Foreign Languages

Learning a foreign language has an obvious utilitarian perspective. However, as with other aspects of our curriculum, the process of learning is often as important as the content, and many other important skills are developed through the medium of foreign languages, besides the obvious aim of improving one's ability to get by in a different culture.

With respect to language learning, it is helpful to consider child development and the acquisition of general human faculties in the process of growing up.  We all go through major developmental stages early in life when we rise from crawling to walking, from walking to talking and from talking to thinking. Much of what we are able to do in later life depends on these early achievements – each milestone being a foundation for the next.  One could say that speech is internalised movement, and that thinking is internalised speech.  For the growing child, it can therefore be a blessing to go through these processes again and strengthen the acquired faculties by learning not one but two new languages

A second major benefit of learning foreign languages from early childhood is that one can gain access to other cultures through the power of empathy which is developed by learning.  When a German sees a tree, the experience is ‘Baum’ and when a French person sees a tree, the experience is ‘arbre’. Baum and arbre are very difference gateways to the experience of the phenomenon of the tree - and we are enriched by this exposure. This way of learning provides alternative ways of experiencing the world, creating thereby a greater interest in the world.

Learning a new language enhances our sensitivity to language as a whole. With this comes a greater capacity to form judgments, to be flexible and mobile in one’s thinking, and to take an interest in the world that is revealed through language.

Languages are introduced very early in Steiner schools, a practice established long before psychological developmental studies highlighted the greater capacity for language acquisition of young children.  This capacity is lost as they get older, primarily because it is a highly imitative process at first, so is entirely appropriate for early years learning 

Method and content

Specific content during the Lower and Middle School will tend to reflect the age-specific themes of the main-lessons and the ideas (such as parts of speech or tenses) being developed in English lessons.

Following the archetypal experience, language is first learned orally and in context. The young child learns through songs, games and basic instructions on moving about in the classroom. Over the first three years, a rich vocabulary is acquired more or less unconsciously: numbers, colours, days, months, clothes, parts of the body, the weather, life on the farm and more.

Gradually, as is the case with English in Class 1, these effortlessly-mastered sounds find form in the written symbol. A beautiful book can be produced with their repertoire of German or French. Then, and only then, does reading begin and the transition is made in Class 5 or 6 to the printed word.

In the Upper School, from Class 9 onwards, students choosing to pursue the study of languages can start a new journey, going deeply into that language and culture through literature (both classic and contemporary), music, films and current affairs, among other topics. In the process they acquire high skills, both oral and written, and by the end of the journey they are able to express in very rich language their thoughts and reflections on every aspect of the foreign culture they have made their own. Meanwhile they will have gained GCSE and A level qualifications.