Follow-up project: MehrSprachen (ManyLanguages): An Intervention Study to Enhance Metalinguistic Awareness and Language Skills among Primary School Children

Introduction

The formation of metalinguistic awareness (defined as the mental ability to comprehend the structure and function of language/s in order to use this knowledge for appropriate language use) is an implicit as well as an explicit goal of language lessons in school. To date, little is known about the development of metalinguistic awareness or its related factors. There are also few studies concerning the role of multilingualism for metalinguistic awareness.

The precursor project ‘Language Skills and Metalinguistic Awareness’ showed that multilingual primary school children (N=400) – when involved in metalinguistic interactions – reflect in more differentiated ways and more frequently on language(s) than monolingual students (after controlling for age, cognitive ability and language skills) (Bien-Miller et al., 2017). Moreover, it was shown that the level of bilingual language proficiency (first and second languages) is an important predictor of levels of metalinguistic awareness (Akbulut et al., 2017).

The follow-up project ‘MehrSprachen’ (ManyLanguages) focuses on the transfer of these findings to educational practice. The main objective is to investigate how German lessons that integrate reflection on languages and the usage of the heritage languages of bilingual students for language comparison affect metalinguistic awareness of primary school students. The main research question is whether the students benefit from German lessons that are oriented towards language reflection and comparison in terms of improving their metalinguistic awareness.

What is investigated?

The study follows an experimental design with two teacher-student groups. The treatment teacher group (N=18) received training on the use of multilingualism for language reflection and comparison in German classes, which was designed as a reflective experience-based learning programme (Esteve et al. 2010; Wildemann et al. 2014). It was also provided with teaching and learning materials developed on the basis of the quantitative findings of a Delphi study. The Delphi study was conducted to determine the level of knowledge of primary school teachers and the needs related to their daily practice (Andronie et al, in prep.). The treatment teacher group used these multilingual methods and materials in their daily teaching practice and kept a record of their teaching experiences in a weekly digital diary (see also Wildemann et al., in press). The control group (N=17) did not receive any training and conducted classes as usual without integrating students’ heritage languages.

A total of 500 (245 monolingual and 255 multilingual) children were involved in the study, divided into the treatment and control groups.

Data were collected at three measurement points. At the first measurement point, cognitive ability (CFT 20-R), proficiency in the German language (Tulpenbeet) and student motivation were collected. At the second and third measurement points, the metalinguistic awareness of the students (M-SPRA assessment tool (Wildemann et al., 2016)) was measured (post-test and follow up). The teachers’ attitudes to multilingualism, experiences and motivation were assessed at all measurement points. In this way, potential relations between the training, German-language lessons and metalinguistic outcomes among students can be analysed.

Expected outcomes

The ManyLanguages Project will generate insights into the effects of German lessons that are oriented towards language reflection as well as the impact of using multilingualism, including the heritage languages of plurilingual students, on the language accomplishments and metalinguistic awareness of primary school children. In addition, it will provide findings on the development of teachers’ attitudes to multilingualism over the duration of a teacher training programme, and on how teachers actively deal with multilingualism and use the heritage languages of plurilingual students in German-language lessons.

Implications for educational practice