Martina O'Reilly: Looking back at 25 years Essay Competition

During the award ceremony this week, German Teacher Martina O'Reilly from CBS High School in Clonmel looked back at 25 years German Language Essay competition and has kindly shared her impressions with us:

Celebrating 25 years of the Essay Competition

It is hard to believe or as the Austrians would say "es ist kaum zu glauben" that we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the essay competition. It seems like only yesterday when I encountered Herr Dr. Glaser for the first time - a kind, gracious, smiling man who made everyone feel special - a true gentleman in every sense of the word. The legacy he left behind goes far beyond just winning an essay competition. He wanted young Irish people to be immersed in the German language and was very much an advocate of promoting the language. He firmly believed that "one language sets you in a corridor for life, but two languages open every door along the way".

Anyone can travel to a country and passively attempt to learn the language by doing a course, but it is the interaction with other young people that makes the scholarship such a coveted prize. 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 and pride.

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. Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things. Students end up knowing more about Austria than Germany. In fact, the roles in the classroom are reversed during the research period as I end up learning from my students. In the past they informed me all about Heinrich Taaffe, Virgilius, Sissi, the Melk Abbey, Austrian cuisine, Environmental and EU issues, Skiing in Austria etc. Coming up with the essay titles over a 25 year span is no easy feat but success has a ‘u’ in it and that U is of course the very diligent and hardworking Ulrike. Without her commitment, enthusiasm, encouragement and motivation the competition would not have survived this long. So Ulrike, along with the other 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