The Value of Bilingual Education at the German International School Chicago

Bilingual education is more than just learning a new language, it's phenomenal for growing the brain. Learn how the German International School Chicago builds strong minds.

Students at the German International School Chicago (GISC) benefit from much more than learning to speak, read and write German. Becoming fluent in another language enhances overall cognitive abilities and understanding of the world, making these students true global citizens.

“This is not just about learning another language; bilingualism in itself is a brain-enhancing attribute,” says Director Benjamin Hebebrand. “It strengthens children’s cognitive abilities, particularly in terms of being able to process language faster. The ability for children to compare and contrast one language to another is an incredibly enlightening opportunity for them to understand the structure and nuances of language. And it also makes them better English speakers.

“And,” he adds, “it’s not only brain enhancing, it’s heart enhancing. Students learn that the differences between one culture and another are exciting to explore, appreciate and understand. The world is getting smaller and these kids are not just bilingual, they are bicultural.”

Both current and prospective GISC parents can learn more about these advantages on December 11, 2021 at “The Essence of GISC: An Open House on Bilingualism & the International Baccalaureate Program,” from 10 a.m. to noon at the school’s campus at 1726 W. Berteau. Attendees will learn how the school teaches by transdisciplinary methods and hear about the cognitive benefits of children learning in a bilingual environment in a talk presented by Northwestern Postdoctoral Fellow Ashley Chung-Fat-Yim, Ph.D.

GISC has grown every year since its founding in the 2008-09 school year with just 13 students, and now has nearly 170 students in grades pre-K through 8. Students come from different backgrounds, with about 70% from families where at least one parent has a strong connection to Germany and often also speaks the language. Some 20% are German ex-patriot families who want their children to remain grounded in German language and culture, and about 10% are from international families with no connection to Germany but appreciate the benefits of a bilingual education.

Photo credit: German International School Chicago

“The idea of German schools outside of Germany is quite common, and there are about 140 worldwide including in New York City, Boston, California’s Silicon Valley and Washington, DC,” says Hebebrand. “Being such a significant world city, Chicago deserves such a school as well. You would be amazed at how much influence German immigration has had on Chicago.”

GISC offers a completely immersive experience in German and it’s virtually the only language spoken except in a daily English class that covers reading, writing and literature. Students routinely score well above the national averages on the standardized MAP tests in math, reading and English language usage, Hebebrand notes, “so it’s not like their English is being compromised.” Starting in third grade, kids also learn French and Spanish.

An International Baccalaureate World School that offers the Primary Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), GISC is accredited through the Independent School Association of the Central States and the IBO. After eighth grade, some graduates attend the nearby French International School (Lycée Français de Chicago), where they continue their study of German with GISC teachers who are close enough to walk over.

“This is in the very early stages with seven students so far,” Hebebrand says. Whether or not GISC will one day add its own high school has not yet been decided.

Students become proficient in German language as is evident by testing conducted under the auspices of well-recognized German examinations that are administered in third, sixth, and eighth grades. “Our students can effortlessly switch from one language to the other — and that is amazing,” says Hebebrand

Extensive art and music choices; extracurricular activities in areas as diverse as chess, computer coding, sports and musical instruction; and before- and after-school care round out the GISC experience. The school has a working relationship with the German Consulate General Chicago and the German Embassy, “but at the end of the day we are a private, independent organization with our own mission,” Hebebrand says. “It is a pleasure to represent a modern, progressive nation that is very interested in participating in global affairs.”

Hebebrand, who was born and raised in Germany, calls his job a dream come true. “I have been associated with private education in the United States for more than 30 years and the head of school at three different American schools, but this is extra special,” he says. “I tell my friends that every day I go off to Germany and at the end of the day I come back to the U.S. — without the jetlag.”

Learn more about GISC and the December 11 Open House at


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