One thousand students packed the West Springfield High School auditorium Tuesday morning, Nov. 29, ready to sing and dance and learn — in German.
To celebrate a year-long initiative to promote foreign languages, German teachers from Lanier Middle, Fairfax High and West Springfield High schools organized a concert by Uwe Kind, a world-renowned performer who "lures" children into learning languages through music.
"I try to demystify language learning," said Kind, a bright-eyed, smiling man with short white hair. "I do it using modern advertising and market technology that they love to make it fun for children."
Inviting groups of students on stage to sing with him, Kind performed for more than an hour and a half, teaching the students how to say such phrases as "I'm cool, are you?," "My car is broken," and "I'm a foreigner and don't speak German well, can you speak slowly?," all to guitar and drum-accompanied music.
"I try to lure them into learning the language by using tools they already love," Kind said.
His methods have been featured on the "Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" in 1990, the "Late Show with David Letterman" in 1985. Kind even taught Big Bird how to speak German on "Sesame Street."
"Once I was teaching English to some inmates in a prison, and when the corrections officers saw how fast they were learning, they asked me to teach them Spanish," Kind said after his concert. "I taught them how to say things like please don't smoke inside and please wash your hands, but they didn't know they were saying please. The inmates were so impressed," he laughed.
KIND GREW UP in East Germany and escaped to West Germany in 1960, before coming to New York City, where he created the SingLing method of teaching language at the New School. He has become a well-known teacher of German, Spanish and English.
Students from 15 schools throughout Fairfax County, from South County to McLean and West Potomac to Chantilly, attended the concert. German is offered as a language option in 29 schools across Fairfax County, from Orange Hunt Elementary School to Lake Braddock Secondary School.
Sue Lafky, a German I teacher at Lanier Middle School, said her students enjoyed the concert.
"Uwe had sent me the words to the songs he was going to sing ahead of time, so my students already knew most of the songs," said Lafky. "What's so great about his method of teaching is that there are so many phrases that will come up in future lessons that the kids will already know from his songs."
Kind was invited to perform at West Springfield by Lafky and two other teachers, Rob Williams from Fairfax High School and Christine Bonheim at West Springfield.
"We thought it might help us boost the German language program in a way the kids would enjoy," Bonheim said. "He does a lot of teaching at all age levels. I've seen him perform at conferences for foreign language teachers but most of his time is spent in schools."
RED-FACED from their on-stage performances, students were practicing their newly acquired talents for singing in German while leaving the auditorium.
"This was great," said Mary Szabo, an eighth-grade student at Lanier. "I like being able to go on stage and sing with the microphone. I like that he went around to so many people to let them sing."
Classmate Quinn Giroux agreed. "This is my first year taking German and we've already gone over a lot of what he was singing in class," said Giroux, another Lanier student.
"Uwe has a good presence and a lot of energy for someone his age," said Lanier student Maddy Goubeaux. "I like that he was playing with the crowd a lot— he's an awesome teacher."
Michael Misleh said he was glad his teacher gave him the chance to see the concert. "Miss Lafky is the best German teacher ever," he said.
Williams said the teachers hope to have the concert again next year over two days. "Many schools wanted to come but couldn't because West Springfield didn't have the space in the auditorium," he said.
Learning a foreign language is like learning a skill, Williams said. "They can use this in their lives, they can go over to Germany and be able communicate because they took this class."