Multilingualism and policy

Not merely knowledge of foreign languages is needed in the world today but multilingualism

copyright: ColourboxWhereas right into the nineteen sixties foreign languages were largely a reserve of the educated, the rich and particular professions, today they are a component part of many people's everyday lives. They provide access to information which is increasingly available, they ease travel and they are used on a daily basis in training and work. It is clear to everyone that foreign languages are essential. At the very most the question arises as to what language(s) should be learnt.

If we want to answer this we immediately come up against the next one: What form does modern-day communication take? What is its future? Once we've answered this question, then we should try to establish what possibilities there are for appropriate preparation. In what follows the intention is to outline communication today and then to describe the challenges this communication poses in the teaching of foreign languages in schools. School is the place where, according to Eurobarometer (Eurobarometer Special 243, February 2006), most Europeans (65 %) come into contact first and most enduringly with foreign languages. .

Foreign languages in the 21st century

copyright: Colourbox What form does communication take today? If we look back over the last few decades it is striking that information acquisition, communication and interaction across national, linguistic and cultural borders have increased at a tremendous rate. Thanks to the new media, everyone has access with three clicks of a mouse button to information from every linguistic and cultural region of the globe. By phone, e-mail or messenger we can communicate worldwide at no great cost. Travelling across all borders has become faster, cheaper and more normal. A weekend trip to a city thousands of kilometres away is now a part of normal life as are business trips of one or two days to different continents. Ever more companies are operating internationally. They perform contracts in other countries or their production, marketing and service are spread out over a number of countries with different languages. copyright: Colourbox Their employees have to communicate with one another and with customers, they change workplace at short notice and settle down for a certain time in another cultural/linguistic region. Scientific publications are acknowledged worldwide. Scientists come together in virtual working groups or work in international teams on the spot under ideal conditions. Finally, students prepare themselves for this modern world by spending semesters and periods of study abroad.

This is what we call globalisation. As a result of the process of economic and political unification, this worldwide development is proceeding apace in Europe.
For the contacts and communication across all national, language and cultural boundaries, for work with changing business partners or operating locations and for collaboration in multilingual groups there is a need for a medium which is understood by as many as possible. At the present time this is mostly English worldwide .

copyright: Colourbox Globalisation also means that the bilateral contacts between individual countries and cultures have intensified in the same way. Once again communication can of course proceed via a third language familiar to both sides.

But it should be remembered that language is not simply a means for transmitting information. It is more than this. With language, people grasp the world in a certain way. By means of language one generation will impart to the next the knowledge which characterises their society, their culture. Knowledge of a language thus always involves cultural knowledge. If, in bilateral interaction, one or both business partners masters or master the language of the other, this means that the one will know something about the other. He can therefore understand him without mediation and communicate directly with him. .

copyright: Colourbox Hence the ancient business maxim: "If you want to sell something, speak the customer's language." More recent studies confirm this repeatedly. For instance, a study conducted by the German Chamber of Commerce for Spain in 2003 revealed that Spanish companies who primarily used German in their business dealing in or with Germany rated their situation on the German market as significantly better than companies who resorted to English (La empresa española en el Mercado alemán: experiencias y factores de éxito. Ed.: Cámara de Comerio Alemana para España. Barcelona. 2003). In his study on the future of the English language, David Graddol sees it as one of the 14 main developments that by the year 2050 the dominance of English in the economic domain will decline and that even today Japanese, Spanish, French and German are becoming more important (Graddol, David. English Next. Ed: British Council. 2006). Finally a recent study on the influence of the knowledge of foreign languages in the European export economy demonstrated that English was clearly dominant, but not in a way that would indicate it is a lingua franca (ELAN. Effects on the European Economy of Shortages of Foreign Language Skills in Enterprise. Ed.: CILT National Centre for Languages, InterAct International. 2006). Successful business transactions assume continuous relations and these are not conceivable without knowledge of the target market's language.

Knowledge of foreign languages is not merely an important tool in modern professional life. It is not only important in contact with the outside but, because of mobility and immigration, contact with the "foreign" is an everyday occurrence for everyone in Europe, as is impressively illustrated, for example, by the German city of Stuttgart. Stuttgart has a population of 518,000, is Germany's eighth largest city and every fifth resident has a non-German passport. Every third citizen was not born in Germany. Nearly every second child of pre-school age in Stuttgart comes from an immigrant family. In every second new marriage in Stuttgart at least one of the spouses has a non-German pass. Living in this city there are people from 120 different countries, and they speak more than 170 different languages. Stuttgart is no exception; people of different origin living together is the norm today in many European cities and in future this state of affairs will spread even more.

The experience to date of populations of differing origin living together has shown that, despite the mobility and global information common today, modern societies and their citizens still largely have to learn how to deal with things foreign on a day-to-day basis in order to live together peacefully and productively. Foreign language teaching can make a major contribution towards this. It brings children and young people into contact with other cultures and trains them in how to deal with the other, the unknown and the foreign.

To summarise: Our societies in Europe need citizens BR>
  • which can operate simultaneously in multicultural and multilingual contexts and in the bilateral relations important for the respective country,
  • who can use other languages so as to gain access to information and acquire knowledge over the widest possible range,
  • who can learn other languages in order to open up new knowledge, new contacts and new markets, and
  • who can live together in a thriving community with groups of the population who speak a different language and are of different cultural origin.
In addition the European project needs citizens who understand other European nations and hence create a new identity.

