Language Learning Workshop
KEY FINDING: create a central, interactive information resource in German and English to connect expats with formal and informal language learning opportunities.
Newcomers, short-term and long-term expats from all over the world joined language specialists to review stumbling blocks when learning German. Five discussion groups considered ways to overcome them. The whole group rejoined to synthesize their suggestions. Increased interaction between local German speakers and expats underlie all of the resulting recommendations for improved language learning:
- Shared responsibilities: expats need to learn German and locals need to speak High German to them.
- Expats need to engage more with the German-speaking community.
- BaselConnect can raise awareness of the benefits of learning the local language and encourage early immersion programs for newcomers.
- A central website will contain all information and offers connecting students and teachers.
Many expats make an initial attempt to learn German but few who stay less than four years learn sufficient German to feel comfortable. Most give up when time and money for classes run short. Cultural, social and professional pressures contribute further to frustration, along with the predominance of Swiss German dialect and limited opportunities to speak and hear German in daily life. Of the many obstacles to learning German, the following emerged as key needs commonly unmet:
- Employer commitment to, support of and incentives for both employees and spouses/partners.
- Sufficient time (20 hours/week) for an immersive or intensive class.
- Financial support for continued language classes after an initial course.
Idea Development & Solutions
Participants acknowledged that German is essential to a sense of well-being and that a comfortable level of proficiency is possible within a reasonable amount of time. Support and encouragement by locals would encourage expats to persevere with German. Challenges include learning a foreign language as an adult and the tendency of locals to respond in English. Several practical measures were suggested, most based on personal experience and a commitment to succeed. Expats could:
- learn through children via public schools and bilingual play groups, read children’s books in German, volunteer with Scouts and join Swiss sports groups
- get involved in local cultural events and groups: choirs, Fasnachtscliquen, neighborhood groups, and local churches
- read tram ads, 20 Minuten newspaper, watch German movies with subtitles, invite neighbors for coffee or tea
- practice conversation with university students, trade German lessons for lessons in their own language with a Swiss, conversation courses (GGG Benevol program Besseres Deutsch durch Begegnung)
- establish language cafés, Apéros or Stammtische (after work drinks) where learners can practice their skills with native speakers
Read about our Working Groups and how they were inspired by the 2011 conference workshops on this page.