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The first time a German student is confronted with a foreign language in a class is between third and fifth grade depending on the individual school. The school system in Germany starts with the Grundschule (elementary school) from first to fourth grade. During those for years it will be determined which school a student will go to afterwards in the high school phase based on the performance shown. The lowest level is the Hauptschule, then the Realschule, and finally the Gymnasium. The newest form of education combines all three schools into one, which is called “Gesamtschule”.
What all school forms have in common is that the English language is taught in fifth grade which means that every German student will have be provided with English language skills. This is a mandatory class and one of the more important classes during a student’s life. The focus of this blog will be on the “Gymnasium” which has the highest percentage of the Germany students with 30% (2001). After two years of English the student has the chance to elect his second foreign language. In general the decision can be made between French and Latin. Again, the student has to choose one of the two. As a third option in 11th grade many schools offer Spanish or Italian, which are non mandatory classes.
It becomes obvious that there is a very big focus on language skills within the German school system. There is also a current movement to start English in elementary school for everybody.
Almost every single school in Germany has a partnership with a school in other countries like the U.K, France, or Poland. There are many exchange programs offered and the classes have the opportunity to test there language skills with their fellow students from across the border. A lot of friendships have developed in this way and families actually apply for hosting exchange students and provide them with a temporary home during their usually week long stay.