IMKi - Effects of active integration of multilingualism in preschools


Preschools today are host to children with very different language backgrounds. Teachers therefore have to deal with the question of how to handle increasing linguistic diversity. The advice is to actively integrate the children’s heritage languages into the daily life of the preschool, with the intention of supporting their bilingual and social-emotional development. Yet, to date, there has been little to no research concerning the effects of this kind of integration of linguistic diversity in preschools. Existing studies either examine the effects of specific, targeted measures or they investigate progress in L2 proficiency (usually without considering heritage languages). The objective of the IMKi study is to identify the conditions for successful multilingual
development in preschool contexts. The project focusses on children aged 3-6 who have a migration background and are therefore growing up multilingually in Germany. In addition, we also examine the heritage language development of Turkish-German and Russian-German children.

Research questions
• What changes occur in the children’s heritage language and L2 development when multilingualism is explicitly integrated in the preschool?
• How does the integration of multilingualism effect the socio-emotional development of children?
• What changes at the institutional level can be traced back to the intervention relating to multilingualism?
• Which factors can be attributed to cooperation between parents of multilingual children and the preschools themselves? How can cooperation with parents be improved?

What is investigated?

This is an ongoing intervention study with six measurement points, started in 2014 in collaboration with 19 preschools located in southern Germany. The participating preschools were randomly divided into two groups to receive special training on linguistic diversity over a period of four years. The two intervention groups differ with respect to the type of training they receive. Changes that result from the intervention will be assessed at the level of the child, institution, and parent. For this, the six measurement points (2015-2020) have been scheduled at one-year intervals: once prior to the intervention, four during the intervention, and once at the conclusion of the intervention. The findings will then be disseminated to other preschool establishments using the examples of two of the intervention preschools which will be selected as models of best practice. Via an online platform and relevant regional networks, findings, recommendations and examples will be systematically circulated.

Child level
We are interested in language competences in German, Turkish and Russian. Using standardised tests, the children’s expressive and receptive vocabulary, semantic and narrative skills, grammar abilities and linguistic memory (phonological memory skills) are assessed. The table below provides an overview of the procedures and language data collected for all three languages.
Two measures are deployed to capture social-emotional factors (e. g. pro-social behaviour, problematic behaviour, self-regulatory behaviour, social skills, etc). First, parents and preschool teachers complete the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ; Goodman, 1997; Woerner et al., 2002). Second, teachers also rate the socio-emotional skills of the children using the KIPPS scales from BIKO 3–6 (BIKO- Screening for development of basic competences for 3 to 6 year-olds, Seeger, Holodynski & Souvignier, 2015). To capture the children’s self-concept, we use the German translation of the preschool version of the Self-Description Questionnaire by Marsh et al. (SEFKI; Marsh, Ellis & Craven, 2002). Here, children report on their performance-oriented and non-performance-oriented self-concept. In keeping with the items contained in the questionnaire, we generated and included additional questions to measure children’s attitudes toward their own multilingualism.

Institutional level
We are interested in professionalism at the institutional level, including teachers’ professionalism in the areas of language and multilingualism. Structural characteristics (such as the availability of bi- and multilingual learning materials) as well as institutional processes (such as interactions to foster language use) are rated by observational techniques. We assess the structural conditions in the preschool using a rating procedure to capture linguistic diversity in preschools (Ratingverfahren zur Erfassung der Sprachenvielfalt in Kindertageseinrichtungen, REVK, Jahreiß et al., 2017), developed especially for the present study, as well as extant observation approaches (SELA, Smith et al., 2001). Using a rating scale to capture interactions relevant to promoting language (Dortmunder Ratingskala zur Erfassung sprachförderrelevanter Interaktionen, Do-RESI, Fried
& Briedigkeit, 2008) and the “Language Interaction Snapshot” (LISn, Atkins-Burnett et al., 2011), the interactions and communication styles of the teachers and children are assessed. In addition, we also collect data on teachers’ educational backgrounds and personality characteristics (Big Five Inventory-10, Rammstedt et al., 2012), their attitudes toward multilingualism (Reich, 2007) and knowledge about multilingualism.

Parent level
Background characteristics such as socioeconomic status (ISEI, Ganzeboom, 2008) and migration background are captured by parental questionnaires. Parents also provide family-related information about language use within the family, daily multilingual practices and their acculturation attitudes (FRAKK, Bongard et al., 2002). Regarding cooperation with their children’s preschool, we ask parents about their satisfaction with the preschool in general and language support in particular, as well as whether they take advantage of cooperation measures and opportunities to participate in the preschool.

Expected outcomes

The interim findings presented here represent just the first three measurement points and are therefore partial. The effectiveness of the intervention will be better assessed once it has concluded and a post-survey has been conducted.

At the child level, we could establish that children who grow up with Turkish and German arrive at preschool with age-appropriate knowledge of their family language (Turkish), especially regarding active and passive vocabulary and, as would be expected, they increase their knowledge of German at preschool. As the children grow older, however, a relative decrease in active Turkish vocabulary can be seen when compared with slowly increasing German proficiency. Accordingly, there is a negative correlation between the active vocabulary in the children’s heritage and second languages while other linguistic measures, such as passive vocabulary or general grammar skills, do not correlate across languages. Overall, a clear influence of one language processing measure – phonological memory – can be seen; there are significant correlations between this and performance in the other language. When attempting to predict competences in both languages as well as an overall measurement of linguistic competence, phonological memory also plays a decisive role, appearing to be just as important to successful multilingualism as environmental factors in the family (e. g. linguistic stimulus content or an equal use of both languages by mothers and siblings) and early education (such as early entry into a childcare setting). In relation to social-emotional competences, the multilingual children as a whole were not perceived to be problematic or to display conspicuous behaviour. However, there is a clear link between proficiency in the L2 (German) and in part also in the heritage language (Turkish) and children’s social-emotional competences. Higher linguistic competences appear to accompany higher competences in social and emotional areas. This correlation can also be seen over the course of the children’s development. To what extent social-emotional competences can predict linguistic performance (or vice-versa) is to be clarified as a result.

Within the participating institutions, we observed a great diversity of heritage languages. Besides German, there were at least nine other languages. The teachers tended to display open attitudes to multilingualism. However, multilingualism was only rarely included in the daily life of the preschools. Analyses from the first measurement point show that the teachers’ attitudes toward and knowledge of multilingualism were linked to this. Teachers who know a lot about multilingualism, and view it as enrichment, do more to integrate multilingualism into the preschool. Whether teachers are themselves multilingual does not appear to be relevant here.

On the contrary, multilingual teachers tended to be in favour of the multilingual children adapting linguistically to German. Changes were achieved in the teachers’ knowledge of multilingualism, but the attitudes have thus far proven to be very stable. In daily preschool life, following one year of intervention, the first signs of change could be seen in regard to valuing the children’s languages. Peer interactions in heritage languages were increasingly permitted, and in the intervention group there was an increasing amount of multilingual material for parents.

Implications for educational practice

Children’s linguistic starting points should be used to support them in all their languages at preschool (see graphic). So that this can successfully occur, it is necessary for teachers to reflect on their own attitudes toward multilingualism. However, just reflecting on these attitudes is not sufficient. They also
need to expand their knowledge of the linguistic development of multilingual children as well as their professional knowledge relating to multilingual
learning. In order to transfer this knowledge to practice, clear opportunities for the inclusion of multilingualism need to be made apparent. Simply employing multilingual teachers alone is not expected to yield improvements due to the extent of linguistic diversity in today’s preschools. They must also go through a reflection process and expand their knowledge so they can positively use their own multilingualism in practice.