If you see Jordan Sheffield in the next few weeks, make sure to tell him herzlichen Glueckwuensch!
That would be congratulations in German, and the Grade 11 Sardis secondary student has earned it.
He is one of a select few students from around the world who have been invited to enjoy and explore Germany, based on their mastery of that country’s language. The German government’s ministry of education and cultural affairs runs a prestigious contest, which asks students to write an essay in German. Everyone around the world who chooses to write the test, does so on the same day. The competition is fierce and the prize of an educational trip to Germany is priceless. While the contest is open to all students from non-German speaking families, it’s not often that B.C. public school students win.
That trend could be changing. One of last year’s winners was from a Prince George public high school, and this year, Sheffield will join another student from Abbotsford. A recent change to the timing of the test has made it more possible for semestered schools to take part, opening the pool for all German-speaking students.
While the trip does include travel and sightseeing, it also includes class time and plenty of time for cultural exchange. All of the winners are divided into groups that consist of people from other participating countries. In Sheffield’s group of students, there are three Brazillians, two Columbians, two Swiss, two Russians and two Poles, along with him and another Canadian from Manitoba.
And one of the only things they’ll have in common is their shared knowledge of German. While they’re grouped together for much of the trip, the nine Canadians taking part will need to put together a cultural presentation for the others. And that presentation will be entirely in German.
Sheffield has learned the language relatively quickly, under the guidance of languages teacher John Warkentin-Scott. He only started learning German this school year, but he’s also tried his hand at Swedish and Turkish.
“I just really love languages,” Sheffield says. “And German is very set in its rules, and very good at making efficient words.”
His teacher said Sheffield is perfect for the trip, because he’s used to travel and eager to learn.
“He’s doing a good job and four weeks in Germany will be an amazing boost,” Warkentin-Scott said. “There’s nothing like it.”
Being fluent in a language can only come with chances for conversation, and there is plenty of chance for that in Warkentin-Scott’s classroom. The kids play German versions of board games, including Monopoly and Settlers of Cattan (which is originally from Germany.) Speaking English in those gaming sessions will cost you, but speaking another language such as French is more acceptable.
“We speak about 90 per cent German,” Sheffield said.
His conversation skills are likely to improve both speaking, and while reading and writing, thanks to technology. Many of the student winners in Sheffield’s group have already connected online.
“We’ve connected on Facebook, and that’s forced me to use my language skills more,” he said. “It’s the one common language between all the languages that we speak.”
Getting to know someone in a different country is a great way to keep up language skills, Warkentin-Scott added. Because even if you master a language, it takes work to keep the knowledge.
“If you stop using it, it’s like a muscle and it will atrophy,” he said. That’s not likely to happen to Sheffield this summer. As part of the trip, the students will attend classes there for three hours every day for the two of the weeks,
Beyond the fun and learning Sheffield will experience in Germany it could also turn into a fact-finding trip for when he eventually graduates from Sardis. He’s considering studying at university there, for “something in the sciences.”