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The Irish Austrian Essay Competition - from a teacher’s perspective

posted May 19, 2015, 10:05 AM by Admin austria.ie   [ updated May 19, 2015, 10:06 AM ]

Each year the topics for the essay competition are eagerly awaited in my school. Previous recipients of the scholarship always return after an incredible trip to Austria and their enthusiasm and love for the country is contagious.  As a result there is never any difficulty in getting students to submit entries.

Anyone can travel to a city and passively attempt to learn the language by doing a course, but it is the interaction with other young people that makes this such a coveted scholarship.  It combines the familiar surroundings of a classroom with the freedom to explore the city.  Students learn a huge amount in the classes, but it is speaking German in informal situations that leads  to an improved fluency in the language.  The students learn how to ask for directions, order food, buy tickets and much more.  They develop an understanding of the Austrian people, their customs and traditions, their culture and the ,,Landeskunde’’. This experience gives the students a reason to excel.  They see a purpose, other than a grade, for learning the language.  They are amazed at how well they can cope in a foreign country and speak the language with increased confidence subsequently. 

As the  curriculum is very much dictated by rote learning,  the essay competition for me as a teacher is a very welcome diversion. It showcases the imagination and creativity of young people.  All the students receive the same title, yet each essay is unique and imaginative. It is wonderful to observe how each student becomes more creative and confident in his use of the German language. Students end up knowing more about Austria than Germany.  In fact, the roles in the classroom are reversed during the research period as it is the student that ends up educating me with facts of which I was unaware.  This year I discovered that the Latvian language was founded by a German and that an Irish monk St. Virgil had a huge influence in Salzburg. In the past essays about ‘The Wild Geese’, Mozart, Dr. Otto von Habsburg, among others, proved very popular and educational.  

The value and significance of the essay competition does not stop with the closing date - it has a ripple effect.  This year two of my Leaving Certificate students are presenting projects on Austria for their oral German exam - one titled 'Salzburg' and the other titled 'Skiing in Austria'.  Such was their love for the country that they wanted to express this in an exam which is worth 25%.  One of these students - a former scholarship recipient - is hoping to follow in the footsteps of a student from last year and study Actuary with German in UCD.  Another scholarship recipient is currently studying Medicine with German as his trip to Austria motivated him to continue studying the language. In this way the competition acts as a catalyst for future careers.  The German language opens many doors for students and as one student, who  took up a new position as a Translator in the European Union in Brussels earlier this year said ‘’Once you come to grips with German, you quickly realise what a brilliant, structured language it is’’.

So members of the  Irish Austrian Society please take a bow - the contribution you are making to Irish Education is invaluable.  Remember:  ''The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life’’ - Plato

Martina O’Reilly
German Teacher, CBS High School, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary