¡Viva el español!

Birgit Eschenbaum, Vicky Lucio-Fülöp, Anne Wolf

In the last ten years Spanish has been taught as a subject at increasing numbers of Waldorf schools. Most offer it from class 7 or 9, others have dared to take the step of offering it immediately from class 1 and thus as the second foreign language. What makes Spanish relevant for Waldorf schools? What do the children and young people take away with them when they learn it?

There are many reasons for taking up Spanish. Exports to Spanish-speaking countries are growing, as is the relationship with Spain and, particularly, with Spanish America. But much more than these external facts, parents and teachers are concerned with the question how the new foreign language can contribute to the development of the young people’s personality.

Because every language is much more than its grammatical rules and vocabulary. It would not exist without the region in which it has developed, without the people who have spoken it in the course of the centuries and who have lived in and changed it.

Even a superficial look can show us that the people in the different countries not only speak in different ways but also that their nature is manifested in a specific way in the language. Anne Wolf from the Greifswald Free Waldorf School, who lived in Spain and Latin America from 1989 to 1997, describes her experiences with the Spanish otherness and Birgit Eschenbaum from the Wattenscheid Waldorf School explains why it still makes sense even in class 7 or 9 to learn Spanish.

When the clocks run differently

In the Galician village of Seixalvo I entered the pub el bar del pueblo. A number of elderly men were concentrating on playing dominoes. I drank my coffee at the bar when suddenly the tone became rougher. A chair scraped on the floor. When I turned round the scene had changed completely: two men were facing one another and gesticulating, their voices grown loud. A minute later they sat down again and the game resumed: everything back to normal, the dispute about the game settled.

In Germany such a disagreement would probably have led to weeks of silence and, at least temporarily, to the two men totally ignoring one another. Not so in Spain: there is a lively exchange of views, what needs to be said is said, and then life goes on. On that day in Seixalvo one of the men of course paid the tab at the bar for both. Unthinkable that small sums for common enjoyment of food and drink should be split. Today I’m generous, tomorrow it’s you; over time it all evens out.

Barely twenty at the time, I considered myself to be unconventional and not overburdened with German virtues. Until, that is, I agreed to meet Spanish friends for an excursion: we were to meet in the village square at three. Well, at five we finally set off: at that point the last person had made a smiling appearance.

From that point onwards I completely shed my German punctuality for all informal arrangements: in Spain life flows differently. It is the intensity of the moment which counts. And if one person happens to have an important encounter – say a spontaneous conversation with a neighbour – then the others are well advised to have a chat themselves, read the paper or watch the interplay of sun and shadows in the village square.

Spaniards possess a natural spontaneity which can be experienced in the way people deal with one another and in their activities. I have always encountered a friendly interest which never crossed the boundary of indiscretion. And I met people who never hesitated to lend a hand when that was necessary. That has been retained as a fundamental characteristic also in those who have not been farmers, fishermen or workmen for a long time.

Spirituality is a natural part of life. People of every age go to church for Sunday mass. Not just the form but the content counts as well.  Even if Spanish society has become more secular in recent decades, the message of the Bible is indivisibly connected with everyday life and the decisions it requires.

My previous Spanish mother-in-law was a passionate follower of bullfighting, las corridas, like many Spaniards. In her company I also temporarily became an expert. Not only could I follow the course and rules of a fight, I began to understand that bullfighting possesses a metaphorical level. It is about the heritage of the ancient Mithras cult, about overcoming evil. And it can easily happen that “evil” – embodied in the bull – can win this battle. That is why the torero in his traje de luces, the “suit of light”, is accorded particular respect after his victory.

Christian knight in finis terrae

The philosopher Manuel García Morente, at the time in 1912 Spain’s youngest professor at the age of 34, from his exile – he had left Spain in the course of the Spanish Civil War raging from 1936 to 1939 – identified the essence of Spanishness: “The idea of a Christian knight.” Here we might think of the Inquisition which did terrible things in Spain or the conquest of the South American continent con la espada y con la cruz, with the sword and the cross.

But that would not be everything by a long way. Chivalry: that means dignity and honour, individuality – even in the attitude of service – critically questioning the apparent superiority of others; it means generosity and courage; it also means: life as a path, governing our Self in full recognition of the achievements of others. Without a deep belief, all of these things would be without value; and the internalisation of these values in turn leads to a tranquillity (sosiego) which has been clearly noticed by more than one person – Herbert Hahn in the 1960s, among others.

Let us visualise the country about whose people we are talking here. The Iberian peninsula with today’s countries of Spain and Portugal forms the westernmost region of Europe. Not for nothing a Galician location in northern Spain is called Finisterre, derived from the Latin finis terrae: here for many centuries the earth literally ended.

Spain and Portugal are spatially hemmed in in all directions: in the north the Pyrenees rise up – well-nigh insurmountable in earlier times – and the Atlantic and Mediterranean extend in all other directions. Herbert Hahn und Hans Erhard Lauer both came to the conclusion that this spatial structure represented a clear appeal to the consciousness forces in human beings.

Here in the European west the age of the consciousness soul had started even earlier than in other European countries. Here people initially strove for differentiation, individualisation and clear forms. From here they dared to embark on a voyage into a new world.

