Education and Language

Multilingual Didactics – Thinking Outside the Box

Intercultural learning processes make the students curious | Photo (detail) © Andrey Popov - Fotolia.com

The Framework of Reference for Pluralistic Approaches to Languages and Cultures serves as the basis for teaching and learning processes in the promotion of multilingual and intercultural skills. How can it be integrated into the teaching of German as a foreign language?

Whether English or German, Chinese or Latin – children and young people all over  Europe are taught modern or classical languages. Representatives of modern multilingual didactics, when teaching a new language, are now focusing more on cross-lingual and cross-cultural skills. This was first defined in Graz back in 2007 in the Framework of Reference for Pluralistic Approaches to Languages and Cultures (REPA), by the European Centre for Modern Languages of the Council of Europe in Graz and has since been amended and supplemented several times. The REPA includes criteria for describing multilingual and intercultural skills that can be promoted, in terms of multilingual didactics, via approaches such as integrated language learning, encountering languages (awakening to languages), inter-comprehension or intercultural learning.
 
Anna Maria Curci also works with REPA. She teaches German as a foreign language (GFL) in a Liceo Linguistico (grammar school) in Rome: “When the young people come to our school, they have already been learning English for eight years and Spanish or French for three years. At the age of 14, they then not only start learning German, but also the Latin language. It therefore makes sense to build on their existing knowledge and skills.” Over the past twenty years the German teacher has developed numerous teaching and training materials for integrated language didactics. Many of her ideas have been incorporated into the database of REPA.

Comparing languages – sounds, words, structures

Anna Maria Curci already starts to support these young language students before the German classes begin at their school. Every year she invites students and parents to get a first impression of the German language in a trial lesson. When it comes to her REPA-related work she uses the the very first lessons, for example, to show that the numbers in German and in English are very similar, and that the German pronunciation of the “Ö” and “Ü” letters also exists in French . In one of the follow-up steps, she points out that the generic names of many trees in German are feminine, as they are in Latin . She explains that the difference between "”ask” and “request” is relevant both in Latin and in Spanish and that for Italian students it is more difficult for them to learn the future tense in English than it is for the Germans.

In addition, on levels A1 and A2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages ​​(CEFR), the students create multilingual posters based on such semantic fields as “Finding Your Way Round A City”, “Using Public Transport” or “Hobbies and Leisure Activities”, which are then displayed in the classroom. Later her students take part in so-called CLIL lessons (content and language integrated learning), using resources and skills that have been developed as part of the work with the REPA. The specialist teaching of the curriculum's modern foreign languages  is compulsory in Italian high schools.

Getting to know the structural similarities between languages 

“The knowledge of how languages work and which structural similarities they have, is a key focus of REPA descriptors. We turn our attention systematically to the comparison, so that students are confronted with their own language learning biography,” said Anna Maria Curci. That makes the students curious and motivates them to go on their own linguistic expeditions. “In my view, what is happening in the classroom is a permanent learning workshop. Students feel they are being taken seriously, are proud and have a lot of eye-opening experiences. In addition, multilingual didactics leaves them wanting more – many of my students want now, for example, to learn Swedish, Danish or Portuguese.”

Learning from each other – in a multilingual classroom

Of course, Anna Maria Curci has not mastered all the languages that she discusses in class. That is why she makes use of open conversations with the children as a basis for her work. In this way, for example, students whose native language is not Italian can let their potential unfold. For example, Rumanian-speaking students held  a presentation about how the future tense is formed in their native language. “Our students live in a multilingual environment, that is why such insights into a different language can only be of benefit. For the students presenting the paper it is a great achievement and an opportunity to systematically reflect on their native language,” said the teacher.

Multilingualism broadens the mind

The development of strategies for dealing thoughtfully with languages and cultures, linguistic and cultural awareness – these are important elements of the didactic approach which REPA embraces. From her everyday teaching experience, Anna Maria Curci knows that the didactics of multilingualism promotes the metalinguistic and metacognitive skills of her students, as well as their skills in the individual languages. Ultimately, through the conscious use of different languages, she is training her students to be very conscious citizens of the world. “It may sound utopian, but I am convinced that if language learning takes place in a multilingual context, it not only opens up new horizons, but also generates an awareness that multilingualism is an important step towards peaceful coexistence.”
 

Janna Degener
is a linguist and works as a free-lance journalist in Königs Wusterhausen near Berlin.

Translation: Paul McCarthy

Text: Goethe-Institut, Janna Degener. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Share Alike 3.0 Germany license.
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