4.0 Classroom experiments
Before compiling the teacher training modules, it was important
for us to consider the students' future careers as foreign
language teachers and assess approaches and activities that
would address intercomprehension in the foreign language classroom.
To that end experiments were designed to find out how intercomprehension
could be implemented in the classroom.
As outlined in 3.0 the role of the mother
tongue and the cultural dimension of language learning are
aspects that are highlighted in the national curriculum guidelines.
Furthermore, the fact that the curriculum guidelines emphasize
communication and text competence - both of which refer to
oral as well as to written language - signals a holistic view
of language learning. Therefore, when designing the classroom
experiments, we wanted to apply methods that would promote
a holistic approach.
We found it convenient to take the three educational
stages of compulsory education in Norway as a starting-point:
grades 1-4 (learners aged 6-10), grades 5-7 (learners aged
10-13), and grades 8-10 (learners aged 13-16). Experiments
were thus designed for each of these three stages, with an
emphasis on learners aged 6-10.
4.1 Young learners in L-97
According to the curriculum guidelines, the
education of young learners (grades 1-4) is to be based on
activities that will create curiosity and the need to investigate.
L-97 emphasizes fun and play as crucial factors in the learning
situation, factors which will develop the learner's language,
cognitive abilities and communicative competence and presumably
encourage them affectively and develop their motivation. In
a learning situation where fun and play is the basis for classroom
activities, there will, according to the guidelines, be an
educational atmosphere where on the one hand the child is
stimulated and on the other an atmosphere where the playing
child affects the learning situation, in other words a mutual
and interactive relationship between the child and the learning
Another important aspect in the curriculum
guidelines is that topic-based and cross-curricular activities
will promote the abilities of the learner and pave the way
for the mastering of subject-matter and social relations.
For learners in grades 1-4 topic-based and
cross-curricular education will be the major approach to learning.
This organization will see to it that topics from several
subjects are integrated in such a way as to focus on the individual
subjects in turn. The guidelines suggest that 60 % of the
school year for grades 1-4 should be organized according to
this principle. A natural development will be to move gradually
from a completely topic-based organization to a more subject-based
organization, so that at the end of compulsory education (at
the age of 16) the organization is basically subject-based.
4.2 The active and autonomous learner
With 6- and 7-year-olds we experimented with picture books
and found that using such books was gratifying because it
highly stimulated and motivated them.
When these pupils became 8-year-olds picture
books were still used. In addition we wanted to experiment
with a method that would explicitly focus on the active and
autonomous learner. Since an overall objective in Norwegian
education is to make use of methods that on the one hand aim
at integrating various subjects and on the other aim at taking
the pupil's own experience and what he/she can offer as a
starting point, we wished to experiment with a holistic method
that would cater for both these two major considerations.
The storyline method, developed by
among others Steve Bell (cf. e.g. Bell 1995 and 1999) is cross-curricular
in its character since it provides a structure for the teaching
of integrated subject studies. It can be applied with focus
on one or more subjects, for example foreign languages. The
storyline method therefore meets the requirements of the curriculum
guidelines as to cross-curricular and topic-based education.
It furthermore meets the requirement that the learner is to
be educated so as to take actively part in his/her own learning
process and gradually learn to work independently and with
his/her own resources as a basis for development; in other
words the aim of the educational process is the active and
According to the curriculum guidelines education
is to build on and develop the resources the learner brings
with him/her to school. This is exactly what the storyline
method takes as a starting-point; it is the learner's image
of the world around him/her that will be the basis for further
development and learning.
Another crucial point is the concept of the
active learner: the learner as the curious, inquiring, inquisitive,
and investigating learner, thereby developing his/her problem-solving
abilities. The storyline method caters for these things, because
it has great potential for development of the competence to
become active. The method aims at making the learner aware
of problems, at being able to guess and hypothesize, at trying
out the hypotheses and assess them according to certain criteria.
This process gives the learner the basis for interpreting
and understanding his/her experience. It also provides him/her
with the basis for giving words and concepts to his/her image
of the world around him.
4.3 Six- and seven-year olds
Suitable picture books were chosen to accompany
the various topics planned for the whole year. The very first
book the six-year-olds met (some were actually only five)
was Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni. It
is a book that lends itself beautifully to topics like "beginning
school", "family and friends", "colours" - topics that are
good topics to start the first school year with, and that
can easily be integrated in a cross-curricular approach.
Some of the children knew the Norwegian version of this
book from kindergarten and were thus familiar with the story.
