The immigrant who teaches German to refugees
|March 06th, 2017|
|by:||Maria Clara Montoya|
|tags:||Berlin, immigrant, Jaime Beck, refugee|
Every Tuesday the foyer of Berlin’s Philharmonie hosts classical music concerts for free in front of 1.500 people. Jaime Beck and some of his students are part of the crowd week after week. It isn’t difficult to identify him, he usually shows up with the Colombian national soccer jersey.
These activities are part of Jaime’s effort to share bites of culture with the refugees that learn German with him in a shelter in West Berlin. “Language is just one of the ways of sharing culture, but there are plenty more”, says Beck, who migrated from the Northwest of Colombia to Germany more than 30 years ago.
He has always been interested in social issues and helping people so it was “something natural to offer my help when the refugees started coming to Germany”.
His lessons started by chance when he went to the shelter to offer help and to bring some goods. One of his first assignments as a volunteer was looking for a substitute teacher that couldn’t make the German lesson that day. As they didn’t find anyone, he stayed in the room “speaking almost with signs with the three people inside who managed to ask me when my next class was. I came back the day after, scared and wishing the classroom was empty because I’ve never been a teacher. My surprise came when instead of three people I found a group of almost ten!” Beck describes.
Some time has passed since his first accidental class (in September 2015) and the achievements have been remarkable. In his first semester, a group of 30 people passed the German A1 test. His way of teaching is heterodox, while “classic” teachers stick to grammar and rules, he breaks into current situations to give them a better understanding and now his method is going to be registered and delivered as a kit for “unprofessional teachers”.
But, how does a Colombian create a vehicle between refugees and Germany? “I think the biggest difference is my idiosyncrasy, which has helped much in the approach to them”. Beck’s migrant condition makes him feel identified with fears like not speaking the language or being new to a country. “My German isn’t perfect, but apart from the language they need to understand how society works in their new home,” he says.
“Of course I get to the basic levels but I can’t teach people how to write a novel or a PhD so when they progress, I suggest them to upgrade their level”, he recognises. The lessons, that he defines as “street German”, sometimes involve dancing. These classes are also a hard try on getting away from the image of a formal teacher. Apart from instructing students in the language, he also gives guidance on the dos and don’ts of the German culture and prepares them to attend job fairs. Beck resorts to hugs and jokes “to make things easier.”
This warm atmosphere has brought confidence to the students, that come from Syria, Eritrea, Somalia or Kurdistan, to share their life stories. Beck addresses how important is the therapeutic job apart from the educational: “I appreciate how they have trusted me, that they feel confident with me. At the shelter, we try to impulse their self-esteem and to make them feel appreciated. It is really important to look at the signs and to take care of their mental health”.
Being a teacher has brought Beck “beautiful experiences of seeing and feeling because many of these moments involve love and crying”. As a retired business person who spent part of his life in the tourism industry, he would like to spread the knowledge of becoming a teacher without being one.
With a group of 15 experts in design, architecture, communications, sociology and the support of the Technische Universität in Berlin, Beck is developing a kit for professionals who want to teach German without being teachers. The project is still in beta testing but it will be ready by autumn.
The first brainstorming involved more than 80 people and the system is designed with cards, symbols, diagrams and common situations as uncomplicated as possible, like starting a friendship, falling in love or meeting with someone.
“It’s time to lose the fear of teaching”, Beck says. This kit will be distributed free with a great purpose: sharing knowledge even if you think you’re not ready to do it.