Rudolf Steiner begins Lecture Nine of the Teacher’s Seminar in 1919 by saying that “the children coming to the Waldorf School will be of widely different ages.” After all, this is a new school and the children will be coming in with different schooling backgrounds, as well.
The first Waldorf School opened with 175 children in grades 1-8 and Steiner wanted his teachers-in-training to be aware that they wouldn’t have too many years to teach the older ones, especially, with his new methods. Alison points out that this is a great reminder that we want to prepare our (older) children to be able to adapt to different environments. Waldorf is not meant to be a permanent bubble!
All of this leads Steiner to remind his teachers of “a golden rule: to teach economically.”
One of my favorite Steiner quotes comes from Steiner’s lectures collected in Soul Economy: Body, Soul, and Spirit in Waldorf Education (lectures given in 1921-1922).
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Lecture Nine from Practical Advice to Teachers is all about foreign language teaching. Steiner suggests adding at least Latin to the curriculum for the teens, and possibly Greek as well. He points out that the teachers will probably have some pupils who already know some French and Latin and the teachers must first find out what they know.
The method Steiner describes for teaching foreign languages is one of reading passages and discussing them in the foreign language! No translation.
He also recommends focusing on something simple, such as the weather outside, and discussing it in multiple languages such as French, Latin, and German (the mother tongue) to compare the sounds of the language. We want to experience the essence of each language.
At the same time, grammar is introduced. Alison says: I never really understood grammar in the least until I learned a foreign language.
Steiner requests: “But in the foreign language lessons please avoid first working through a reading passage and subsequently pulling the language to pieces.”
Here is Steiner’s summary of teaching foreign languages:
…let this include reading aloud by the children (you read a section and then let the children read after you), retelling of the passage read, and letting the children form their own thoughts about it and then express them in different languages.
One other interesting distinction for learning foreign languages: Steiner suggests that the lessons not be written down in copy books because the aim is to experience a living language that is conversational.
I will be the first to admit that teaching foreign languages in our homeschools is challenging! As I’m reading this lecture, I find myself wondering how these first teachers did it. Were they all fluent in multiple languages?
In our home, we have approached this in a few different ways over the years. One year, a small group of homeschool children met with a bilingual neighbor a few times a week for Spanish Another year, we formed a Spanish culture club with a group of homeschool families. My children also each worked one-on-one with a Hebrew tutor. And probably the most fun we had was with our collection of Spanish children’s books. It’s great fun for teens to read Green Eggs and Ham or Caps for Sale in Spanish or some other language.
Best of all was my middle son travelling with a family of native Spanish speaker to Mexico for a few months one summer. Immersing in a language and culture is the very best way to learn it.
How have you approached foreign languages in your homeschool?
The Steiner Cafe is a place to explore and reflect on the lectures that Rudolf Steiner gave at the Teacher’s Seminar in 1919, the very first Waldorf teacher training.
To read reflections on previous lectures, check out The Steiner Cafe.
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Lot’s of options! Hope you’ll join in the conversations.