The woes of native speakers attending English classes in local schools…

The woes of native speakers attending English classes in local schools…

Is your child a native English-speaker in the Swiss school system?

Or are you wondering what will happen, once your child starts English lessons in a local Swiss school?

In Switzerland, children usually start learning English in primary school, either in 2nd grade (Zurich) or in 3rd grade (Zug and other cantons).

Many native speaking parents are understandably wary about the quality of English lessons in public schools and some teachers might even feel threatened by a native speaker in the classroom.

What do native-speakers make of their English lesson experience?

When talking to friends from the UK with children in the local system, I was surprised how differently children experience lessons.

Unsurprisingly, a number of children complain about being bored. One girl told me rather non-plussed: ‘All we do is to recite fruit names or body parts, or copy single words. It’s sooo boring!
Others mock their teacher’s Swiss pronunciation and grammar mistakes. (which is acceptable, as long as it’s not done in front of the teacher or the class!)

Other children seem to be happy to participate in class and enjoy their role as the teacher’s helper. Mathilda sees this as a positive: ‘I love the fact that my kids help with pronunciation / grammar / spelling etc in English class just as their friends help them in German. The camaraderie angle is great’.

In areas with many Expat children in local schools, the school department might arrange for special English class for native English-speakers, although that is an exception rather than the rule. If there are no separate classes, in some schools with several native speakers, teacher may have them in a separate group and give them separate exercises, but they still have to write the same tests as the rest of the class.

In most primary schools, native children will have to attend English classes, even though they are not always required to participate in the lessons. Many parents told me that their children’s teachers allow native speakers to do homework or read a book during the classes as long as they do all tests. In secondary, some schools offer native speakers to do an English test and if they pass, they may be exempted from class attendance.

While some teachers are happy to allow children to bring in their own work, this is not always what children want: ‘I wanted to give my kids extra work such as worksheets to take into English class (in local school) but the children didn’t want that. Especially as they get older, they don’t want to be too different and do different stuff to their peers’. (Andrea).

Sometimes, it is the parents who decide against extra work: ‘I am sure the teachers would have been fine, had we asked. But we figured it was his chance to shine and be the best in the class and to help his classmates’ (Kim)

Other parents are less happy with their children’s progress in English lessons. As one mum puts it: ‘my daughter participates plenty in her English class, it’s nice for the rest of the class, but hasn’t really helped her English skills in the areas that need more attention such as reading and writing’.

As a native speaker, you might feel tempted to correct your child’s English homework. An American mother with a daughter in 6th grade cautions that correcting their native speaking children’s homework is not necessarily going to get them a good grade. It could in fact be detrimental. She argues that, if she were teaching German as a non-native speaker, there would only be a certain number of ways that she could say one thing. As a native speaker of English, she could say that one thing in various ways. Most likely, your child’s teacher is not a native English speaker and is therefore looking for one right answer. Her advice is to just help your child know that one right answer so she will get a good mark.

Deborah agrees: ‘tests are rather strictly based on the vocabulary and concepts learnt in class and any deviation from that, even if correct, is not usually very well accepted’

What can parents do to keep their children’s English literacy skills up? In most cases, teachers are not happy to give extra assignments for fluent speakers. This is because they are not keen to have the extra work of providing them more challenging work if requested to and also they often don’t like to deviate from going by the book. Teachers probably rightly argue that their job is to help Swiss children to learn some basic English and not to teach native speakers.
Still, most teachers do not have an issue with children bringing in additional work.

So, if your child is happy to do extra work (not all of them are!), read my next blog about free and fee-paying online resources, worksheets and apps.

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