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Children who don’t speak German ‘shouldn’t be allowed to start school’

A high profile politician with Angela Merkel’s CDU party says children with insufficient German language skills should be held back from starting school.

Children who don't speak German 'shouldn't be allowed to start school'
A youngster at a primary school in Germany. Photo: DPA

Carsten Linnemann, deputy leader of the Christian Democratic Union and its sister party the Christian Social Union parliamentary group, spoke out in favour of postponing the enrolment of children at primary school who do not speak German well enough.

He told the Rheinische Post: “To put it in a nutshell: a child who barely speaks and understands German has no place yet in a primary school.”

Linnemann pointed out that children who don’t know German should learn it before they start school. 

“This is where compulsory preschool education must take effect and, if necessary, school enrolment must be postponed,” he added. “This costs money, but lack of integration and inadequate education are much more expensive in the end.”

Linnemann said he feared the development of “new parallel societies” in Germany if there is not a larger focus on integration.

Integration is a political hot topic in Germany, a country that's become increasingly polarized since Merkel's decision to accept an influx of refugees in 2015.

READ ALSO: Integration still received positively in Germany, according to study

Carsten Linnemann thinks children who can't speak German shouldn't be able to start school. Photo: DPA

'Populist nonsense'

Linnemann's remarks have been met with criticism – even from within his own party.

Schleswig-Holstein’s education minister Karin Prien, also of the conservative CDU, told the  Süddeutsche Zeitung it was “populist nonsense’ and to not allow youngsters to start school was the “completely wrong way” to go about things.

Children who have poor German language skills should be taught “within the framework of regular schooling” in classes that offer German as a second language, Prien said. 

The Christian Democrats, in particular, should “draw attention to the social and societal achievements of compulsory schooling,” Prien added.

Udo Beckmann, chairman of the Education and Training Association (VBE), said not allowing children to start school because they can’t speak German is a “declaration of political bankruptcy”.

“After all, it boils down to the fact that children with a migration or refugee background are the most likely to be put on the back burner,” he said. 

Instead, the VBE said there should be more support from the government for day-care centres (Kitas) to expand language teaching and support.

EXPLAINED: How each German state plans to improve childcare and lower Kita costs for families

'We must prevent this'

In the Rheinische Post interview, Linnemann said the CDU must look at its integration policies and cited recent disturbances involving people from migrant backgrounds, including the attack in a Frankfurt train station where an Eritrean-born man living in Switzerland allegedly caused the death of an eight-year-old boy by pushing him under a train.

He said these incidents “stir people up and fuel fears that new parallel societies could emerge”.

“We must prevent this,” Linnemann added.

Katja Kipping, of The Left (die Linke) party, accused the CDU politician of unnecessarily linking school children with reports of adult crime, and said, in the case of the Frankfurt attack, the suspect had been living in Switzerland legally.

She said: “Is he not aware that the offender from Frankfurt, who obviously had a psychotic disorder, speaks fluent German and, as a Swiss, has practically the same migration background as Alice Weidel (of the far-right Alternative for Germany/AfD)?”

Nationwide language tests

However, Linnemann did receive some support for his comments. The president of the German Teachers' Association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, said Linnemann was right to point out that language support should take place before primary school.

According to Meidinger, children should pass compulsory language tests before they start school. “I am an absolute supporter of nationwide, comprehensive language level tests for three-and four-year-olds,” he said.

Member comments

  1. We moved here 5 years ago from the uk, no German skills amongst us. My 2 children started school,one in Grundschule 3rd class and the other in an IGS school in the 5th class. Both have done brilliantly, speak German without an accent, eldest one is going into 10th class on gymnasium route and looking at abitur. Many people told us we wou!d struggle but here we are, integrated, speaking German, working and enjoying life.

  2. One gets the feeling that both politicians involved, Linneman and Prien, are trying to appeal to varying populist sentiment here. On balance, it seems sensible that a child should start being exposed to the new host country’s language at the earliest opportunity. And bearing in mind that German kids don’t start official school until 5-6, then certainly they should have some exciting and imaginative language lessons well before that.
    I think Linnemann is fundamentally on the right track. I recall when I started school in Cambridge a good few years back, there was a policy that a pupil couldn’t participate in any form of sport save for swimming until they were competent in that. It was a visionary policy that left us with a life-saving skill and did no harm at all. Ditto, I suspect, language skills.

