Alsatian as a perfect tool to learn German

In the Social Cultural Center of Haguenau children were singing Alsatian songs

HAGUENAU – The ABCM Zweisprachigkeit school celebrated the start of the ‘Week of Alsatian Culture and Language in Haguenau’ Friday April 1st . The dialect is dying. ABCM thinks learning Alsatian is the perfect way to learn German and see the German language as part of their culture.

By Bobbie van der List

Audio: report from Social Cultural Center Haguenau

Stefani Anquetin is one of the teachers at the ABCM private school. Her children go there as well. Her husband is from the South of France, and Anquetin is from the North of Germany. After they got children they decided to move to Alsace. ,,We wanted our children to learn something of both cultures.  Alsace is the perfect place for that.”

The younger the better

At ABCM in Haguenau children start learning German in elementary school when they’re 3 years old. The earlier you begin, the more success you get, Anquetin explains. They speak German 80 percent of the time.

Once they go to primary school, it’s divided in 12 hours German, and 12 hours French a week. Apart from German they learn Alsatian as well. Anquetin: ,,We call that the emergence of three languages, in order to be better in the German language.”

Alsatian is the perfect way to learn German

Serge Rieger is a well known actor in the Haguenau theater scene. ,,At the start of the evening, before the performance of the children, I told the parents that they have to talk with their children in German when they’re young. There lies a role for parents as well.”

He explains that the regional culture is difficult to understand without speaking German. ,,Place names, or surnames are often written in German, and you can’t understand them without knowing German.”

,,A big part of the regional culture is the dialect”, Rieger emphasizes. ,,There is so much theater, music and literature in Alsatian, we need to maintain that.”

Children are waiting for cake and lemonade after their act on stage. PHOTO Bobbie van der List

Alsatian, a dying dialect

But what is the state of the dialect at the moment?

According to professor in linguistics Roland Willemyns the dialect is disappearing. ,,During the 60s and 70s people gave up on the Alsatian dialect. It’s not that strange, you see it with all dialects. It’s difficult to stop them from dying.”

He uses the city Mulhouse, on the South side of Strasbourg, as an example to show the situation of the dialect. ,,Only 2 percent of the children use the dialect. As a professor I think it’s a waste that dialects disappear. But people who are suppose to use the dialect, prefer to learn German for economical reasons.”

Alsatian one of the last things remaining

What Willemyns actually says, is that there is no reason to speak the language anymore for people living there. In that perspective; why learn Alsatian?

The director of ABCM Zweisprachigkeit, Jean Peter, explains. ,,This region has been German for more than 1000 years. After the war we had to be ashamed to speak German. It was even forbidden. Now we can be proud of our own language!”

Stefani Anquetin backs him up. ,,It would be terrible if the dialect would disappear. Especially in this area where situations kept changing every decade during the last century. But they did create an identity, and here people are very attached to that identity.”

Holiday to Germany

Nowadays not all the parents want their children on the school for purely cultural reasons. More French parents want their children to have a bilingual education for economical reasons.

Anquetin explains that parents can’t just drop off their children and expect them to get back home totally bilingual. Especially from parents who are monolingual the schools demands a lot.

,,They expect the children to go to Germany on holiday, so they have to keep practicing and learn something about the German culture.”

Two diplomas gives them more perspective

Anquetin has to say that the benefits are great of this bilingual education.

,,We have many children who went to our school and now finished high school.  Now they have a double diploma; the German Abitur and the French Baccalauréat. From an economical perspective it’s very interesting.”

Companies in the Alsace request a very good level in German nowadays. They’ve noticed the German level of the French has gone down, which has resulted in a negative image of French workers in Germany.

The poster says 'freedom for our language'. PHOTO Bobbie van der List

Laughing in both languages

President of the school Jean Peter underlines what he wants to achieve with the children ,,We want that when our children speak in German, they think in German. And when they speak French also think in French.”

The ultimate form of bilingualism? ,,But it’s important to make jokes in French and in German. If you do that, then you know you’re really bilingual.”

Click HERE to read an article about the political support from  the Alsace Regional Council for bilingual education.

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