Scope of Study

For the study "Traditional pedagogic cultures in foreign language education and the need for multicompetence", researchers wanted to know what values are attached to foreign language education in Szeged (Hungary), South Tyrol (Italy) and Southampton (England) from a policy perspective (cultural and national values, issues of identity) and from a practice perspective (teaching practices, classroom cultures and values).

Researchers used mainly three sources: First, they analysed documents on language education policy (curricula, key government documents on education and language and newspaper articles). Second, they conducted interviews with teachers and students on their attitudes towards multilingualism, European identity, foreign languages in general and German in particular. Third, they made video and audio recordings of and field notes on teaching practices during lessons of German as a foreign or second language. They conducted their research in Szeged (Hungary), South Tyrol (Italy) and Southampton (England).

4th Issue, August 2009

Language Classroom Cultures between Teaching Rules and Teaching to Communicate

Several case studies suggest that German language classroom cultures of schools in South Tyrol (Italy), Szeged (Hungary) and Southampton (England) focus on proficiency in German, but often neglect other vital skills for successful communication and language learning: knowing which language to use in which situation, exploiting ones linguistic knowledge or knowing how to use languages in real-life situations.

LINEE researchers have investigated classroom practices in several schools in South Tyrol (Italy), Szeged (Hungary) and Southampton (England) by making observations, by interviewing students and teachers and by analysing documents on language policies (see the box "Study Outline").


Focus on accuracy in England
The language lessons that were observed in Hungary and Italy were similar in one respect: teachers tried to balance language skills (speaking, reading, writing, listening) and centred the lessons around a range of contemporary texts. Furthermore, the main goal seemed that students could make themselves understood; avoiding mistakes was secondary.

In contrast, there was a strong focus on accuracy and form in England. For example, pupils were interrupted when they made a mistake. Education policies and the observed classroom practices concentrated on speaking and listening, but the speaking part was not done in a naturally occurring way: students speech was strongly guided by the teachers, who often expected specific vocabulary and structures.


Teachers control students
Despite these differences, there are similarities to all three contexts: students were strongly guided by the teacher, with not many opportunities to use the target language in naturally occurring talk. This was especially the case in England and to a lesser degree in Hungary.

Lessons hardly ever moved beyond the goal of imparting competence in German towards reflection and development of a more explicitly multilingual and flexible language repertoire, a language repertoire that would include students first languages, local language varieties and other foreign languages.

The results indicate that the school systems could do better in making the students "multicompetent" language users, meaning that they know several languages, use the appropriate language in the appropriate situation and can effectively combine and exploit their knowledge of languages and their use.


Multilingualism: positive and desirable
In all three regions, students judged multilingualism as positive and desirable. Students in Italy and Hungary said that English absolutely needed to be taught in school, often replacing and overshadowing other foreign languages.

In England, some Romance language were popular with students, mainly Spanish and Italian. However, some pupils pointed out that they could easily communicate around the world by using their mother tongue only and that this negatively influenced their motivation to learn other languages. For example, when some groups referred to their planned trip to Germany, they expressed doubts whether they would actually get to practice German since "everyone would speak English".