Most German immersion programs in Canada are two-way or dual immersion. These programs admit students for whom either instructional language is their first language. Students need to use both languages not just to interact with the coursework, but also to make themselves understood to their peers. Many dual-immersion schools use the immersion experience as a means of developing social competencies, including empathy, personal engagement, and cooperation.
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Dual-immersion schools are often founded in order to serve some very specific curricular purposes, ones that aren’t met within the public school system. “These schools were originally intended to be for expats, parents on foreign assignment,” says Manfred von Volte, vice principal of GIST. Instruction was conducted in both English and German, though, in the early years, more students spoke German as a first language than English. German international schools—such as GIST in Toronto, Ontario and Alexander von Humbolt in Montreal, Quebec—offer unique educational opportunities not limited to the acquisition of a second language.
A shared experience
Says von Volte, “When you have this situation—where you have two languages, children from around the world, students that are the new students—they are all facing some hurdle of one sort or another.” They may be from different places, speak different languages, have different abilities or strengths, though they all share, say von Volte, the experience of difference. Further, are faced each day with the challenges of making themselves understood across languages and cultural perspectives. It’s more than just translation between languages. Students, whether they are aware of it or not, are challenged continually to consider the perspectives of others, and to build strategies to check and confirm that they are getting their ideas across effectively.