A first move

Christiane Harder

Three-hundred-and-sixty people came – teachers from 36 countries. English teachers from Mexico, South Korea, Georgia, the Ukraine; Japanese teachers from the USA; German teachers from Russia, Finland, Slovenia; Zulu teachers from South Africa; Chinese teachers from the Philippines and French teachers from Switzerland. All of them gathered for the first time in one place: the Goetheanum in Dornach.

The week was filled with inspiring lectures, keynote presentations with plenary debate, various drama presentations, singing every morning and different courses. Many participants had come to see personalities familiar from the literature on foreign language teaching such as Peter Lutzker, Christoph Jaffke, Alain Denjean and Alec Templeton. The courses were offered in five languages: French, English, Spanish, Russian and German. A particular openness and love for language learning was tangible: there was an enthusiastic response to Nora Hildago’s experiment, for example, who demonstrated in her lecture how much Basque we could learn in twenty minutes.

For all the seriousness, the individual striving to do the right thing for the child and his or her development, the striving for age-appropriate methodology as well as stimulating and substantial content, for research into foreign language teaching – this conference nevertheless expressed what is young, fresh and inspired about languages. Laughter kept sounding throughout the Goetheanum; in the morning it filled the great hall in response to the brilliant contributions of the clown-nosed Mr. McNeer, then it could be heard coming from the course venues, along the corridors. In addition there was the sound of singing, of the spontaneous dancers and drummers at lunchtime, and in the evening, too, the dancing and singing continued well beyond the end of the programme.

In our joint work here in Dornach, we experienced what a teacher also encounters in a life-filled successful language lesson: foreign languages are loved and absorbed, fulfilling the longing in human beings for breadth and diversity. They stimulate us to enrich ourselves with even greater vitality through the cultures which take shape in the different languages.

It also became clear in all the courses and discussions that foreign language teaching rarely has an easy task, that schools still make too few hours available for the “foreignness” which the child wants to encounter.

Many participants learned with interest that there is meanwhile a foreign language concept for German Waldorf schools, which proposes a healthy framework: “Die Empfehlungen zum Fremdsprachenunterricht an Waldorfschulen” (Recommendations on foreign language teaching in Waldorf schools) of the Language Teacher Initiative Group (www.waldorfschule.de) and a general description in English of the aims of foreign language teaching in Waldorf schools (www.goetheanum.ch).

This first global conference for foreign language teachers was a necessary and successful first move to start to spread new methodological impulses and ideas from the Waldorf movement on foreign language learning.

About the author: Christiane Harder is a Russian teacher in Weimar; she organises the “Russian Week” and other further training; spokesperson of the Language Teacher Initiative Group.