acquire language as children, naturally,” Greene explains.

“You can look back as far as Aristotle for support of the immersion method – he talks about active learning and passive learning. The kids are always actively engaged and they learn without even realizing it.”

The two languages are treated as equally important, making the school a prime choice for both German parents who want their kids to learn English early on, and expat parents who want their kids to get to know the German culture and language.

“The goal is to achieve competency in the foreign language in all areas: in reading, listening, and writing,” explains Selena Mell, Head of the primary school at Phorms Campus Berlin Süd. “Students should acquire the same language skills equally in both languages.”

As opposed to offering separate language classes where students get only an hour of instruction, at Phorms more than half of the subjects are taught in English while the rest are taught in German.

“Students learn the language in context, and have the same expectations in math, social sciences, and other areas as students at any other school,” Mell says.

Teachers are expected not to simply translate when a student doesn’t understand, but to use a mix of learning tools, kinaesthetic, visual, and otherwise, to help students to interact. Students learn to utilise facial expressions, body language, and contextual queues.

“When students don’t understand what is said, they develop lots of different ways of finding out how to solve the problem,” Greene explains. In her preschool classes children might ask each other for help use hand gestures, or just keep guessing until they get it right.

Greene calls it peer-to-peer learning – and says it’s a skill that can change students’ lives.

“They learn how to solve problems themselves and develop ways to learn in the future,” she says.

“When you translate that later on in their lives, our students look deeper into contextual cues and ask more questions,” Mell confirms. “They communicate when they need assistance – because they have learned through the program to do that.”

Sean Jackson, a native Californian and secondary teacher at Phorms Campus Berlin Süd, sees the proof of such skills daily in his English literature classes.

“In a public German school students primarily practice reading and writing,” he says. “But my students listen, speak, respond, and engage in discussions in English. They develop a constant ability to listen and respond, incorporating their own vocabulary and thoughts.”

He says that students and teachers alike understand that language cannot be acquired merely through worksheets and vocabulary lists.

“They realize that the learning of a language is the utilization of that language on a daily basis. There’s a constant analytical discussion here.”

But it’s not all about analysis – Greene adds that immersion can also make students more confident, more caring individuals.

“Studies in the US have shown that there are lower instances of bullying among bilingual children, because they are more accepting of differences. And they’re not afraid to ask for help,” Greene says. It’s something she sees daily in her own work.

“Children recognize when another student is having difficulty understanding, and they offer to help. And kids who struggle at the start of the year get to the point when they’re the ones offering help, and that’s great for their self-confidence. It’s something they take with them when they get older.”

You can learn more about the Phorms schools and their concept at one of their information events. Click here to find out more.

This article was produced by The Local in partnership with Phorms Education.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German town, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

Student fined for spying on women via their webcams
Photo: DPA

Student from Munich fined €1,000 for spying on 32 different computers, using their webcams to take photographs, or record their keyboard history.

This is how much startup geeks earn in Germany
Photo: DPA

A comprehensive new survey of 143 startup founders shows how much you are likely to be earning at a German startup, from entry level all the way up to sitting on the board.

Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe
Photo: DPA

The percentage of the German population which identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new study.

'Reichsbürger' pair attack police in Saxony-Anhalt
File photo: DPA.

A "Reichsbürger" and his wife attacked police officers on Thursday, just a day after another Reichsbürger fatally shot an officer in Bavaria.

Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd