Soak up language every day with Phorms

With the immersion method, children pick up languages automatically – without the stress of vocabulary lists. In the Phorms nurseries and reception classes, children always have contact with one English-speaking and one German-speaking teacher on a day-to-day basis. At primary school, four subjects are taught in English and, at secondary school, the students can choose international qualifications in addition to the German Abitur. In addition, all Phorms schools cover regional differences in their curricula. Phorms teachers from Berlin Süd, Hamburg and Frankfurt offer a glimpse behind the scenes at our schools.


Melanie Turni is a preschool teacher for one of the three reception groups at Phorms Campus Hamburg. She joined Phorms in 2014. Prior to that, she studied pedagogy and education at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences and spent some time in Australia.

What exactly is a reception?

Reception is the year between nursery and primary school. It is de-signed for children who are no longer sufficiently stimulated at nursery and who wish to learn more, but who still require time for play and recreation. In other words, we get them ready for day-to-day school life without covering the topics they’ll explore at primary school. It is important to transfer responsibility to the children in all activities, thus reinforcing their self-confidence and giving them a feeling of security. For example, they are encouraged to organise their work themselves and remember to take their things with them when we switch rooms.

What exactly does a preschool teacher do?

Within our bilingual teaching team, I am the German-speaking responsible adult for the children. My colleague is an English native speaker. Together, we devise the day-to-day preschool curriculum and ensure that each child is stimulated to learn in line with their personal development level. We produce bilingual teaching materials, help those children who need a bit more time on a particular exercise and find things to do for those students who finish more quickly. I also plan the German lessons for my reception group, which take place two days a week. We also do writing practice to music, study individual letters of the alphabet and learn rhymes.


Are all the children in your class German native speakers?

No, some children grow up speaking English, but they have already attended a German nursery and can speak good German. There are also many children in our class who have never had any contact with English before.

And how are they introduced to the English language?

You always see a few puzzled faces at the beginning. You can tell that they’re thinking ‘what happens now? What do I have to do?’ The English teacher uses a lot of gestures, mime and hand movements from the start. Many things are acted out or shown, enabling the children to work out what is meant from the context. In fact, they don’t really realise how they are learning the new language. Instead, they develop a situational understanding.

Can you give us an example?

We all have breakfast together. The native speaker then tells the children what they need to get, such as ‘a bottle of water’ and a ‘snack box’. We then all say ‘enjoy the meal’ in English. As we repeat these phrases several times a day, the children soon know what is meant. The same principle applies to maths, art and general studies. The materials we use are continuously repeated and applied.

And what do you do when a child speaks to you in English?

I repeat the gist of what they said in German and answer in German.

Does a child have to meet any particular requirements to be enrolled in the Phorms reception class?

There is a small assessment at the start of each academic year. This tells us what stage the children are at – for example who can already count or spell. The children then solve age-appropriate problems and play with other children of the same age. It’s obviously beneficial if the child can already speak English or German. Children and parents can then find out more about day-to-day reception life on a trial day.



Canadian Robert MacLeod has been a primary school teacher at the Phorms Taunus Campus for three years. Prior to that, he taught at state monolingual and immersion schools in Canada. He teaches English, maths, science, ethics and PE to his year 4 students.

What are your objectives as a teacher in an immersion class?

I want them to express themselves, communicate with others and make sense of their environment. No matter in what subject, we want to give them the ability to express their own opinions, their own perspectives and their own interest through more than one language. The students get a feeling of the nuances of the language as they try to make sense of the world around them. They will probably use the language in everyday life or at work, so they also have to learn the fun part of the language. I try to do this through group discussions and audio or visual tasks as well as exercises.

Is there anything special about kids being educated bilingually?

I would say that kids tend to be more focused and attentive. I think students in immersion programmes are also able to interact and relate with content, ideas, places or activities through the language that is used in another place.


Can you think of an example?

At our school we give our classes animal names. My class is the blue jay class; the blue jay is a Canadian bird and very common there. It also happens to be the name of a Toronto’s Major League Baseball team. The Toronto Blue Jays were in the play-offs this autumn. In the mornings, we watched two minutes of the highlights of the last game. We discussed some of the terminology they were not familiar with, but they understood almost everything. I was stunned how in terested they were in the team, even though baseball is really not much of a thing at all here in Germany in terms of culture.

Do you think the students speak predominantly English or German?

I think it depends on what they are doing. Outside on the play-ground some student’s talk to each other in German, because it is easier for them to connect. But there are some students who come to our school and don’t have a great level of German. It’s really fascinating to hear the kids flip back and forth between both languages fluently. I think which language they are using is really context-specific. It is just another tool for them to connect with each other.


Is there special support for students who have problems in one of the two languages?

Yes, we have Deutsch als Fremdsprache (DAF) for students who are having difficulties with German and there is also the Special Education Needs (SEN) programme.


How does the SEN department work?

If I identify that there is a student who is struggling in one of the subjects that is taught in English, I refer them to the SEN teacher. The SEN teacher and I then develop objectives and goals for the student. The SEN teacher and the student work together during the lessons, with the former assisting the student in English, watching them in class and helping them to communicate with the others. The same happens with the subjects in German and the DAF programme.





Sean Jackson teaches English literature to years 8–12 at Phorms Campus Berlin Süd and is also the AP Coordinator. A native of California, he studied critical theory, English literature and secondary education at the University of California in Berkeley and the College of New Jersey before coming to Phorms

Does the Phorms secondary school in Berlin Süd build on the bilingual approach seen at nursery and primary school?

Yes, subjects are taught in line with the immersion method – either wholly in German or wholly in English. About half of the subjects – more than at Phorms primary schools – are taught in German, but the children and teachers never translate literally between one language and another.

Which subjects are taught in English at the Berlin Süd secondary school?

English literature, maths, PE, music and the sciences.

Describe a typical day in your class

In my English lessons, the focus is on discussing and debating. I ask the students or groups specific questions, which they can then answer. They are encouraged to discuss their opinions and thoughts, and they are given feedback by their peers and can write down what is said in a more structured form.

Do you make use of books in British English or American English in your lessons?

Both, as this gives the students an insight into different cultures and historical traditions. The students then also become part of these cultures, without having to live in the US or the UK.

Are there any particular challenges for the students?

In my opinion, the main challenge for the students is to write down their thoughts in a clear and structured manner. We therefore have an in-depth discussion on the topic before committing pen to paper, enabling them to order their thoughts. Just like with any other skill, practice makes perfect.

What school-leaving certificates are available at the Berlin Süd secondary school?

The students sit the German Abitur and can also choose to study for the Advanced Placement programme – ‘AP’ for short. AP offers college-level courses for secondary school students. The students can obtain English certificates in the subjects of English language, calculus, biology, physics, chemistry, Spanish and studio art. These certificates are recognised by universities around the world as proof of knowledge, aptitude and determination.

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