What is a German Saturday School? How can you find one near you?

In this interview Herr Antrim talks to Dennis and Carmen from the German Saturday School in St. Louis, Missouri. This interview includes information about what this specific German school does as well as how to find a German Saturday School near you and a whole lot more.

Background of Carmen and Dennis from the German Saturday School in St. Louis

Herr Antrim:
First, can you give us a little bit of background? Where are you guys from? And how did you learn German? And how did you end up at the German School?

Carmen

Carmen:
I come up really from Germany, the southern part of Germany. I’m a native speaker, and through work I was transferred to America. And then I met my husband and I married him. And when I got my work permit, the first thing I did, I applied to the German School to be a teacher. I’m now at the school for 19 years. And for five years, I am the lead teacher in the school.

Dennis

Dennis:
I was born and raised here in St. Louis, majored in German and college. My heritage is German. I went to Germany in my junior year, studied in Frankfurt. Then I got a master’s and a PhD in German literature from Northwestern University. I taught German for eight years, maybe, and I got into an entirely different field, and didn’t do anything with German until about eight years ago. I’ve been teaching at the school, and also a student at this school for six or seven years.

Herr Antrim:
You say, you’re a student still at the school as well so you’re doing the C-level classes-

Dennis:
I do the C-level conversation class on Saturday mornings, and I teach a A2 class on Thursday evenings.

How did the German Saturday School in St. Louis get started?

Herr Antrim:
Do you know how the German School got started here in St. Louis? I don’t know a whole lot of institutions that are like this. So how do we have a German school dedicated to German in the St. Louis area?

Carmen:
The school started in 1962 by refugees, so after the Second World war, they wanted to have their children learn German still. They came from Germany or German speaking places in Europe, and they started the school, and so we have, soon, our 60 years anniversary next year. It was always a Saturday school for children, and then we added adults in the 1980s. We are not the only Saturday school. All over in America, there are Saturday schools.

When does the German Saturday School offer classes?

Herr Antrim:
So this is not a traditional K-12 school. It’s not like you teach all of your classes in German, but it’s just Saturday school. I also noticed you have Thursday classes too, right?

Dennis:
Saturday’s just during the day, 9:00 to 12:00 on Saturdays, and it’s 30 weeks, so 90 hours of instruction. Thursday evening, 6:30 to 9:30, also 30 weeks. So we run concurrently with the normal school year.

Which levels does the German Saturday School serve?

Herr Antrim:
And so you are teaching people, you start at A1, and you can go all the way up to-

Dennis:
C1 is as far as we go, but we also have children starting at kindergarten level.

Carmen:
We have two kindergarten classes and the children go to the B1 level, but the adults can go up to the C1 level.

Does this school prepare students for German proficiency exams?

Herr Antrim:
And are these classes targeted at the test that you can take, or the exam from like the Goethe Institut or something like that?

Carmen:
We are preparing the children for two tests, the AATG test, we have applied for permission to run the German government based test, that is the DSD1 test, a German Sprachdiplom eins and two, one and two. We’ll wait for the permission and we hope we can have these language tests starting in March next year. The whole children classes prepare for the German test from the German government.

Adult Classes

Herr Antrim:
And the adult class, do something similar?

Dennis:
Adult are for people who are interested in German because of their heritage. Some are interested because they want to research their family history. Some people are there just because they like languages, and we age range from, what about, 20 up to 80.

Carmen:
But the adults do not prepare for a test. They can then do a Goethe test, because nothing is available here in St. Louis, they would need to go to Chicago. So we don’t really prepare for it, but the books themselves prepare for these German tests, the Goethe tests, for example.

What can a student expect from a German Saturday School?

Herr Antrim:
What is it like for, let’s say, a school aged child who wants to take German at your Saturday school? What kind of classes would they have? Is this like strictly just book stuff? Or is it immersion? Or what kind of setup do you have?

Carmen:
It’s good to know first that our children start when they’re like seven years old. We want to really have them at a very young age, because all our beginner classes are usual children’s seven to 10. When they come in as a high schooler, then hopefully they already had a German at the public school or a private school.