They very quickly picked up words like blue, yellow, little,
Mam, Dad, school, most of which resemble the Norwegian
equivalents (blå, gul, liten, mamma,
pappa , skole). With Dad it may have
been the context rather than phonetic similarity that made
understanding easier, and with yellow it was probably
more the pictures of the two little figures than anything
It did not seem to affect them that the teacher spoke English
to them the whole time. Even if some of them did not say anything
in English themselves - cf. Krashen's argument that there
is a natural "silent period" - they understood a lot and took
the instructions the teacher gave them.
The very hungry caterpillar by Eric Carle was one
of the other books used in the autumn term. Both The very
hungry caterpillarand Little Blue and Little Yellow
are suitable for beginners because of the many repetitions
they offer. The very hungry caterpillar was also a
book some of the children already knew from kindergarten.
The table below shows the topics and books that were worked
with in grades 1 and 2.
Family and friends
Days of the week
Sea and shore
Where animals sleep
Little Blue and Little Yellow
(by Leo Lionni)
The very hungry caterpillar
(by Eric Carle)
Each Peach Pear Plum
(by Janet and Allan Ahlberg)
Is anyone home?
(by Ron Maris)
The lady who loved animals
Spot goes on holiday
(by E. Hill)
When I'm sleepy
(by Jane Howard)
Fantasy and dreams
Days of the week
(by John Cunliffe)
Can't you sleep, little Bear
(by Martin Waddell and Barbara Firth)
The tiger who came to tea
(by Judith Kerr)
Rose and Dorothy
(by Roslyn Schwartz)
Winifred's new bed
(by Lynn and Richard Howell)
Abigail at the beach
(by Felix Pirani)
Rupert and the hazelnut
(by Mike Trumble)
Some of the books were simply read through, others were used
as a basis for several activities to stimulate spoken English.
In the second grade books like Postman Pat by John
Cunliffe and Can't you sleep, little Bear by Martin
Waddell and Barbara Firth were worked with thoroughly.
Only in the second grade were the children gradually exposed
to text. Familiar pictures from the books the teacher had
read to them were glued in an A-4 notebook and single words
copied. When choosing pictures and words to accompany them
pupils would say for example Jeg har valgt caterpillar
(I have chosen caterpillar).
The class teacher designed a teaching programme based on
the storyline methodology. It was carried out in her class
of 8-year-olds (third grade) over a period of four weeks.
Since this method was relatively new to her and quite new
to her pupils, she decided to use the pupils' mother tongue
as the medium most of the time. The primary aim of the experiment
was to pilot the method. This setting is an example of interaction,
or active cooperation, between the mother tongue and the foreign
language mentioned in the final paragraphs of chapter 3, the
mother tongue offering a base for the foreign language.
The topic chosen was Farmlife a hundred
years ago, a topic that highly motivated the pupils to
dig out whatever knowledge they had about life on a farm in
the olden days and to find out more about it.
The basic idea behind the storyline method
is to create a story; the process includes both telling the
story and making characters, building houses, streets, a village
- whatever is needed to illustrate the story that the pupils,
prompted by the teacher, make up. This means that arts and
crafts is very much part of the process; at the end of it
the pupils had built the old farm with all its buildings,
and they had provided all the people inhabiting this farm
and neighbouring farms, and the landscape surrounding the
A very essential element in all this is of
course the language used, to discuss how they want to make
everything, what the characters look like and are like and
what they say to each other. A lot of opinion was exchanged
and a lot of creativity mobilized to make up dialogues and
to move the story forward.
All sorts of sidetracks can be taken along
the way, but it is essential that the teacher has a clear
plan for the whole process and that she directs the progress
of the story, among other things by posing relevant questions
The primary aim of this experiment was, as
mentioned above, to pilot the method. It proved to be very
successful, because it activated all the pupils, and all of
them had something to contribute with. They learnt a lot about
life on a farm in former times, and, most important of all
- with reference to our project - a lot of language was produced,
both oral and written language.
An additional aim was to find out how the
pupils would cope with the foreign language they had been
learning since grade 1, English, as the medium. Since the
pupils were familiar with using English picture books, three
English picture books on farm life and farm animals were used:
The Snow Lambs by Debi Gliori, The Mitten by
Jan Brelt, and Friska - the sheep that was too small
by Rob Lewis. On the basis of these books one chapter of the
story Farmlife a hundred years ago was created.
