The Right Approach to Bilingual Education

Raising a child that’s truly bilingual is a dream for many parents. But what does it take to raise a truly bilingual child? Let’s be honest, the typical model of foreign language education in the United States rarely accomplishes that goal. Kids spend a few hours a week in a separate class memorizing vocabulary, stumbling through subject-verb agreement and – after years of study – might be able to string together a few phrases and order lunch during an overseas trip.

Contrast that with the foreign language education offered at the German International School Chicago (GISC) in Northcenter. This preschool through eighth grade independent, non-profit school provides students with a German-English bilingual education.

“Our preschool offers a full German-immersion program. Starting in Kindergarten, every subject, except English Language Arts, is mainly taught in German,” says Petra Obritzberger, Director of the school. “Through their years in middle school at the latest, students will have achieved advanced fluency in both languages regardless of the language they speak at home.”

Why it’s effective

GISC’s path to true bilingualism for its students is a result of what experts have long touted: exposure. Dual language instruction offers a level of immersion that other traditional schools just can’t match.

“It takes a lot of differentiated teaching and engagement with each child. We have really small class sizes of 10-12 students on average. This provides our instructors the time to give each student the level of instruction needed,” Obritzberger says.

German language instruction is infused in everything a student does and learns at GISC – from core curriculum to activities like coding, theater, sustainability and even yoga.

Ideally, students start at GISC in preschool, but can join the school up to the second grade without prior knowledge of German. If students joined later, they would not be able to catch up with their peers who would already have acquired intermediate fluency by then. GISC has a partnership with a local high school, so students can continue their German language and literature education after eighth grade at GISC and achieve the highest level of German literacy. Eventually, the school plans to expand through high school as well.

“Every year since we’ve opened, we’ve added one grade level,” says Obritzberger. “Our parents have seen the benefits of their children achieving German language fluency and they don’t want them to lose that by going to another school where they won’t get this level of language immersion.”

Why it’s for everyone

“I think a misperception is that we are a school just for German-speaking families, but that’s not the case,” she says. “We have over 40 different nationalities among our student population. They were drawn to our school because they value intercultural education, small classes with individualized learning and a curriculum that encourages a child’s curiosity and creativity – in both German and English.”

All of that is in keeping with GISC’s designation as a bilingual International Baccalaureate (IB) World School.

“Our parents are excited about the education we offer, student outcomes in German and US standardized testing, the community we’ve created and what that offers their child – and they’ve spread the word,” says Obritzberger.

Around 20 percent of GISC’s students have no German-speaking parents. Obritzberger sees that number growing as more parents recognize the benefits of GISC’s individualized, bilingual curriculum.

Obritzberger says she’s proud of the German International School Chicago’s role in setting its students on a path toward a bright future: with the vision of graduating with the IB Bilingual Diploma, the Certificate of German Proficiency (DSD II), and a High School Diploma, GISC students will be well equipped for abundant global opportunities.

“A bilingual education comes with a wide range of benefits that set up a student for success in life,” says Obritzberger. “In addition to the obvious academic benefits, those include cognitive, cultural, long-term health, financial and career-related benefits.”

About German International School Chicago


German International School Chicago is a pre-K through 8th grade full-time school that prepares students to become well-rounded, creative, and responsible global citizens. They provide students with a rigorous world-class German/English dual-language education in a supportive and individualized learning environment.


For more information, visit germanschoolchicago.com.




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