Pros and cons of bilingual primary schools in Austria. Analysis of the effectiveness for children

Bachelor Thesis, 2020

27 Pages, Grade: 2


Table of Contents

Abstract in English

Abstract in German

List of Figures and Tables

1 Introduction

2 Multilingualism
2.1 What is multilingualism?
2.2 Encouragement of individual multilingualism
2.3 Curricular background
2.4 Didactical approach and concept to expand the linguistic capacity to act
2.5 Multilingualism in Viennese classrooms
2.6 Multilingualism in school
2.7 Language use in school

3 Bilingual education and effectiveness
3.1 When is a child considered bilingual?
3.2 How does the language development for children with German as a second language work?
3.3 Which role does the mother tongue/first language play?
3.4 How can the parents support the multilingual development of their child?
3.5 How can educators help children with German as a second language?

4 Austrian examples
4.1 Innsbruck Elementary School
4.2 Goals, Beliefs & Values
4.3 Expectations
4.4 Accreditation

5 pros and cons of bilingual education

6 summary

7 Bibliography

Abstract in English

English is one of the most important languages in the world today. Learning a new language is especially easy for children which is why it is best to teach them at a young age.

The EU wants every EU member to learn at least two other languages which are spoken within the EU. In Austrian schools English is taught as a "mandatory exercise". In the first and second grade 32 hours of English should be taught. Starting from the third grade there is one English lesson scheduled per week. Even though there are many reasons why it is reasonable to support children when they are learning English it is still not adequately implemented in Austrian schools. This paper aims at showing the effectiveness of bilingual elementary schools for every child in Austria.

Abstract in German

Englisch ist heutzutage eine der wichtigsten Sprachen der Welt. Da es Kindern besonders leicht fällt neue Sprachen zu lernen, ist es sinnvoll so früh wie möglich damit zu beginnen. Außerdem legt die EU besonders großen Wert darauf, dass jedes EU-Mitglied mindestens zwei weitere Sprachen, die in der EU gesprochen werden, beherrscht. In österreichischen Volksschulen wird Englisch als "Verbindliche Übung" unterrichtet.

In der ersten und zweiten Schulstufe sollen insgesamt 32 Jahresstunden Englisch unterrichtet werden. Ab der dritten Schulstufe gibt es eine festgelegte Wochenstunde Englisch. Obwohl es viele Gründe gibt, warum es sinnvoll ist, die Kinder beim Englischerwerb zu unterstützen, wird dies in österreichischen Schulen immer noch nicht angemessen verwirklicht. In dieser Arbeit soll herausgefunden werden, ob die Einführung einer bilingualen Volksschule für alle Kinder sinnvoll wäre. keywords: multilingualism, bilingualism, effectiveness, school

List of Figures and Tables

Abbildung 1: Innsbruck Elementary School

Tabelle 1: Austrian bilingual schools

1 Introduction

The Slovakian adage "Kol'ko jazykov vies, tol'kokrat si clovekom." is the guiding theme of the EU-frame policy for multilingualism. It means "The more languages you are able to speak the more you are human." (Kierepka, Krüger, & Klein, 2007, p. 113)

Linguistic plurality in Europe is a result of migration and exile since the end of the second world war. In Great Britain, France and the Netherlands people are immigrating from former colonies. Linguistic plurality is caused by labour migration in Austria, Germany and Skandinavian countries. Furthermore wars, civil wars and increasing economic impoverishment causes population movements. (cf. Ehlich & Cichon, Eine Welt?, 2012, p. 7) 746 million people are living in Europe. Within the 50 states Europe has 24 recognized official languages. If you count all dialects and languages which are spoken it adds up to 200 languages. (cf. Flinzner, K., 2010)

When you take a closer look you realize that five out of the eight Austrian neighboring countries have another official language other than German. Knowing that there are 24 official languages in Europe it is obvious that the EU wants its citizens to learn as many languages as possible. English is a universal language which is used to communicate with people who do not speak each other’s first languages. Being able to speak English is a skill which is not only helpful to have a successful school career but to have success in life. Elementary schools are primarily responsible to introduce and teach English to all children. Most bilingual elementary schools are run completely or partly private which makes it impossible for families with lower incomes to enroll their children in these private bilingual schools. Wouldn't it be great if every child in Austria could get an education in both English and German in their public elementary school?

Last semester I was able to teach and attend a public bilingual elementary school in Vienna. Half of the class was alphabetized in English while the other half was alphabetized in German. After six months those two groups switched and they were alphabetized in the other language. They had a teacher who is a native English speaker and a teacher who is a native German speaker.