In other words, the children were familiar
with the genre of storytelling. They were also used to tackling
linguistically tricky situations partly by using Norwegian
words to make themselves understood, and partly by interpreting
English words by means of words from their mother tongue.
They had been encouraged to do so in grades 1 and 2, so this
method was known to them.
When using Norwegian words, they would often
pronounce these words with what they thought was an English
pronunciation. They would for example use Norwegian blåste
for the past tense of blow, and say "blouste".
They might know the English word blow, but not the
past tense blew, and since the Norwegian equivalent
is a regular verb, their choice "blouste" was a
very logical choice.
The word monster is a word that has
almost acquired the status of a Norwegian word, so monster
in an English text was very obvious to them. Monster
may be so common these days that the Norwegian uhyre
may be unknown to 8-year-olds. Size and big
were examples of words that they had met in familiar contexts
- in connection with clothes. These words presented no difficulty
With reference to the ILTE project,
we wanted to find out to what extent the storyline method
promoted intercomprehension in the process of learning a foreign
language. The experiment proved to be successful in activating
all the children and motivating them to contribute towards
a common goal. The ultimate aim in the foreign language classroom
is to learn language and to produce language, and in a setting
where the process and the individual learner's contribution
is the main focus of interest and attention, all sorts of
resources that the learner possesses will be activated and
brought to the surface.
In other words, what the experiment told us,
is that the storyline method provides a truly holistic approach
to learning. It challenges the whole scope of the learner's
resources, and it motivates further learning and development.
These factors are crucial in all learning, and particularly
so when facing a foreign language and a foreign culture. Even
if the experiment was designed primarily to pilot the method,
we still had the opportunity to observe the processes going
on in children when they mobilize their capacity to cope with
creating a story in a foreign language.
Furthermore, the experiment supported our
hypothesis that the genre of storytelling is a valuable and
powerful tool when it comes to exploiting the learner's capacity
for making use of his implicit and explicit knowledge of language.
This experiment was carried out with young
learners in a third grade class. We think, however, that storyline
will be successful also with intermediate and advanced learners.
Reports from for example the USA, Denmark and Sweden indicate
that the method works the way it is meant to work.
The storyline method seemed to be particularly
beneficial in the way it would take the young learner's particular
luggage and needs into consideration, and in the way it helped
create an atmosphere in the foreign language classroom that
stimulated the individual learner's confidence.
The classroom experiments with young learners
outlined in 4.3 and 4 .4 strongly indicate that a fundamental
prerequisite in foreign language acquisition is to make use
of methods that challenge the whole scope of the pupil's resources.
Using picture books in the foreign language has proved to
be successful in capturing the pupil's interest and building
up his motivation for learning. And if picture books are put
in a wider framework, as was the case when such books were
used to create a story (cf Farmlife a hundred years ago),
increased interest and motivation seems to be the result.
The storyline method was experimented with in order to employ
a holistic approach to learning, and the result was convincing.
The method emphasizes meaning rather than
form. However, there is no reason why the teacher should not
focus on form from time to time. With the very young focus
on form will have to be implicit rather than explicit, but
as the pupils mature cognitively, explicit focus on form will
gradually enter the picture.
4.5 Young learners and intercomprehension
The experiments carried out with young learners indicate
that intercomprehension takes place on at least two levels.
First there is the linguistic level. Pupils
recognize words and phrases as either identical with or similar
to words and phrases they already know from their mother tongue
(or from other sources). Examples are Mam, school, sister,
Little Blue for mamma, skole, søster, Lille
Blå. To produce language themselves, they may for
example say things like: Jeg har valgt caterpillar
for I have chosen caterpillar, or they may choose a
Norwegian word and pronounce it with what they think is an
English pronunciation: blouste (blåste) for blew.
In this case they may well know the infinitive blow,
but not the past tense blew.
Young learners will naturally compare with
their native language - Norwegian - and make use of similarities
they detect between Norwegian and English. The foreign language
vocabulary they encounter will mostly be concretes, not abstracts,
and this will assist them in their comparison and transfer
of vocabulary. Since both Norwegian and English are Germanic
languages, a great deal of common vocabulary will of course
make the transfer easy. Even if young learners at the earliest
stages only listen to and imitate English, and therefore meet
unfamiliar pronunciation and intonation patterns, they are
very well able to cope, because the classroom activities are
founded on fun and play and motivation is high. The fact that
they tended to transfer an English (or what they thought was
an English) pronunciation to Norwegian words, demonstrates
that an unfamiliar sound pattern was no real obstacle.