We are a little different than a normal public school, as that the children grow or go through the levels in our school when they’re seven years old, and then with 14, they, hopefully, can then take the German language exams, and with 16, DSD2. Usually children who are younger apply or come to our school, and we have two kindergarten classes, so then we can practically, already have the younger children grow really into our school.

Two Kinds of German Students

Dennis:
Yeah, and we have children whose parents are German, they’re speaking German at home. And then we have children whose parents are interested in German and send their children to school. So two different levels of entry language skill is involved.

Carmen:
Which is really reflected, these two different language levels in our kindergarten classes. So we have two kindergarten classes. One is for bilingual children, and one is for children who just start to learn German. But then in our classes itself, we combined them, then again, once they can read and write in English, they usually start with the A1 class, and then we use a normal book.

So we have sort of a more traditional set up as a school, where we use books from Germany, so there’s no English in it. With the book, it’s not really immersion, but the children learn very quickly that there’s not a lot of English help. The teacher helps, obviously, explaining grammar or so, and that’s in English, but the higher the children go then, so after they’re maybe 12 years old, the class is pretty much running in German.

Which textbooks are used in the German Saturday School in St. Louis?

Herr Antrim:
What textbook do you use?

Carmen:
For the children we use Deutschprofis and Magnet Neu these are all the textbooks from Germany.

Herr Antrim:
Okay. And the adults use a different one?

Dennis:
Der Berliner Platz Neu eins and zwei.

What are the goals of the students?

Carmen:
Most students have a long-term goal in that they want to speak German within five years or so. And their reason is because they have family over in Germany or that do genealogy. That’s a big part of it.

Dennis:
I take the C1 class myself as a student, and we have a group of people who sign up every year, year after year after year. Our purpose really is a social purpose. It’s to keep our language skills refreshed and alive, but it’s also a social interaction for us.

Dennis:
The group that I go with, we go to lunch after class, on Saturdays every week, and then we have an after class social hour, so it’s sort of like Stammtisch. For me, it’s very important to have the practice each week of speaking German for three hours. When I first started five or six years ago, in that class, I understood quite well, but I hadn’t spoken in so long, that I was really hesitant and not fluent at that point. And now I can get up in front of the class and give a lecture or talk or report without notes or with just a few notes, which I couldn’t do five years ago.

Carmen:
Yeah. That’s an important point that many adult students come for their social reasons. They just want to be within a group, they learn better in a group setting, and they just learn to see other people.

Dennis:
And you make friends.

Perks of Learning at the German Saturday School in St. Louis

Herr Antrim:
Yeah. So just something a little bit more structured. Like, if you’re trying to teach yourself German at home or review your German, you can go to the Saturday school and help pick up on that and kind of get things a little bit more organized than what you might have if you studied at home on your own.

Carmen:
Yeah. And the conversation is way better. So with the higher levels, the students also talk German, preferably, during the breaks, and they can speak German, obviously, in conversation exercises, and that you cannot have at home when you just do it by yourself. Or you can have it with a tutor, but it’s always the same person then talking to you. And so with the students, you can have different conversation partners.

How many students are enrolled at the German Saturday School in St. Louis?

Herr Antrim:
How many students do you have right now?

Carmen:
So, because of COVID, obviously, we have around a 100, it’s usually half children, half adults, but usually we have 160 plus.

Are classes in-person or virtual?

Herr Antrim:
Have you done anything digitally since COVID or are you still in-person classes?

Dennis:
No, we haven’t had no in-person classes this year. So it’s been all online. It’s been an adjustment, but I think we’ve handled it pretty well. We lost a lot of people, because they didn’t want to do the online version. One of our teachers wouldn’t do it online, for instance. So the enrollment was down 30% this year.

Carmen:
The students who did, finally, then online, they really liked it, especially the adults. The children are a little bit more challenging.

Dennis:
Some of the older adults, like me and some of our other older adults, don’t like to drive at night, so the Thursday night class, in this coming year, we’re going to continue online. So those people will be more comfortable in the Thursday night online format than they would if they were coming to the school in-person.

Carmen:
Yeah. We have now a nice choice for everyone, either Thursday night online or in-person on Saturday mornings.