For the individual citizen this means that he needs training which will enable him to successfully conduct his professional and personal projects and to compete on the employment market, i.e. to have, among other things, knowledge of languages needed for occupations with an international perspective or knowledge of languages which will make him stand out from other candidates. What Europe and its citizens need is the ability to understand different languages and cultures and to operate within them. And it is precisely this that the European Commission calls for: "Learning one lingua franca is not enough. Every European citizen should have meaningful communicative competence in at least two other languages in addition to his or her mother tongue." (European Commission. Promoting Language Learning and Linguistic Diversity. Action Plan 2004-2006. Luxembourg 2004. P. 10). BR>

School and multilingualism

One of the tasks of modern education policy is then to prepare citizens to speak more languages better. Traditional foreign language teaching has run up against its limits here. In the view of experts and also according to the results from the real situation, bringing the start of foreign language instruction forward to primary or even pre-primary level and hence extending the duration of instruction to as much as 15 years and increasing the number of lessons per week do not directly yield the desired improvement in foreign language skills. .

copyright: ColourboxIt is mostly observed that the knowledge acquired in early childhood by artificial immersion or controlled foreign language instruction remains very restricted. Furthermore there are many indications that, after five to seven years of foreign language instruction, school pupils attain a level of mastery of languages which they are unable to improve substantially with further teaching. At this stage progress is only possible by applying the knowledge acquired in actual communication, oral and written, reception as well as production. To enable school pupils to master a foreign language better and to use a number of languages new approaches are needed, such as

  • learning by doing,
  • diversification of the languages offered,
  • differentiation of learning objectives according to language,
  • use of acquired knowledge to understand additional languages,
  • reconsideration of the sequence of languages.

Learning by doing

copyright: Colourbox Using a language is an activity and activities can only be learnt by doing. If foreign language teaching wishes to meet today's practical requirements, i.e. we learn a foreign language in order to communicate in it, it must therefore give school pupils opportunities from the word go to try out the knowledge they have acquired in communicatively meaningful tasks and content-related activities. This application will not only consolidate the knowledge acquired so that it can be used, but it will at the same time open up opportunities to acquire new language skills. Beyond actual foreign language teaching, this can ensure that, for a meaningful and hence motivating application of the language being learnt, the foreign language becomes partially or completely the language of instruction for selected subjects. (This only describes one aspect of subject teaching in a foreign language. Alongside the practice of the foreign language it provides opportunities to tackle the subject being learnt in a different, more intensive and culturally multi-perspective way.)

Diversification of the languages offered

If subjects are not consistently taught in a foreign language, the question arises as to whether it is necessary to continue teaching this language to the same extent as hitherto. There is a lot to be said for using at least some of the lessons previously dedicated to this language for other purposes. The lessons thus gained on the timetable can be used to offer other languages.

Differentiation of the learning objectives according to language

The school of the 21st century must have as one of its goals the expansion of the communicative range and cultural horizons of the individual citizen. Since the timetable provides for only a limited number of lessons for foreign languages, it must be ensured that the multilingualism desired is possible by, among other things, differentiating the objectives for the individual languages taught. This could take the following form: At the end of the school time the pupils will master the first foreign language receptively and productively at C 1 level, a second language receptively at C 1 and productively at B 1 level and finally a third language only receptively, and this at B 1 level.

Use of acquired knowledge to understand additional languages

The communicative range could be extended further if the relationship between certain languages were exploited and courses based on the language knowledge acquired were to be offered which would enable the pupils to "crack the code" of written and oral texts from other texts of the same language family, i.e. to understand the topic and the main statements made.

Reconsideration of the sequence of languages

A further questions arising under the present conditions relates to the sequence in which foreign languages are taught in schools. It should be considered here that the general objective of foreign language teaching, apart from acquisition of a skill that can be applied in practice, is to open up other language systems and other cultures for pupils, and to train them in how to handle these. As already mentioned, it must also be noted that only a certain amount of teaching aimed directly to language acquisition – traditional foreign language teaching – results in a better mastery of the language. It also has to be taken into account that, due to cognitive development, learning in adolescence is a faster process and pupils in this age range are more exposed to the world, namely to English, and this involves valuable implicit learning. It is at the same time questionable whether the present sequence of languages, i.e. English as the first foreign language, is really the optimum one with a view to the desired multilingualism.

Which language(s) should be taught?

copyright: Colourbox For society and education policy the question now arises concerning the languages that are necessary or attractive for a country. In view of what has been said, it is clear that the range of languages offered must today extend beyond the traditional ones, mostly English, French, Latin and Classical Greek. The criteria for selecting the languages are:
    How meaningful is the language in terms of communication? Is it the language of a neighbouring country or of a present or potential partner in fields such as commerce, industry, science, culture, tourism etc.? How meaningful is the language for the intellectual development of pupils? To what extent can the educational curriculum be enriched by a language from another language family or another culture? The citizen will approach the matter in a similar way.

He will ask himself:
    Will I find it easier to get a job or more interesting work if I can speak a certain language?
      Is the country or are the countries where this language is spoken of interest in economic, technical and/or scientific terms? Do they offer something for my training and/or further development?Are they culturally attractive?

    Societies and citizens will realise that, in the selection of languages in our world, as it moves ever closer together and where the possibilities of information acquisition and the forging of contacts are growing exponentially, it is not a question of either/or, but of how much and in what form. What we need as a society and as individuals is not only a knowledge of foreign languages, but multilingualism.
Hans-Dieter Dräxler
"The ideas put forward here emerged during a series of seminars organised by the Spanish Education Ministry, which were concerned with secondary school education as preparation for the future (Complutense University, Madrid, Summer University, El Escorial, 2007). One of the seminars was concerned with foreign languages as a means of intercultural communication and also examined the presence of the German language in the Spanish education system. The following thoughts are the fundamental part of the answer and, in the view of the author, they justify any and all foreign language teaching in the Europe of the 21st century."

The author is Head of Language Departement at the Goethe-Institut Madrid

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