Bernard Brown obituary

My friend Bernard Brown, who has died aged 77, was a teacher and linguist who grew up in Britain but moved to Germany in his 20s and happily adapted to his new country.

He was impressed with the way Germany had made amends for its Nazi past, and, rediscovering his Jewish roots late in life, became affiliated to the Ohel Jakob synagogue in Munich, which had been rebuilt with state assistance.

As well as English and German, Bernard spoke Hebrew, French and Italian and had an acquaintance with several other languages. He was fascinated by what the structures of language revealed about the cultures connected to them, and planned a book on the subject which, as he preferred conversation to writing, was never completed.

Bernard was born in Thornton Heath, south London, to Eve (nee Finch), a schoolteacher, and her husband, Reg Brown, a builder. He was educated at Norbury Manor school and John Ruskin school, then graduated from Keele University in 1968 with a degree in history and politics, which he followed up with an MA in European studies at Reading University in 1969.

He spent the first years of his career teaching English to adults in Britain, Italy and France, before settling in what was then West Germany, where one of his early language students was Erika Hänsle, whom he married in 1975. Thereafter he taught at the Berufliche Oberschule, a vocational college in Bad Tölz, Bavaria, where he became head of English.

Bernard also ran workshops for teachers in Germany, Austria and Italy, and self-published a number of idiosyncratic books with titles such as The Pleasure Principle and Begin With a Smile, designed to reduce anxiety in language learning and which he used in his workshops. Having been profoundly affected by a feeling of rejection after failing the 11-plus exam at school, he disliked streaming and strongly opposed IQ testing. He also believed that with the right methods every student can learn, and devoted time and effort to helping the weakest and least motivated in his classrooms.

When I first met Bernard at Keele, I was baffled by the contradiction between his gentleness and his involvement in Trotskyist politics, which he had inherited from his parents. But he was a critical thinker and was amused to have been expelled from every Trotskyist group in Britain before he was 25. He always regarded himself as a Sixty-Eighter and never abandoned his ideals. In his later years he became active in the SPD, the Social Democratic party of Germany.

He is survived by Erika, their sons, Andreas, Ruben and Daniel, his brother Vincent and sisters Helen and Miriam.