Dennis:
I have one student in my class from Columbia (Missouri), and she couldn’t come to the class if it were held in-person, and I hope we will be able to attract more people who are not living near St. Louis.

Can students outside of St. Louis attend online lessons with the Saturday School in St. Louis?

Herr Antrim:
So you are planning on opening this up to people who aren’t in St. Louis, if you’re doing the online version?

Dennis:
I think anybody who wants to can enroll online. I don’t think we have any limitations on that.

Carmen:
Nope. Not at all.

How many teachers are there at the German Saturday School in St. Louis?

Herr Antrim:
How many teachers do you have right now?

Carmen:
We have 13 teachers, if all classes run.

Dennis:
How many of them are native speakers?

Carmen:
Oh, well, maybe five to seven, it depends. But we have native speakers as teachers and we have a certified German teacher as teachers. And we also have Americans who just speak very well German, have maybe had a few stays in Germany.

What are the goals of the German Saturday School in St. Louis?

Herr Antrim:
What is the long-term and short-term goal of the German School in St Louis?

Carmen:
Well, for sure, we’d like to grow more, so we always invite more students into the school. And we also would like to run these German government exams. And then we want to build on our children’s classes. So we want to make it really attractive for students from public schools to come to us and prepare for the German exam, because the German exam has many benefits. For example, if you think of studying in Germany, the DSD1 certificate is a necessary language requirement to go to a Studienkolleg in Germany. That’s a one year preparatory class for the university. But if you succeed in passing the DSD2 exam, that’s already your language requirement to directly enter into the university.

Dennis:
Actually two of our students, one of them is currently in Berlin and the other is going to Hamburg. So they are both going to be studying at the university.

Herr Antrim:
And one of the major perks that I see anyway is that, I have two kids who are growing up that are going to eventually have to pay $40,000 for an American university, but I’m doing an online master’s right now, and it’s about a quarter of the cost. And that’s even for a foreign student to study in Germany. That’s one of the major perks that I see.

German Lessons for Students of Schools Where German is No Longer Offered

Dennis:
The other thing that we are trying to do is offer German for students who go to schools where German is no longer offered. A lot of schools have dropped German as a foreign language, so we want to be able to offer an alternative to those people who are interested.

Herr Antrim:
Yeah. It’s good to have an alternative that they can still go and learn German if they really want to.

Students with bilingual parents

Carmen:
And then there are a lot of students here, where they have bilingual parents? One of the parents is German and they also need the certificate to show that they have to correct German level. Even though they’re Germans, they still need to take that exam to show their proficiency in German.

Dennis:
And you have to know the grammar. Speaking the language doesn’t prepare you for the tests that are required. So you have to know more than just being able to speak it.

Carmen:
That’s where bilingual children who have not a regular school class in German, that’s usually where they need help. Because speaking goes well, listening goes usually well, but once they need to start writing, there’s a lot of issues.

Herr Antrim:
Yeah. My daughter is eight now and I’ve been speaking German to her since she was born, and so she understands everything that I say to her. She understands German just fine. She can watch TV shows in German. But if I ask her to say something in German, she probably can’t produce that language for her. I know she can’t write it or read it, but the understanding is there. It’s just, we got to build on more of those building blocks, and a school like this would be fantastic for her.

Why don’t students with German parents learn German?

Dennis:
And you know, kids want to be like their peers. And so kids who are born into bilingual families frequently resist learning the language, it’s not the language of their peers.

Carmen:
We often have that set up, not only with the teachers, that they bring their children to school, but also with the parents, the parents send the children to school and the other parent, who is maybe not German or would like to speak German, goes to a parallel class in the adult classes. And so both are busy for three hours, and so there’s just one drive to it and one drive back. So you don’t need to like… You save a little bit on the driving.

What is the best way to learn German?

Herr Antrim:
So the number one question that I always have online is, how do I learn German? So I do a lot of videos where I say, you can use this website or that website, or you can use these tools to help you learn German. But what is the one tip that you might give to German learners, for people who want to learn German, whether it be in the St Louis area or elsewhere, how do you learn German? What do you do?

