“Hallo, mein Name ist Sahar. Ich komme aus Syrien. Ich spreche Arabisch, etwas Englisch und lerne Deutsch.” “Sehr gut Sahar, aber achte auf die korrekte Aussprache und Betonung der Vokale.”
This is what it sounded like during the fourth lesson of the German class for beginners I taught at the Athena Centre for Women on the Greek island of Chios. The centre’s classroom provides space for only 12 women per class, so the classes were fully booked all the time. While the limited number of students provides a familiar and encouraging learning environment, it’s also the reason for the long waiting list as most of the centre’s visitors are really excited about learning foreign languages – not only Germanm but also English and Greek. The German class currently takes place twice a week, each lesson lasts for one hour. The students would love to have more frequent German lessons and also further classes in other foreign languages. Unfortunately, the centre is not able to meet this demand at the moment since offering classes requires a lot of manpower. But it’s obvious that learning the national language of their future home is the first step in settling and taking part in society. Without language skills, integration happens very slowly and employment opportunities will be rare. There is no need to explain this to the centre’s visitors: they already know and so the waiting lists get longer every day.
The women are very excited about having the opportunity to learn German; there are lots of free teaching resources like books or exercises online. All everybody needs is a pen and paper and the language course is ready to start. While I don’t have a teaching background, during my Swiss education I took German, of course, and had to learn French and English from scratch. Remembering some of the useful exercises, games and learning strategies, I organized the German classes accordingly and as professionally as possible. After two weeks of teaching German, I am proud that the women are able to speak a few sentences and understand short texts. I also have the greatest respect for them, since learning German is not only about pronunciation and vocabulary, but also learning a whole new alphabet.
The progress the women made in the short period of time shows the class was a considerable success, despite my lack of professional teaching skills. I’m also very happy that another Swiss volunteer took the class over after I left. But I also know that if the class were taught by a trained teacher, the women could make far more progress in the long term. There is not only a great demand for language courses at the Athena Centre for Women, there is also a need for trained language teachers.
In the end, organizing and teaching the German class was an impressive experience for me too. The participants were very grateful and their motivation added so much energy to the preparation of the next classes and new ideas. The course’s success also showed me that everyone of us has some useful knowledge and skills to pass on. Learning by doing was the motto for both the students and me in making an essential contribution to a successful start in their new lives.