After my experience teaching this bilingual class I questioned why there are not more of these public bilingual classes in Austria and what benefits this type of education has.

This experience and further considerations are the reason I picked this topic for my paper.

2 Multilingualism

2.1 What is multilingualism?

Adelheid Kierepka and Renate Krüger claim that the term "multilingualism" can apply in a situation and in an area where there are different languages spoken or the ability of being able to speak and understand more than one language. (cf. Kierepka, Krüger, & Klein, 2007, p. 113).

Brigitta and Thomas Busch define multilingualism as a social capital which rests or can be of use under the condition that multilingual people can use their language at school, work, etc. (cf. Busch & Busch, 2008, p. 149)

The European language politics focuses on encouraging and supporting individual multilingualism. Meaning that practical knowledge is not only acquired in the mother tongue/first language but also in at least two other languages. These other languages can be self-taught in a multilingual social context or in an institutional context. This educational claim is deviated to the schools which has extensive consequences for teaching languages.

Therefore, it is required that young children are provided with German plus two foreign languages. It should not only be provided but also continuously improving.

Teaching multilingualism in school demands a change of perspective where one does not focus on learning languages simultaneously but rather as a complex process. The language learner can access individual language experiences and competences of previously learned languages and is able to benefit from them. This is how a multilingual competence is acquired and children are able to communicate in different languages. (cf. Kierepka, Krüger, & Klein, 2007, p. 113)

In order to succeed, children need to tie a clear purpose to what they have learned in school. Teaching English instead of any other language makes sense. The application of English outside of school is clear. (cf. Kierepka, Krüger, & Klein, 2007, p. 114)

Up until the 19th century multilingualism was a normal practice in Europe. Due to the formation of the national states the European diversity in language and culture was pushed to the background. Since the formation of the new European Union at the end of the 20th century and the disappearance of borders, multilingualism in Europe is relevant again. Attention is now focused on supporting multilingualism.

As a consequence of the mobility in every country of the world in the last decade multilingualism became a social factum. In 1988 Ingrid Gogolin introduced a new term for a better orientation in the complex language situation. She invented the term "life-world multilingualism" which means that a person grows up learning more than one language. (cf. Ingrid Gogolin, 1988) It describes the social constellation in which the person lives. People who access at least two languages have a great advantage. They have the opportunity to operate in their environment in different languages. At first this situation looks ideal for the development of multilingualism. Up close there are many obstacles for multilingual learning. The problems arise during the professional career in school when they are confronted with a monolingual approach. The second language does not play a role in school and is often not supported. (cf. Feld-Knapp, 2014, p. 15)

2.2 Encouragement of individual multilingualism

As mentioned before, since the 90s individual multilingualism has great value in Europe. In 1995 the European Commission defined the goal that everyone should master three collective languages. (cf. Kruse, 2011, p. 1)

The European Union and the Council of Europe declared the year 2001 as the European year of languages. Through many events in 2001 the acquisition and boost of languages and language education should be promoted. The European citizen should be shown that the language diversity is a main element in their cultural diversity and a chance, not a barrier between human communication. The year 2001 was significant for the encouragement of individual multilingualism. It raised awareness for European diversity and resulted in qualitative transformations of learning and teaching languages. Hans-Jürgen Krumm indicated in 2002 that it would take some time to generate radical and sustainable changes. (cf. Krumm, 2002) By changes he is talking about:

- starting foreign language education early
- using foreign languages as the working language in other school subjects
- bilingual grades
- using the computer and the internet to bring languages to life
- teaching language empowerment (cf. Feld-Knapp, 2014, p. 16)

In 2001 foreign language learning was put in motion but until today the fundamental idea could not be implemented. European schools could only sporadically or not at all enforce second or third foreign languages lessons. English is still typically the preferred foreign language. English as the only language to communicate between people is not enough. The unfortunate fact is that multilingualism, despite the declaration, in Europe is still not valued and supported enough due to many reasons. Some may say that the Commission’s goal is not taken seriously because of the negative role the globalization of the United States of America has and the EU's working language regulation. The dangerous impact that globalization has on languages should not be underestimated. Globalization characterizes linguistic centralism and is minted through the only standard language English. (cf. Feld-Knapp, 2014, p. 19)

Multilingualism is considered as an option for Europe and as a perspective for the world.

