ILTE designgfx Europe
Intercomprehension in Language Teacher Education
3.0 ILTE and the Norwegian partner's national context

Even if the foundation for the project was an academic and pedagogic interest in the training of foreign language student teachers in several countries and with a comparative dimension, it was evident through all the different stages of the work that intercomprehension would mean different things in different national contexts. The individual national projects were therefore developed in relation to the different needs of the countries, but at the same time with a view to the common understanding that had brought the network members together and with a view to the common strands that crystallized as the project developed.

For the Norwegian team it was important - and necessary - to relate intercomprehension to the national curriculum guidelines for compulsory education and to the national guidelines for teacher education. Furthermore, it was essential for us to see the national context in relation to the context of European languages and cultures. And finally, since the concrete result of the project was the development of modules to be included in teacher training, it was of utmost importance for us to relate intercomprehension to the trainees' future work in the foreign language classroom.

Compulsory education in Norway (grades 1-10, ages 6-16) is organized and run according to national curriculum guidelines. Several revisions have been made over the last decades, the latest two revisions in 1987 and 1997. In relation to intercomprehension, the cultural dimension of language learning, the role of the mother tongue, and the idea of enhancing the pupils' overall language competence, implicit and explicit, are of particular interest and importance, and it is appropriate to consider first how these issues appear in the guidelines..

The 1987 guidelines were vague as regards the role of the mother tongue in the foreign language classroom. They stated that the pupils' insight in and knowledge of their mother tongue should be exploited in the instruction of English, without underlining the value of this insight and knowledge. The role of the mother tongue as compared to that of the foreign language was presented in the traditional contrastive analysis and error analysis framework with emphasis on differences and interferences rather than on similarities and transfers. It could be argued that focus was on negative transfer of language rather than on positive transfer.

In the 1997 guidelines the notion of pupils' overall language competence is introduced:

The task of enhancing pupils' overall language competence is common to all the language courses. The aims and approaches of all the language syllabuses are therefore viewed as being interrelated. First language and foreign language teaching are thus based on a shared view of language, in which foreign language learning is not only viewed as skills training but also as an educational process, involving socialisation and the development of language awareness and cultural awareness. The syllabus in English is based on the language-learning foundations laid when pupils learn their first language, on experience pupils have already gained through contact with other languages and cultures both at school and elsewhere, and on text competence which pupils have acquired through learning their first language.
(The Royal Ministry of Education, Research and Church Affairs, 1999: 237)

Here, then, we see an explicit statement of conceptual and practical links between the foreign language (English) and the mother tongue. The question that remains to be answered, however, is how this link is actually practiced in school.

The 1997 guidelines also emphasize that good knowledge of languages is of utmost importance for successful contact, cooperation, and communication with people in Europe and the rest of the world. Learning foreign languages will facilitate communication with people in other countries and thus provide opportunities for becoming familiar with other cultures. Insight into and knowledge of other cultures will be a basis for respect and open-mindedness and lead to other ways of thinking. In this way the pupils' understanding of their own cultural roots will also increase and thus contribute to strengthening their identity.

Therefore the cultural dimension is strongly emphasized and viewed as an important element of all foreign language learning. This is very clear both in the overall philosophy of the guidelines and in their individual objectives. Language learning, as compared to the traditional, narrow view of learning a foreign language - learning its grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation - is also very much a question of learning the culture of the countries in which the foreign language is spoken. For example one of the objectives for 1st grade pupils is to ..."start to learn about how children in English-speaking countries live." (p. 240) Language and culture are inseparable aspects of language learning; language is not only structures and words; language is also culture and communication.

The national guidelines for general teacher education had to be revised as a consequence of the new guidelines for primary and lower secondary school. The revised guidelines took effect as of 1 August 1998. They are closely related to the curriculum guidelines for compulsory education. One important element in the revised guidelines is their strong emphasis on the cultural dimension of foreign language learning. Cultural awareness, social competence, and general educational competence are crucial key concepts. This parallels the focus on culture in the guidelines for primary and lower secondary school and stresses foreign language learning as the learning of linguistic structures, culture, and communication.

In today's Europe linguistic and cultural diversity is more prominent and crucial to political and social development than ever before. New countries join the European Union in one way or other in a continuous process, and the need to communicate across linguistic and cultural barriers becomes more and more obvious and predominant.

In this process the national languages may establish a position both as a national and as an international means of communication. The major European languages, i.e. the languages most taught as foreign languages in school, will in the short run mean more to international communication than the less taught and less spoken languages, but also these languages will in the long run be in a position to contribute because of their participation in the European community.

The European Language Portfolio ( may turn out to be a very useful tool to promote all European languages. The various countries participating in this project develop their individual frameworks for their portfolios. In the French portfolio, for example, there is a section "Mes contacts avec d'autres langues et d'autres cultures", which is a form the pupils can fill in to make a survey of their individual linguistic and cultural experiences. This seems to be an excellent idea to make pupils aware of the knowledge they already have. Such a survey may encourage them to develop and broaden this knowledge and better prepare them for increased contact with other languages and cultures. The English version My Languages Portfolio also includes several good ideas that can easily be adapted. ( Language Portfolio.pdf)

To sum up, the Norwegian curriculum guidelines for compulsory education and the national framework for the education of trainee teachers provide the basis for developing teacher training programmes for foreign languages that include the notion of intercomprehension. However, as outlined in 2.0, our vision of intercomprehension goes further: we would like to see a more comprehensive view of language education, including the first language, Norwegian, or Sami, or a migrant language, and the foreign language(s) - even classical languages where they exist. Our project deals above all with foreign languages, but we see it as a first step towards a more comprehensive view in the future. Today there is a place for mother tongues in the foreign language classroom, but this is not going as far as saying there is active cooperation in the teaching of the mother tongue and the foreign language(s), or in the teaching of one foreign language and another.

We see intercomprehension applied in education as wider, or more explicit, than what is stated in the guidelines: We see language learning - mother tongue and foreign languages - as a process that incorporates all prior knowledge of language, including skills and experiences, and paves the way for more language(s) to be learnt. The teacher's role will then be to understand the significance of this and apply it in the classroom. The teacher-to-be, the student teacher, needs to see and experience both the pupil's and the teacher's role, and this is what we attempted to do when the modules were compiled, cf chapter 6.

Next - 4.0 Classroom experiments

Previous - 2.0 The ILTE project - ideas, definition, aim



To the top of the page
  designgfx 2002 © ILTE, All rights reserved - Sitemap designgfx