49: A German vocabulary intervention in heterogeneous Romansh primary school classes

Caglia, Dominique1,2

  1. University of Fribourg, Institute of Multilingualism, Switzerland
  2. Pädagogische Hochschule Graubünden, Integrierte Mehrsprachigkeitsdidaktik – Schwerpunkt Rätoromanisch, Chur, Switzerland

The canton of Grisons in Switzerland promotes Romansh-German bilingualism with unique school models in traditional Romansh-speaking areas (cf. Furer, 2005, p. 9). In those areas, the minority language Romansh is the school language in primary schools. At secondary school levels, however, school language is switched to the majority language German (cf. Cathomas, 2005, p. 160ss.). Differences in contact with German outside of school settings (and therefore differences in German knowledge) lead to heterogeneous class constellations during German lessons from the third grade on. Although children with another first language (L1) than Romansh or German (often Portuguese) show similar qualifications in Romansh compared to classmates with Romansh or German as L1, they perform on average significantly worse in German reading and writings tests (cf. Peyer et al., 2014, p. 41). This may indicate a significant need for support in German for children with another L1 than Romansh or German.

The aim of my doctoral project is to examine the role of the school language regarding learning of vocabulary in another language. Studies have shown glossing (i.e. word explanations at the margin of a text; cf. Choi, 2016; Laufer & Shmueli, 1997; Samian et al., 2016; Zhang & Ma, 2021) and the use of the L1 (cf. Lee & Macaro, 2013; Schmitt, 2008, p. 337s.) to be efficient for vocabulary acquisition in the second language (L2). I investigate whether this is also the case for the school language Romansh (L1 or L2). For this purpose, I developed teaching materials with German texts and exercises for expanding German vocabulary based on scientific recommendations (cf. Elleman et al., 2019) and feedback from teachers from the context. In order to compare the effect of glossing and word explanations in the target language German with the school language Romansh, half of the teaching materials have Romansh and German word explanations, respectively. During spring semester 2022, 5th and 6th class teachers from six Romansh schools used my materials during 18 German lessons. By means of a within-subject-design (cf. Vanhove, 2020, p. 67ss.), each class and therefore each student goes through both conditions (bilingual vs. monolingual) and the effects of conditions will be shown with pre-, post- and follow-up-vocabulary tests. Questionnaires, teacher interviews, some films during instruction and group interviews give a qualitative insight into the intervention.

Here I present the context, theory, research questions, methods and first results of the investigation.


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