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Can German become compulsory? Three kindergartens in Austria ask foreign parents not to speak in their mother tongue

“Dear parents, German is spoken from here on” - signs with this message, signed by Mayor Alois Oberer, hang on the entrance doors of the kindergartens in the Tyrolean community of Reutte. The action caused a sensation, also beyond the borders of Austria.

There was a great response, which was "partly very positive and partly very negative," said Sebastian Weirather, head of the municipality. According to the Tiroler Tageszeitung, the teachers often have problems understanding what is being said when the children are brought or picked up by their parents. In one of the three Reutten institutions, the proportion of children whose mother tongue is not German is almost 65 percent. Conversations that discussed the importance of language skills would hardly have brought anything. The parents stuck to their mother tongue - and so did the children. Many boys and girls hardly understand German, the teachers would “gesticulate with hands and feet to make themselves understood”. The signs should remind parents of their role model function. In this context, the mayor also criticized the fact that grants for language training had been reduced.

Comments on the signs range from "racist" to "great" on social networks. An educator from Oberallgäu who doesn't want to read her name in the newspaper knows the problem from her own experience. Maintaining one's mother tongue at home is right and important. In kindergartens, however, if there is any doubt, this means that the children do not have a common language and form groups according to their origin. “I don't think signs make sense,” says the educator. Because those affected could feel offended. Instead, the parents should be reminded of their role model function in conversations.

According to the latest available figures from the State Statistical Office, the proportion of children with a migration background in publicly funded day care was a good 19 percent in March 2018. At least one parent of these children comes from abroad. 39 percent primarily did not speak German in the family.

Many do not speak German at home

The largest proportion of children with a migration background had institutions in the Freiburg administrative district in 2018. Almost 21 percent had at least one foreign parent. Around 40 percent of them spoke predominantly non-German with their families. In contrast, very few children with a migration background were to be found in publicly funded day care in the Tübingen administrative region - around 18 percent. However, more children there spoke primarily non-German with their families than elsewhere in Baden-Württemberg, namely a good 43 percent.

In Reutte, according to the Tiroler Tageszeitung, the kindergarten teachers were happy about the mayor's instructions - the signs just didn't bring much benefit. Some didn't stick to it, others didn't give the impression that they knew what it said.

Published in the Panorama section