Linking multiple foreign languages and relating them to each other is a very complicated challenge. The implementation depends on different factors which go way beyond the declaration of educational-political goals. The realization has to substantiate curricular, pedagogical-didactical and language learning theoretical. (cf. Feld-Knapp, 2014, p. 19)

2.3 Curricular background

The foreign language education in Europe is defined in the "Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, CEFR". Multilingualism is the goal in this document which opens a new dimension for traditional foreign language lessons and frees the school lessons from one language. The CEFR encourages an activity-oriented approach and focuses on the meaning of language instead of the linguistic science. Another important issue is the support of autonomous learning, language learning awareness, independence and problem-solving skills. This concern is based on a constructivist term of learning which sees the process of learning not as an imitation but as an independent process. This view of language and learning is a strength of the CEFR, under which the foreign language lessons could renew and start to improve. (cf. Feld-Knapp, 2014, p. 19)

The CEFR is meanwhile getting criticized for numerous contradictions in foreign language education. These contradictions have to be eliminated in the future. Furthermore, the gap between the goal of multilingualism and the reality of language practice has to be conquered. The teaching of modern foreign languages is based on the CEFR and until now has not been able to implement and perceive the goal of multilingualism as a new dimension. The school lessons are still taught in one language and the other languages are isolated and taught in different lessons. (cf. Feld-Knapp, 2014, p. 19) The transfer between the languages is also only partly or not at all considered.

In 2009 another document appeared: Framework of Plural Approaches for Languages and Cultures. The concept "Plural Approaches for Languages and Cultures" include cross-lingual learning methods which also include different languages, language varieties and cultures. The components are not only useful when learning a single language but also when learning various languages.

The Framework of Plural Approaches for Languages and Cultures is a promising tool but the effect is currently still not measurable. (cf. Feld-Knapp, 2014, p. 19)

2.4 Didactical approach and concept to expand the linguistic capacity to act

New curricular regulations are important but as witnessed insufficient. Besides the curricula the foreign language education needs didactical principles which show the interaction between cause and effect. Thereby the foreign language education leans on the latest research results of different sciences. New approaches and concepts to increase the linguistic capacity to act were developed which are relevant when implementing multilingualism. When learning and teaching a foreign language, multiple languages are involved and considered. Languages are not isolated. (cf. Feld-Knapp, 2014, p. 21)

Feld and Knapp list five different approaches for learning and teaching a foreign language:

1. Language awareness: The first approach puts the conscious engagement with the foreign language forward. The program was originally developed in England in the 70s and 80s to counteract the lack of interest in learning foreign languages. It was taken up in different projects all over the continent. Through promoting the language awareness as a general goal of education the learners are instructed to dispute critically with the surrounding world. Language awareness contains the ability to think and reflect about the use of a language. It is about building up procedural knowledge. The concept has great relevance regarding grammar lessons. (cf. Feld-Knapp, 2014, p. 21)
2. Intercomprehension: This concept is similar to the monolingual concept but is transitioning to open thinking. Intercomprehension means understanding a language which is not formally taught in school. The ability to understand a language requires two receptive skills which are reading and listening comprehension. Similarities and commonalities of genetically related languages in vocabulary, word formation and grammar are used. Intercomprehension releases the fixation on single languages. Both language awareness and intercomprehension emphasize the value of (language) awareness. The didactic of intercomprehension wants to link and complete the monolingual didactic. By this means a common ground for supporting individual multilingualism is established. Because the development of multilingualism is a dynamical process it needs more than an additive mediation of competences. It mainly focuses on linking content. (cf. Feld-Knapp, 2014, p. 22)
3. Tertiary language didactics: The goal is to develop learning materials for the target group who already know English and starting to learn German. It is about referencing the languages the person already knows. Tertiary language didactic investigates the previous foreign language experiences. This approach is highly relevant, for example for people who speak Hungarian as their first language and English as a foreign language and want to learn German. (cf. Feld-Knapp, 2014, p. 22)
4. Multilingual didactics: Multilingual didactics was developed parallel to the tertiary language didactics. It includes an approach to support multilingualism but is not about the order of the learnt languages. It involves the existing multilingualism in a classroom. Multilingual didactics tries to use the available language knowledge and experience for the economization of learning German. The goal is to encourage lifelong language learning. This approach is relevant when teaching all kinds of languages. (cf. Feld-Knapp, 2014, p. 23)
5. Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL): CLIL is not a new teaching concept. It was first applied from private teachers for the kids of aristocratic families in the 18th century. It is about teaching a language and teaching a school subject. Lately it is striving to develop specific learning techniques. Theoretically all languages are suitable as an educational language but English, French, German, Spanish and Russian are commonly used. (cf. Feld-Knapp, 2014, p. 23)

2.5 Multilingualism in Viennese classrooms

In 2018/19 Statistik Austria reported that there were 294.532 students in Austria who speak German as their second language.

