By Corey Heller
Today is Saturday. And what do we do on Saturday mornings? We rush out the door to go to school, German Language School. Regardless of how early I get up and start getting the kids ready, we are almost always late! Unbelievable!
“Kids, please, please, please hurry up and eat your breakfast!”
“You really need to get your shoes on NOW!”
“What, you forgot your backpack!? Arghhh. No, you stay in the car, I’LL go get it!”
My kids complain almost every Saturday morning about having to go. But that is because they are 5, 7 and 8 years old and would rather sleep in, go to the park, or play PS3 games (LEGO Star Wars is at the top of their list lately). Not surprising. They also complain 90% of the time about the dinners I make for them, insisting that I haven’t made anything they like for years. Uh huh… yea. Sorry kids but that’s the way it goes. Vegetables are necessary and you will see them again and again on your plate.
Over the course of the years, German Language School has simply become part of our routine, like eating dinner at the dining room table, returning library books on time, saying sorry when we hurt someone’s feelings. Sure, I’ll admit that German Language School isn’t exactly a necessity in our lives. My children speak German with my husband and me consistently. They can read and write in German. We have more German books in our home than English ones. We homeschool our children in German and English and thus have avoided (at least this far) the issues that arise from children entering school and deciding they’d rather not speak any language other than what their peers speak.
I am fully aware that 2.5 hours of German School a week is not going to mold my children into fluent multilinguals. As we all know, that is just not enough exposure! The day-to-day interactions outside of German School have far more influence over their mastery of the language.
So why do we send our children to German school?
The answer to this question has more to do with the language environment that German Language School provides than it does with academics. It is important for us that our children are around the following:
- Other children who speak German
- Other children with multilingual parents
- Adults who speak German
- Teachers who share their love of the language
There are more reasons but these are the most important for us. As an added benefit, our children are practicing some essentials: reading and writing in German on a consistent basis – which certainly can’t hurt!
However, while participating on a panel in Seattle about children and language learning, I shared the spotlight with a school principle (of a language immersion school) who admitted that he remembered his days at Saturday School with frustration and resentment. While he was being sent off to Saturday School, all of his friends were out playing in the park or spending time together on a sports team. He, on the other hand, was stuck sitting in a stuffy room learning how to write Korean characters. He even went so far as to encourage parents to not send their children to Saturday School and to find other avenues for language learning. He just didn’t feel that the language benefit was worth it. Granted, he was definitely advocating full-time immersion school but only a few of us have that as a viable option.
So what is the right decision to make?
If my children were in school all week long, would my husband I be doing them a service to send them to German Language School on Saturday? Would they eventually thank us or would they look back on these days with anger and bitterness, promising that they will never do that to their children? And to what degree is our children’s response to Saturday School related to the degree to which we insist that they go? Do they feel they are going just to make us happy? And is that ok?
We are definitely going to continue sending our children to German Language School for all of the reasons I stated above. Personally we find Saturday Language Schools a tremendous benefit. Of course, as homeschoolers we have the luxury of not needing to worry about our kids spending too much time at a desk.
But what about families whose kids are in school? Those families in particular need the additional language exposure that a Saturday Language School could provide. What is a family to do?
Two years ago we stopped sending our children to Saturday German Language School. I quit my software job to homeschool my children 100% of the time and we simply didn’t have the money anymore (Saturday schools aren’t free!). Do we miss having our kids in Saturday language school? Yes and no.
On the one hand, it is great to have Saturdays for us as a family. My husband is a full-time Physics instructor and the only time we have together is on the weekends (which is sporadic since he often has a bunch of grading to do on the weekend).
On the other hand, it is a bummer to not have weekly contact with our local German community and an excuse for my children to sit in a classroom setting once a week (as homeschoolers it is fun for my kids to sit at a desk from time to time!). I also miss the rigor of weekly homework in German – it was great for my kids to learn German grammar and spelling through Saturday school!
Ultimately, I think that Saturday language schools offer fantastic opportunities for many families, especially those who do not speak a minority language at home. They provide consistent exposure to the language, albeit minimal. Yet, there are also many reasons why such a school would not work for many families. The worst possible scenario is if Saturday language school causes a child to resent the language since he or she is stuck in a classroom on Saturday while other kids are out having fun. Ultimately, each family will have to decide on their own based on the quality of the school, their children’s personalities and whether or not they are willing to dedicate part of their weekend to a language school.
Do any of you send your children to a Saturday School? What are your reasons? Do you find that Saturday school benefits your children’s multilingualism? Do you worry that you the language benefits will be overshadowed by future resentments?