Frankfurt, Germany

“School For Mama and Me!”: Language Lessons For Parents

The Office of Multicultural Affairs

February 10, 2009

Opening doors to language learning at school for immigrant parents and children—together!

Six year old Amar and his family recently moved to Frankfurt from Turkey. Amar will be starting school next month and is looking forward to meeting his new friends, teachers and learning German. But Amar won’t be the only one in the family attending the local elementary school next week, “Mom and I are going to school together and we’ll be in the same class” he enthuses. As part of the Mama Lernt Deutsch –Papa auch (“Mama learns German – even Papa”) program, his mother, Fatima will be joining him. Not only will Fatima be learning useful language skills to help her adjust to her new life, she will also be taking a big step towards helping Amar succeed academically both in the coming year and in the years ahead.

A child’s academic success has been shown to be strongly influenced by the involvement and collaboration of the parents with the school. Often, parents that are new to a country or uncomfortable in the language are excluded from this participation and as a result, are unable to fully support their children’s education – despite the best of intentions.

To help ensure successful integration into the German school system and to encourage the involvement of new immigrant parents, the city of Frankfurt developed, “Mama learns German – even Papa” program. The program first began in 1997 as a pilot in a Frankfurt suburb with the involvement of eight elementary schools. There are currently about 100 courses in Frankfurt am Main as a result of cooperation between the Frankfurt Office of Multicultural Affairs and the city schools and nurseries.

Through the “Mama Learns German – even Papa” program, immigrant mothers (and fathers) of children in primary schools and kindergartens join their children in the classroom for two mornings a week. The mothers learn German along with their children and receive real insight into the lives that their children will be leading in their new country. The contents of the languages classes are very much focused on the practical – the everyday words and expressions that the mothers need to navigate their new life in Germany and to understand the activities of their children. It also forms the basis for a cooperative relationship between schools and parents. With lessons incorporated into the school day, parents are also relieved of the added burden of costly child care

Success: More than just language
The classroom provides a forum for the mothers to connect and discuss challenges, solutions and find support and friends in an environment that is free from judgment and prejudice.

‘”The classes taught me enough German so I can confidently find way my around town and in stores, but it also introduced me to other women who understood the challenges that my husband and I were facing with our relocation. After classes, we often sit and share our stories and find solutions together” adds Meera who has been attending the classes for the past year with Mira her five year old daughter.

All the schools that participated in the “Mama learns German – even Papa” program, found that their students had demonstrated a significant improvement in their language and vocabulary skills as a result of the increased use of German in their homes and with their mothers. Improved communication skills also enabled the children to participate more in school and on the playground – making both their education and social integration easier, more successful and more enjoyable.

A Travelling Idea
After the success of the “Mama learns German – even Papa” program, Frankfurt began looking to extend the program into secondary schools, as well as exploring variations on the program to increase its accessibility. The program has also been expanded nationally.

One variation that has been developed is based on an Israeli home visit language program called Hippy – “Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters”. This program provides language training for both preschoolers and parents in the family home -reducing the isolation some new immigrants experience and increasing the ability of parents with more than one child that requires supervision to participate. Mothers are visited once a week by a trainer who also speaks their native language (which helps to mediate cultural barriers) and plays games with them to reinforce vocabulary and local customs as well as to discuss parenting issues such as health and nutrition. The mothers then try to spend at least 15 minutes a day interacting with their children and the material.

Frankfurt has always boasted a highly international population. An estimated 38-40 % of its population is foreign born, collectively representing over 170 countries of origin. This means one in three residents having a non-German passport. Since 1973, when Frankfurt founded Germany’s first “language and training course for foreigners”, the city has focused on the goal of ensuring that immigrants have sufficient German skills to participate equally in civil and social life. Innovative programs such as “Mamas Learn German – even Papa” help ensure that this goal is achieved and promise a generation of children increased success for their academic future.

Making it Work for You:

  • Involving new immigrant parents in their children's education is essential for the success of the second generation. Does your local school provide opportunities for parents to volunteer or participate in the classroom or in other school activities with their children?
  • Do your schools have after-school programs that provide opportunities for families to become involved?
  • By providing parents with language skills and a real understanding of what their children's new lives involve, schools can help create a more supportive family unit and prevent cultural divides between the generations.
  • The "Mums learns German - Papa also" program has been adapted for secondary schools and stay at home parents - a good idea can work in many forms so don't hesitate to modify a program or concept so it meets the needs of your community or organization.

For this Good Idea contact:

Helga Nagel
Head of the Office of Multicultural Affairs
Walter Kolb-Str. 9-11
Frankfurt, Germany,
069 212 387 65