Linguistic Heterogeneity Teaching English in Multilingual Classrooms

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Fachbereich Philosophie und Geisteswissenschaften / Institut für Englische Philologie – Didaktik des Englischen

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Linguistic Heterogeneity – Teaching English in Multilingual Classrooms

Name: Agnetha Hinz

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Table of contents

. Teaching English in multilingual classrooms: Central problems 3

2. L2 vs L3 – Learning differences 4

3. Language Awareness – The concept 7

4. Practical examples 9

5. Conclusion 12

. Bibliography 14



. Teaching English in multilingual classrooms: Central problems

Globalization as well as increased immigration – the latter, among other things, caused by “war or civil conflict[s], political or religious oppression and other human rights abuses” (Coelho, 2004: 15) – lead to an increasing incidence of cultural heterogeneity in the classroom and thus, to the presence of different mother tongues and diverse linguistic prerequisites. Especially when working as a foreign language teacher it is important to be aware of the pupils’ level of linguistic knowledge in order to address the teaching content expediently. However, under the circumstances of class compositions with a high cultural and linguistical heterogeneity, teaching and learning a foreign language like English can not only be seen as a challenge for foreign language teachers but especially as a challenge for those pupils with migration background who potentially lack a formal language level of both, their mother tongue as well as the local language – German – as their second language. In order to promote the pupils’ competencies entirely and according to their respective language levels, the following questions need to be asked:

. How do bilingual or multilingual children deal with the acquisition of a further foreign language and which significance does the level of their first language have regarding foreign language learning?

2. Which didactical methods can be used to include the learners’ entire linguistic repertoire into foreign language teaching for the purpose of systematically developing the target language English?

These questions will be investigated in the following sections by firstly examining the differences between the acquisition process of the second and the third language. Furthermore, as potential didactic support, a concept dwelling on the possibility of dealing with the pupils’ language knowledge in an efficient way to acquire further languages will be presented. Finally, chapter 3 contains practical examples on how to integrate minority languages in the English learning classroom.

. L2 vs L3 – Learning differences

Regarding the official framework curriculum of Berlin, the essential tasks and objectives of achieving the targeted language competencies in the subject English are described as follows:

Der Aufbau und die Förderung einer individuellen Mehrsprachigkeit (Muttersprache plus mindestens zwei Fremdsprachen) ist [...] eine der wichtigen Aufgaben der Berliner Schule. (Rahmenlehrplan Englisch 2006: 9)

According to these objectives multilingual language acquisition is highly recommended to develop intercultural ability. Nevertheless, the specific needs of pupils with migration background are largely excluded from educational considerations and also PISA showed that the school achievements of students with migration background are on average below the results of native students:

Jugendliche aus Familien mit Migrationshintergrund – insbesondere solche Familien, die als tägliche Umgangssprache eine andere Sprache als Deutsch verwenden – bleiben im Durchschnitt deutlich unter den Kompetenzniveaus, die 15-Jährige erreichen, deren Eltern beide in Deutschland geboren wurden. Das gilt nicht nur für die Lesekompetenz, sondern - teilweise verstärkt - auch für die anderen Lernbereiche. (Kultusministerkonferenz, 2002: online, 5)

Looking at this result provided by PISA one could argue that fostering individual multilingualism by imposing the necessity of learning a third language (English) on already bi- or even plurilingual pupils with migration background may result in adverse learning effects since those pupils already struggle with the acquisition of language competencies like reading literacy in their second language. Yet, it is stated by the Bundesministerium für Bildung and Forschung that a plurilingual environment is not necessarily a barrier to high school performances for example if pupils exhibit high language competencies in their home as well as in their school language (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, 2006: online, 52). Nevertheless, according to this institution, the use of another home language may have negative effects on the learning progress of those pupils in certain circumstances.In volume 19 in the series “Bildungsforschung” these circumstances are for example the combination of low language competencies in the official school language on the part of the pupils, and both a lower level of education on the part of parents as well as the parents’ lack of language skills to help and support their children in educational or linguistic questions (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, 2006: online, 52). Thus, high or low school performances in language learning are less dependent on multilingualism or language itself but rather caused by other factors as linguistic researchers like Britta Hufeisen maintains.

In her factor model (Hufeisen, 2008: online, 4-6) she specifies factors that build the foundation of language acquisition. According to this model, the L1 is only influenced by neurophysiological factors like the learner’s general language acquisition capability or his/her age, and learner external factors like the learning environment and the type and amount of input, whereas the L2 language acquisition is affected by the same factors and additionally by affective (motivation, learner type, life experience etc.) and cognitive factors (language awareness, learning awareness, learning strategies) as well as linguistic factors (here: L1). Since monolingual L2 learners have no experience in acquiring a further language, Hufeisen states that those pupils “must be regarded as completely inexperienced” (Hufeisen, 2011: 213). L3 acquisition on the other hand, according to Hufeisen, is affected by the same neurophysiological, learner external, affective, and cognitive factors as well as linguistic factors (here: L1 and L2) as the acquisition of L2 is, but furthermore by foreign language specific factors. These include for example individual foreign language learning experiences and strategies, which is why, according to Hufeisen, L3 language learners “can be regarded as more competent foreign language learners because they have access to their experiences in learning L2” (Hufeisen, 2011: 213). These experiences and strategies are also decisive aspects for Hufeisen to come to the conclusion that “subjective theories about language learning [...] make the L3 learning process easier” (Hufeisen, 2011: 213) because the learner’s “approach to L3 learning is more systematic and analytic than someone learning an L2” (Hufeisen, 2011: 213).
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Nevertheless, by understanding the third language learning process as a systematic and analytic procedure, it seems that Hufeisen disregards the possibility that bilingually raised pupils do not necessarily pass the process of learning L1 and L2 one after another. Bilingual or multilingual pupils who for example grow up speaking two languages simultaneously in an informal environment and possess equal proficiency in those, can be seen as speakers of two L1’s. Thus, they experience the formal process of learning a third language for the first time. This case would imply a lack of the foreign language specific factors mentioned ...

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