FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions


What is HSK?

HSK stands for Heimatliche Sprache und Kultur ("Native Language and Culture"), and is a Swiss government program which provides native English speakers and other foreign-language communities with the opportunity to organise mother-tongue classes in local Swiss schools. English is one of 30+ languages supported by the cantonal Departments of Education in Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft. The purpose of HSK is to foster children's skills in their native language, promote multilingualism in the community, and to build bridges between local schools and families who speak languages other than German at home. The focus of HSK courses is on improving native language and literacy skills while fostering social and cultural networks.


What is the purpose of HSK English courses?

HSK English courses are for native speakers of English. Their purpose is to develop students' spoken, written, reading and listening comprehension skills in English. Our teachers - who are all native English speakers with teaching qualifications from their home country - achieve this using appropriate material and activities centred around themes taken from the HSK Framework Curriculum. This has been set out by the Department of Education with the particular needs of bilingual and multilingual students in mind, and dovetails closely with the curriculum used in Swiss primary schools. Thus, HSK English courses build on the skills that children are acquiring at school, give age-appropriate English-language input to their ongoing school education, and provide a structured, classroom-based complement to their use of English at home. Our courses are designed to be engaging and enjoyable, and we place a strong emphasis on authentic communication. From primary grade 1 onwards, details of HSK attainment are included on students' regular Swiss school report cards.


Who can join HSK Classes?

HSK English offers classes for native English-speaking children attending local schools. By native English-speaking children, we primarily mean children who have at least one native English-speaking parent with whom they consistently speak English at home. We may also consider applications from children who are fluent in English because they have recently spent a number of years in an English-speaking country. Children take part in HSK English classes outside of their regular school hours. Classes are usually held on weekday afternoons, at various schools around Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft. Please see Classes for details.


How many children are in a class?

We aim for a minimum of 6 and a maximum of 12 students in a class.  Our course groups are organised according to Swiss school grade. For further details and to determine which course is right for your child, please see Classes



My child isn't a native English speaker, but would love to learn. Which class can we join?

HSK English only offers classes for native English-speaking children. We do not offer classes in English as a second/foreign language - please look under English lessons on the Internet, or in the phone book. 


Are the teachers qualified to teach my children?

Yes, our English teachers are all experienced, hold teaching qualifications from their home country, and have a minimum standard of B1 in German. It goes without saying that they are all native speakers of English. Teachers attend training courses run by the cantonal Departments of Education, and Coordinators attend bi-annual HSK conferences. You can find out more about our team here.


What can my child expect to do and learn in HSK English class?

As mentioned above, all HSK organisations in Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft follow the Framework Curriculum which has been developed specifically for HSK courses. This is organised into themes (subject areas) in a similar way to the Swiss primary school curriculum. The primary focus is of course on language - speaking, listening, reading and writing skills - and on fostering these skills in a natural manner through study of topics taken from the "Natur, Mensch, Gesellschaft" ("The world around us, people and society") section of the Swiss primary curriculum. This comprises a wide range of topics including: The Individual and our Society, Nature and Technology, Geography, Our Country and the World, Literature and Art, History, Cultural Practices, Festivals and Fashions, Health and Nutrition, Training, Study and the World of Work. Our team of teachers selects one key theme each semester and approaches it in an age-appropriate manner using books, other printed material, audio and video content, games and group discussions. Typically, we read a book or other text together as a springboard to a new theme, and then approach the subject in greater detail using worksheets, oral activities, games, etc. The objective is to expand children's vocabulary and improve their comprehension and written skills while learning about the selected topic. There is always a focus on comparing and contrasting the situation in Switzerland with that of our various "home" countries, which strongly enhances the cultural element of HSK and encourages students to engage with their experience of being bilingual, biliterate and bicultural. Please visit Classes for further details of what to expect from individual course groups.  


Does HSK English involve homework?

HSK English teachers usually give students a small amount of homework each week. Depending on course and level, this may involve reading or writing tasks, finding out more about a subject we are studying, or other similar activity. We also encourage students to take a book from our extensive reading library each week to read at home. We strongly encourage students to practice their English skills at home in between classes, but also recognise that students are giving up their free time to attend our courses, and that they sometimes have large amounts of homework from Swiss school. Therefore we do not make our homework compulsory. 


Will my child receive recognition for HSK English attainment? 

Yes. In accordance with regulations set out by the Departments of Education, HSK students are assessed on an ongoing basis from primary grade one upwards. At the end of the summer semester, students receive certificates showing details of their HSK English attendance and their attainment in reading, writing, speaking and listening comprehension in English. Interpersonal and learning skills are also assessed. The certificate is taken to Swiss school and added to the student's ongoing report folder. Thus HSK English attainment is recorded in a formal manner so that it can be evidenced along the student's educational pathway.


Why are HSK English lessons important, when time is so limited?

Good bilingual skills improve integration, both professionally and socially. A strong foundation in the mother tongue provides a good basis for learning other languages. A high standard of English will help maintain contact with family, relatives and friends and the "home" country. As a major global language, it's also great for later life, to enable skillful English language use in work, study and recreation.



How can I support my child's native English skills at home?

The most effective way of supporting your child's native English is of course for the native English-speaking parent(s) to consistently use English with the child. HSK English courses are the ideal school-environment complement to your child's use of English in the home. It is also valuable to provide your child with English-language input through books, games, and carefully-selected media. Our HSK English teachers have put together a list of suggested resources, which you can find here: Useful resources list

We also offer an extensive reading library from which our students can borrow books to read at home.



How is HSK English supported and financed?

Parents pay a fee per child per semester and that provides for the teaching staff and classroom resources. Non-financial support is received from the cantonal education departments. This includes the free use of classrooms and school infrastructure, as well as teacher training and coordinator support through the HSK framework.  The only employees of HSK English are the teachers. The Board members are volunteers.



Can my child be excused from regular school to attend HSK English classes?

No, this is not usually possible. HSK classes are supported and recommended by the Department of Education, but they must be attended outside of your child's regular school hours.



What can I do if there isn't a class near me?

If you are in contact with a minimum of 6 other native English-speaking children of similar age in your area and would like a class to be started, please contact us to discuss viability. As an organisation led by volunteers, we are reliant on the assistance of local parents when initiating new classes.



What is the history of HSK English?

HSK as a Swiss government programme has been in place for many decades, but English did not become one of the languages offered until 2005, when two Centrepoint members, Judy Gundy and Wendy Olum Roth, started a middle-school class at Kaltbrunnen school. It grew over time to offer classes for children from Kindergarten through primary school and into middle school. However, teachers were working without an organising structure and community support and the effort was not sustainable. In the fall of 2014, the last remaining teacher, Sarah Dawson, made an appeal for an association to be formed by interested parents. What emerged from that is the HSK English Association, chartered in March of 2015, with a motivated board of parent volunteers who are passionate about this valuable community resource. The board creates strategy and the mandate to hire and oversee the teaching staff, and manage the registration, finances and curriculum.


I'm a qualified primary school teacher from an English-speaking country. Can I join your team?

If this is the case, we would love to hear from you! Please visit our Jobs page and contact us on recruitment@hsk-english.ch