Vienna has 124.523 students who have a different first language than German. (cf. Statistik Austria, 2019, p. 1) That is 51,5 % of all Viennese students. (cf. Statistik Austria, 2019, p. 1) In many schools in Vienna languages are taught in language courses. The students are able to learn another language a few hours per week. In some schools subjects or certain days are taught in another language than German.

Many schools offer children with another first language than German special lessons in their mother tongues. These special lessons only take place if enough children register for them. Lessons in the children's mother tongues are available in 26 different languages. For example in Albanian, Arabic, Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian and Turkish. These lessons are offered in 522 Viennese schools.

In the school year of 2018/19 there were 418 teachers who taught 6.779 lessons to 31.173 students in their mother tongues. All these numbers have declined compared to the year before. (cf. Bröderbauer D., Purkarthofer J., 2015, p. 6)

2.6 Multilingualism in school

Rosemarie Tracy describes multilingualism as the normality and not as an exceptional cognitive circumstance. (cf. Tracy, 2009, p. 165)

Furthermore Bröderbauer and Purkarthofer say that we use language resources depending on the situation, our conversational partner or our surroundings. (cf. Bröderbauer D., Purkarthofer J., 2015, p. 6)

Many of these decisions are made unconsciously. Children just know that they talk to their parents in Croatian, in school in English and at the doctors in German.

To learn a language children need an environment where they are encouraged to speak and experience attention even when they make mistakes or take a while to find the right words. Learning without fear is very important when you want to succeed.

Bröderbauer and Purkarthofer claim that supporting multilingualism benefits every child. No matter which language they speak at home. Activities concerning language skills are not just helpful for children with another first language than German. They are a relevant part of lessons to train language skills like talking about languages and developing a sense for languages.

Multilingualism also means recognizing the different varieties of environments and giving the children a chance to be who they are. To boost the self-confidence of the children it needs more open spaces where the children can discover and create their own (language) identity. (cf. Bröderbauer D., Purkarthofer J., 2015, p. 7)

Miryam Eser Davolio points out three innovations to support and include multilingualism in school. (cf. Eser Davolio, 2001, p. 56)

1. Changing the languages offered at school: It is suggested to take a look at the existing language skills and needs. All available languages should be documented and language learning should be provided for all students from the beginning.
2. Learning in the language medium: Abstaining from monolingual education and gradually expanding the specialized teaching in one or more foreign languages.
3. Learning under the condition of multilingualism: Multilingualism should be a general condition and educational goal. (cf. Eser Davolio, 2001, p. 56)

2.7 Language use in school

In Austrian schools knowledge is taught in German. It is assumed that the children are already able to speak German and it is focused on polishing and optimizing their knowledge. Due to migration natural monolingual becomes dysfunctional. Measures to support migrant children and teach other foreign languages take place outside of the classroom. (cf. Dajeng, 2011, 57)

Zwetelina Ortega states that multilingual children often mix their languages. This is called code-mixing. It is also possible that they switch between their languages. This is called code-switching. These linguistic behaviors can be intimidating for teachers. It is said that multilinguistic children have a restricted vocabulary and less differentiated language resources in the second language than children with German as their first language. This is only true for the first couple of years.

At the end of elementary school grammar and vocabulary of children with German as a first and second language have leveled up. Sometimes bilingual children even outpace monolingual children. (cf. Ortega Zwetelina, n.y., p. 18)

Code-switching can be a very helpful tool for young people in order to provide the relevant vocabulary. Almost all multilingual people mix and blend their languages which is not bad as long as kept in a specific frame. (cf. Gafaranga, 2007, p. 22)

In most cases one language is developed faster and better than the other. The competence in a language can change and shift depending on the motivation of the person. Children hardly ever dominate both languages equal. First and second languages can shift their dominance. Often stereotypes cloud the value of multilingualism. (cf. Ortega Zwetlina, n.y., p. 21)

Konrad Ehlich claims that school is the central educational institution and its central task is to develop a new language of thinking. (cf. Ehlich, 2013, p. 69)

This task includes the necessity to significantly change the curricular process. Multilingualism should be integrated in a new, bigger and modified curricular common framework. That way lingualism is significantly altered and shows its importance. This means that the role of languages in the classroom needs to be rethought. (cf. Ehlich, 2013, p. 70)


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Pros and cons of bilingual primary schools in Austria. Analysis of the effectiveness for children
ÖBV Pädagogische Hochschule Wien
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pros, austria
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Sophia Maurer (Author), 2020, Pros and cons of bilingual primary schools in Austria. Analysis of the effectiveness for children, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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