According to Dennis

Dennis:
I would recommend going to the Deutsche Welle, it’s all free to register, and they have really, really good educational programs. We’ve been using one called Nicos Weg, in my A2 class, and I think it’s excellent. I wish I’d had it when I was learning Germany. It’s that good. So I would say anything that Deutsche Welle has to offer is good. And of course, there are numerous things on YouTube, Easy German is one, and-

Herr Antrim:
Jenny or Anja-

Dennis:
Yeah, Learning German with Jenny.

Herr Antrim:
And then, there’s German with Anja. She’s much more energetic in her videos than I usually am. And yeah, there’s quite a few good YouTubers out there that.

Click here for Herr Antrim’s recommendations for YouTube channels for German learners.

According to Carmen

Carmen:
Generally, I think you need to learn regularly your language when you learn one. So once a week, like here in the school, we might have school only once a week, but it’s for three hours. And then we have, for sure, homework. So the students have one more session by themselves. And then, hopefully, one more time during the week, where they can study vocabulary or so. Beside regularly, always learning the language and studying it, you need to try to find opportunities to speak it or listen to it. So anything helps, just to immerse yourself into the language. So not only through the school, but through just listening and-

Dennis:
Netflix has a number of movies in German. You can find those and watch them. They are difficult to understand, but you can get them with subtitles, and then you can follow along, but it’s a pretty high level of language use.

Click here to download a Google Chrome extension that will supercharge your language learning with Netflix.

Herr Antrim:
Yeah. And there’s the kind of the Kinder Kanal, KiKA in Germany. They have a lot of their online stuff, so if you’re one of the younger age children, KiKA is a fantastic way to immerse them in something like Meine Freundin Conni or children’s shows like Sesame Street is on there in German. And those would be a great opportunity for those students too.

Are there other German Saturday Schools in the USA?

Are there any other schools that are kind of doing the same type of thing that you are in other cities? You already mentioned the one in Chicago.

Dennis:
I think there are quite a few actually.

Carmen:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Every bigger American city has Saturday schools. They were all founded just like ours with the refugees coming over from after the Second World War. There is even a German Saturday School Conference, it is an umbrella organization for the Saturday schools too. We are also connected through the German government, because most of us are doing these German government exams. So the Zentralstelle fur das Auslandsschulwesen is supporting all the Saturday schools here in America, but also all over the world.

How can you find a German Saturday School near you?

Herr Antrim:
Is there anywhere that we can go online to find a centralized list of these schools? Or is it just search in your city, study German learning near me, and see what you find?

Carmen:
Mostly we all go on with the name German Saturday School, so yeah, that’s exactly what you do, German Saturday School or go to the German Saturday School Conference. Otherwise, yeah, just Google in your city, German Saturday School.

Click here for a map of the USA with German Schools labeled.

Herr Antrim:
And your website is?

Carmen:
germanschoolstl.org.

Which classes does Herr Antrim teach?

Herr Antrim:
Those are all of the questions that I had for you guys. Do you have any questions that you want to ask me? Anything that you’re kind of curious about, either with what I’m doing on YouTube or in the classroom?

Dennis:
What levels of German are you teaching in your school? And how many German teachers do you have?

Herr Antrim:
We currently have two German teachers. I teach German I and II, so I have four classes a day, two German Is, two German IIs. Our three and four classes are dual credit classes with the local community college. We actually have to have a master’s degree in order to teach the upper levels. So we do have another German teacher, she teaches three and four. There’s only one class of each of those right now. So we have two German teachers, just me with one and two, and Frau House with three and four.

Dennis:
And so is Frau House part time?

Herr Antrim:
She also teaches geography.

Dennis:
Oh, okay.

Herr Antrim:
So she does three classes of geography, and two classes of German.

Carmen:
This is a new shirt and you can order it online. It comes with different sentences in the front and in the back, is the German School logo.

Get a German School T-Shirt & Support the German Saturday School in St. Louis

Herr Antrim:
Yeah. I may have to pick one of those up.

Outro

Herr Antrim: Thank you for hanging out with me today and doing this interview. And maybe I’ll be teaching for you soon and maybe I’ll send my daughter over your direction. If anybody online is looking for them, they are the German School in St. Louis. If you just search for a German School or German Saturday School near you, there’s probably one in your area, and it would be definitely a great opportunity for you to learn German in your area.

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