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LEARNING GERMAN

The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your German

Once you've learned the basics of German, listening to podcasts is one of the best ways of increasing vocabulary and speeding up comprehension. Here are some of the best podcasts out there for German learners.

The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your German

STARTING OUT

Coffee Break German

Coffee Break German aims to take you through the basics of German in a casual lesson-like format. It is extremely easy to listen to. Each 20-minute episode acts as a mini-lesson, where German native Thomas teaches Mark Pendleton, the founder and CEO of Coffee Break Languages, the basics.

All phrases are broken down into individual words. After new phrases are introduced the listeners are encouraged to repeat them back to practise pronunciation.

The advantage of listening to this podcast is that the learner, Mark, begins at the same level as you. He is also a former high school French and Spanish teacher. He often asks for clarification of certain phrases, and it can feel as if he is asking the very questions you want answered.

You can also stream the podcast directly from the provider’s website, where they sell a supplementary package from the Coffee Break German Academy, which offers additional audio content, video flashcards and comprehensive lesson notes

German Pod 101

German Pod 101 aims to teach you all about the German language, from the basics in conversations and comprehension to the intricacies of German culture. German Pod 101 offers various levels for your German learning and starts with Absolute Beginner.

The hosts are made up of one German native and one American expat living in Germany, in order to provide you with true authentic language, but also explanations about the comparisons and contrasts with English. This podcast will, hopefully, get you speaking German from day one.

Their website offers more information and the option to create an account to access more learning materials.

Learn German by Podcast

This is a great podcast if you don’t have any previous knowledge of German. The hosts guide you through a series of scenarios in each episode and introduce you to new vocabulary based on the role-plays. Within just a few episodes, you will learn how to talk about your family, order something in a restaurant and discuss evening plans. Each phrase is uttered clearly and repeated several times, along with translations.

READ ALSO:

Learn German by Podcast provides the podcasts for free but any accompanying lesson guides must be purchased from their website. These guides include episode transcripts and some grammar tips. 

DEVELOPING YOUR GERMAN

Easy German

This podcast takes the form of a casual conversation between hosts Manuel and Cari, who chat in a fairly free-form manner about aspects of their daily lives. Sometimes they invite guests onto the podcast, and they often talk about issues particularly interesting to expats, such as: “How do Germans see themselves?”. Targeted at young adults, the podcasters bring out a new episode very three or four days.

News in Slow German

This is a fantastic podcast to improve your German listening skills. What’s more, it helps you stay informed about the news in several different levels of fluency.

The speakers are extremely clear and aim to make the podcast enjoyable to listen to. For the first part of each episode the hosts talk about a current big news story, then the second part usually features a socially relevant topic. 

A new episode comes out once a week and subscriptions are available which unlock new learning tools.

SBS German

This podcast is somewhat interesting as it is run by an Australian broadcaster for the German-speaking community down under. Perhaps because ethnic Germans in Australia have become somewhat rusty in their mother tongue, the language is relatively simple but still has a completely natural feel.

There is a lot of news here, with regular pieces on German current affairs but also quite a bit of content looking at what ties Germany and Australia together. This lies somewhere between intermediate and advanced.

A woman puts on headphones in Gadebusch, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Photo: dpa | Jens Büttner

PERFECTING YOUR GERMAN

Auf Deutsche gesagt

This is another great podcast for people who have a high level of German. The host, Robin Meinert, talks in a completely natural way but still manages to keep it clear and comprehensible.

This podcast also explores a whole range of topics that are interesting to internationals in Germany, such as a recent episode on whether the band Rammstein are xenophobic. In other words, the podcast doesn’t just help you learn the language, it also gives you really good insights into what Germans think about a wide range of topics.

Sozusagen

Bayern 2 present their podcast Sozusagen! for all those who are interested in the German language. This isn’t specifically directed at language learners and is likely to be just as interesting to Germans and foreigners because it talks about changes in the language like the debate over gender-sensitive nouns. Each episode explores a different linguistic question, from a discussion on German dialects to an analysis of political linguistics in Germany.

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