The Spanish language is practical and pragmatic on the one hand; very differentiated and equipped to express and make audible the subtlest nuances of inner activity on the other. Anyone who learns Spanish will embark on animated intonation – and catch themselves speaking a little faster than in their German mother tongue. Lively facial expressions accompany the thoughts and feelings expressed in Spanish and the gestures, too, underline what people say; and yet they stand firmly and serenely in life.

Timing is all

The Language Teacher Initiative Group (Erziehungskunst, June 2016) recommends in its manifesto that two foreign languages should be learnt over twelve years. In some schools Spanish is successfully taught from class 1. But not all interested schools will be able or want to organise this. In that case a good time to introduce the new foreign language is in class 7. By that time the children have already had six years of lessons in the current second foreign language and are able to do quite a lot.

For all their growing independence they are still happy to follow their teacher. Anyone who decides at this point in favour of Spanish or alternatively decides to remain with Russian or French, will do so positively: that is important if learning is to be successful.

The class seven pupils can no longer, of course, use the forces of imitation in the way they could in class 1; but they like to repeat after the teacher and will unselfconsciously recite, play and sing together. If the Spanish teacher, whom the children might perhaps have met for the first time in these lessons, can succeed in being a beloved authority, this will enable a living first acquaintance with the new language.

Towards the end of middle school, the communicative behaviour of the young people changes: some fall almost completely silent, feeling no longer at home in their mother tongue and not yet having established a new relationship with it; alongside this we are all familiar with the excessive communicative need of many class 7 pupils who have an awful lot to discuss with their friends.

A new language opens up new expressive opportunities for both groups. It furthermore supports the children in turning their attention to the necessity of clear structures which from the beginning have to be taken into account in the organisation of the lessons in terms of methodology and content.

Elementary teaching in Spanish begins by revolving around the world in which the pupils live. The class 7 pupils will happily join in here. Arrived in upper school, they need other spiritual and emotional nourishment. But now their language skills have progressed so far that they can be offered the age-appropriate provisions for the journey in Spanish lessons.

Spanish from class 7 has the added benefit that both teachers and pupils still have many years ahead of them until the pupils leave school: this allows for relaxed, untroubled learning without being driven by final exams and their demands.

Class 9 at the entry into upper school also offers a possible point at which Spanish can be offered as a third foreign language choice. Based on the prior knowledge and curiosity of the pupils, progression in these late-introduced lessons is steep and the commitment in this voluntarily chosen subject for four years is often impressive.

About 470 million people worldwide are native Spanish speakers. It is the second most frequently spoken language and is the official language in 21 countries. These countries, their way of thinking, culture, art and music, traditions and habits, history and political systems and current problems are dealt with in the lessons. Spelling and pronunciation of Spanish are simple and quick to learn. The grammar is logical in structure and gives the pupils access to the system of the Romance languages.

No matter at what point Spanish lessons start: at the end of their time in school the pupils will have conquered another language and world for themselves!  

Interview with Gisela Riegler, initiator of the Spanish teacher training course in Mannheim

The foreign language teachers are celebrating a first: this summer the first students in the subject of Spanish as a foreign language graduated at the Academy for Waldorf Education in Mannheim. It is the first time in Germany that Spanish teachers have graduated in Waldorf education further training specifically designed for them. The initiative for this forward-looking training came from Gisela Riegler, the head of the language teacher seminar at the Academy for Waldorf Education in Mannheim. This new study course started in September 2014 and is being offered in parallel to the already long-existing courses in English, French and Russian.

Vicky Lucio-Fülöp | What made you start the Spanish course?

Gisela Riegler | The fact that meanwhile increasing numbers of Waldorf schools in Germany are offering Spanish and that as a consequence the foreign language teachers need a corresponding further training course in the methodology and teaching methodology of this subject.

VL | How is the training structured, for whom is it intended?

GR | It is a two-year modularised study course with a final certificate as has already existed for English and French since 2010. Successful graduation from this course provides entitlement to teach Spanish at Waldorf schools. Individual classes can also be attended as further training.

VL | Are there sufficient educational and teaching materials in Spanish?

GR | A lot remains to be done here. Whereas in the other foreign languages there is meanwhile a great range of Waldorf publications available with poems, verses, tongue twisters, small plays and reading for all classes, this pioneering work still remains to be done for Spanish. A first start has been made. The anthroposophical publishers in Madrid and Buenos Aires have already published a diverse range of secondary literature.

VL | Are you in contact with Spanish or American Waldorf schools?

GR | We began by establishing contacts with two Waldorf schools in Buenos Aires. Then there are valuable contacts with the teacher training seminar in Madrid and a collaboration is planned. In June 2016 the Waldorf school in Barcelona opened its doors for the first Spanish Week, the Semana Española.

VL | What can you recommend to schools who are thinking about what foreign languages to include in their school concept?

GR | Spanish is in the ascendant; and our pupils will undoubtedly be pleased about a wider range of available foreign languages. Schools should also think about the new opportunities for school exchanges and all the connections which have been in existence for a long time throughout the world through social work experience, mentorships, the voluntary social year and the engagement of the Friends of Waldorf Education. If we are truly thinking globally in the Waldorf movement, there is no way that we can do without Spanish any longer. 

The questions were asked by Vicky Lucio-Fülöp, Spanish lecturer at the universities of Bayreuth and Duisburg/Essen and the mother of a pupil at the Düsseldorf Waldorf school.