2.0 The ILTE project - ideas, definition,
The foundation for Intercomprehension in Language Teacher
Education from the Norwegian partner's point of view was
the firm belief that when learning a foreign language, the
mother tongue will be of great help and support, and so will
any other linguistic and cultural knowledge, explicit or implicit.
When learning the second foreign language, knowledge of the
first foreign language - and the mother tongue - will support
understanding of that new foreign language and facilitate
acquisition of it. Language teachers should keep in mind the
significance of having this capacity for understanding and
learning languages and make use of it in the classroom. In
a multi-linguistic and multi-cultural society this capacity
may become increasingly important. In that perspective the
question of how the language teacher of the future may differ
from the language teacher of the past turned out to be one
of the main aspects of the project.
It may be interesting to reflect on how the
role of language learning has changed over the years. In the
distant past the learning of languages was considered valuable
in order to be able to read literature. In the more near past
it was looked upon as an instrument to communicate with native
speakers. At the present its major role is perhaps the possibilities
offered for communicating with different people in the world
at large. In all three cases, there is also the humanistic
education purpose of creating an understanding of other cultures
Another main aspect of the project was therefore
the idea that European citizens ought to be motivated and
educated to develop language skills in several languages in
order to be able to understand and communicate with each other:
plurilingualism, defined by the Council of Europe's Common
European Framework of Reference for Languages - a handbook
for language teachers and other language professionals as:
the ability to use languages for the purposes of communication
and to take part in intercultural interaction, where a person,
viewed as a social agent, has proficiency of varying degrees,
in several languages, and experience of several cultures.
This is not seen as the superposition or juxtaposition of
distinct competences, but rather as the existence of a complex
or even composite competence on which the user may draw.
(Council of Europe, 2001: 168)
Complete proficiency in a foreign language
is not always necessary; in many situations and contexts partial
proficiency will do, for example listening and reading skills.
These skills are frequently referred to as the receptive skills
of language learning, while speaking and writing skills are
referred to as productive skills. Although it must be recognised
that 'receptive' skills require energy and commitment on the
part of the learner too, and in this sense are active skills,
as many teachers of foreign languages have experienced, it
normally takes much longer to develop productive skills than
it takes to develop receptive skills. In Norway, for example,
there has been a tradition for good receptive skills. This
could be a cultural feature, since many Norwegians want to
feel confident that what they are going to say in a foreign
language is correct. So, if Norwegians could be convinced
that it is valuable (only) to understand the foreign
language, they might be motivated to develop the receptive
skills listening and reading in a number of languages. This
might gradually lead to development of the productive skills
speaking and writing.
There is much talk these days about 'European
citizenship' in relation to language learning. For example,
it is the European Union view, expressed in the White Paper,
that there are two functions for language learning, first
to create the means of benefiting from a single market:
Proficiency in several Community languages has become a
precondition if citizens of the European Union are to benefit
from the occupational and personal opportunities open to
them in the border-free single market. This language proficiency
must be backed up by the ability to adapt to working and
living environments characterised by different cultures.
And, second, to create the means of interacting with other
Languages are also the key to knowing other people. Proficiency
in languages helps to build up the feeling of being European
with all its cultural wealth and diversity, and of understanding
between the citizens of Europe.
(European Commission, 1995: 67)
The White Paper then goes on to recommend that European citizens
should master three languages, their own and two of the other
official languages of the EU.
Does this notion refer to the idea that to benefit from belonging
to the European community one needs languages? Or does it
indicate that learning more languages creates European citizenship?
Furthermore, when one talks of "the new Europe"
and "the European dimension", could it be that one
refers to all the languages spoken in Europe? If that is the
case, the learning of neighbouring languages, i.e. nearness
in terms of geography, or the learning of a lingua franca
may no longer be as essential as it used to be. This could
then, in the long run, mean that for example English will
lose some of its status as a lingua franca. The global power
of English may then be changed from having the role of a lingua
franca to that of a language learnt to acquire basic skills
in another foreign language, i.e. a platform onto which other
foreign languages can more easily be added.
Such reflections are the background for the
way we have come to define intercomprehension as a
tool with which to handle multilingualism in the future foreign
language classroom: The future foreign language teacher will
be the teacher of (several) languages rather than the teacher
of (a) language; his/her role will be to develop languages
skills rather than language skills and in the process develop
the capacity for language learning at large.
Part of this picture is the role the mother
tongue plays: the sense of learning languages starts from
learning one's own language - this is where the foundation
is laid for all languages learnt later in life, whether it
is to a high proficiency level or to a lower partial-competence
level. This is all the more the case when children grow up
acquiring more than one language in their natural environment
as is increasingly the case not only in the indigenous minorities,
for example the Sami in Norway, but also among new immigrant
minorities of refugees, economic migrants and asylum seekers.
Interaction between mother tongue and foreign language teaching
and learning can be a field where mother tongue and foreign
language teachers meet, exchange ideas and experiences and
plan common strategies for language learning development.
Such strategies will in the end benefit the learner and his/her
development as a learner of languages.
All this means that teachers' attitudes and
pedagogical practices in the classroom may have to change
from a fairly traditional (and narrow) view of what learning
languages means to a broader view, where new purposes and
new possibilities in the classroom are seen and developed.
It also means that linguistic and cultural diversity shall
be appreciated as a powerful factor, which will promote respect
for and interest in a variety of languages and cultures.
Intercomprehension in Language Teacher
Education has thus been a project aimed at broadening
the sense of what learning/teaching languages can imply.
On the one hand several languages rather than one language
may be the topic in the foreign language classroom. This will
not exclude one language, for example English in Norway, as
a language more focussed on than any other foreign language.
But in addition to focussing on one foreign language, the
teacher will include features of other foreign languages as
well, by exploiting the students' capacity for comprehending
words, phrases and other linguistic and cultural elements
in foreign languages at large. This is particularly the case
where European languages are concerned, since the philological
relationships among European languages allow learners to perceive
links and similarities. Furthermore, it is a, perhaps regrettable,
effect of colonialization that European languages are present
in many parts of the world - Spanish in South America, French
in Africa, Russian in Eastern Europe, as well as English almost
everywhere - and this allows learners to use their European
languages to communicate on a global level. This, we think,
will enrich the learning atmosphere in the foreign language
classroom both for teacher and students.
On the other hand we see language learning in a European
as well as in a global perspective because both European languages
and other foreign languages spoken in Europe can play an important
part in a more comprehensive language learning process. These
two aspects are parts of the same picture because in addition
to a linguistic dimension where the transfer of language skills
and language knowledge is central, there will also be a cultural,
social and political dimension that relates to the new socio-political
European context. And as was stated above, this context will
comprise not only existing European languages and cultures,
but also include languages spoken in Europe today that have
their linguistic and cultural roots elsewhere, this being
the reverse of the coin of colonialization and economic dominance
of the West.
- 3.0 ILTE and the Norwegian partner's national context
- 1.0 Introduction