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Low-Cost Language Learning in Germany

By Anika M. Scott

Last spring I arrived in Wuerzburg, Germany with two suitcases, my cat, and a determination to learn German. My bank account wasn’t bottomless, and any German school I chose had to be affordable. The Goethe Institut, geared to adults, was of high quality but expensive. Besides, the nearest Goethe Institut to Wuerzburg was an hour away. I had left hour-long commutes behind when I left my job in Chicago.

A German friend suggested the Kolping, a nonprofit organization that looks after troubled youth, supplies job training, and teaches German to immigrants. It has local organizations in towns across Germany as well as in Kenya and Romania. One of the largest Kolping training centers is in Wuerzburg.

German Class at $2.50 an Hour

Kolping welcomes students from all over the world, who, unlike government-sponsored immigrants, must pay for the classes out of pocket. Even so, the courses are a bargain. For DM500 per month the beginner course includes seven hours of instruction a day five days a week for six months. Course materials cost a 1-time . DM50 fee.

I arrived for class at 8 a.m. in a sunny, glass-walled classroom on the fifth floor of a modern building in the heart of town. About 20 of us stared out at the tile rooftops and church spires of Wuerzburg, most of us too shy to speak. Then the classroom door opened and a woman appeared pushing a cart piled with coffee cups, saucers, and pastries. After this satisfying ice breaker breakfast, two teachers—the exuberant and eccentric Frau Mahsberg and the quietly businesslike Frau Kothe-Loew—began our language training with introductions.

We discovered the class held students from 12 countries, a diversity that forced us to immediately speak German in order to talk with one another at all. I was the only American. Student ages ranged from 19 to 60 and religions included Russian Orthodox, Muslim, and Jewish. As our language abilities improved, we told stories of our home countries. Some were nearly heartbreaking: the Taliban had killed the husband of one student who was forced to flee Afghanistan with her two children; a Siberian family that hadn´t seen a paycheck in months uprooted itself to survive; a Kurdish textile worker had left behind the violence in his Turkish home town.

From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day we learned grammar and vocabulary, watched and discussed the news on television, and played language games. We often learned German tongue twisters to practice pronunciation. Try this: “Blaukraut bleibt Blaukraut und Brautkleid bleibt Brautkleid.”

When I finished the course in October, I had reached practical fluency. The Kolping Akademie’s high-quality teaching and the student diversity made the experience memorable. For a language learner with a few months in Germany, a tight budget, and a desire to mix with students of all backgrounds, Kolping is a great choice.

For More Information Contact: Kolping Bildungszentrum, Sedanstr. 25, 97082 Wuerzburg, Germany;info@kolpingwuerzburg.de, www.kolping-wuerzburg.de. New courses start roughly every month, but check with Kolping for current schedules.

ANIKA SCOTT was a staff writer with the Chicago Tribune for several years before moving to Germany last spring.