Secondly there is the cultural level. Several
fairytales, songs and games are found in many countries, and
in countries like England and Norway which have so much in
common, there is a lot of cultural heritage for pupils to
identify with. Also common social structures - as shown by
the ability to recognise Dad not phonetically but rather by
recognising the same family structure - may be at work and
should be included as a socio-cultural rather than as a cultural
feature. This common frame of reference will presumably assist
pupils - even young learners - in understanding elements of
for example fairytales in other languages than English as
well, for example German, and particularly so if the fairytale
is supported by pictures. The experiment with 12-year-olds
outlined in 4.6 illustrates that pictures meant much to the
understanding of a German text to these learners, who knew
The linguistic and cultural/socio-cultural
levels mentioned above represent familiar aspects of language
teaching and learning. In addition to these levels, we can
add a third level: recognition of genre. Recognition of genre,
as when telling a story, seems to support and enhance intercomprehension
on the linguistic and cultural levels. Structural features
in stories like sequencing and repetition seem to support
linguistic and cultural recognition. From their previous experience
of being told stories the six-, seven- and eight-year-olds
in our experiments seemed to transfer their expectation that
the picture books in English would tell a story. Another type
of picture book, for example a child's encyclopedia, would
surely not result in that type of expectation.
A similar supporting and enhancing effect
seems to be present in recognition of theme. When a class
works with a theme like for example "family and friends" (cf
comment above on social structures) in several subjects, this
cross-curricular approach will benefit all subjects involved,
in the sense that experience from one subject will facilitate
acquisition of another. Learners seem to transfer experience
from one subject to another in much the same way as they transfer
experience and expectations when they meet an English picture
A definition of intercomprehension from the
young learner's point of view which includes recognition of
language, culture, genre, and theme, seems to cater for central
factors at work in the young learners' foreign language classroom.
In addition to the experiment with young learners outlined
above, an experiment with a group of intermediate learners
was carried out. The idea was to introduce them to a text
in a foreign language they did not know.
A teaching unit of one lesson (45 minutes)
for four pupils in grade 7 (12-year-olds) was designed. The
four pupils were introduced to two pages of a German text,
Dachsleben by G. Nelson. None of them knew any German.
At the beginning of the lesson the teacher
told the pupils that she was about to read a text in German
to them and then read the text while the pupils listened.
There was no other introduction. During this first reading
the pupils understood nothing - they just smiled as if saying:
Am I supposed to understand anything of this? This was rather
surprising, because the four pupils were above average intellectually
and more mature than their age (12) should suggest. The teacher
had expected them to understand something.
The second time the text was read the pupils
were told that the teacher was about to read it once more
and they were asked to make an effort to understand, to listen
for familiar words. This time they were encouraged to listen
actively, while the first time they received no introductory
encouragement, and consequently they were passive rather than
The second time therefore, they listened carefully,
and even if they still did not understand what it was about,
they recognized some of the words. They could not remember
any of these words, but one of the pupils suggested that maybe
it was a story about a dog - in Norwegian there is a breed
of dog called dachs, a loan-word from German.
The third time the teacher showed them a picture
and pointed to it while she read. This time they understood
much more. And the fourth (and final) time the text was read
the pupils had the text in front of them. They were asked
to underline words and phrases they could understand, and
it turned out they had underlined quite a few words. They
were able to understand the contents, and they could retell
much of the story. Examples of underlined words and word sequences
are schönen Frühlingstag, Dachsvater,
langen Wintermonate, geschlafen, graben,
Schnee, blendet ihn das Sonnenlicht, untergegangen,
nämlich eine ganze Dachs-Familie, wir.
It is interesting to notice that most of the underlined words
and sequences of words were not single words, but collocations.
This indicates that pupils listen for meaning through word
combinations such as noun phrases and predicates, rather than
meaning conveyed by single words. These twelve-year-olds were
able to explicitly show this through their underlined passages.
In the end all four pupils understood the
story, and asked for more lessons like this one. Pupils in
grade 7 are to choose between German and French as their second
foreign language in grade 8. These four pupils had already
made their choices, and the one who had chosen French wished
he had chosen German.
This group of pupils had been selected because
of their general interest in school work. They were above
average when it comes to intellectual capacity and level of
knowledge. But since German is a language closely related
both to Norwegian and English, it is likely that pupils who
take less interest in school work in general than these four
pupils would also benefit from being exposed to a German text.
The theme of the book is animals and the environment,
and the book therefore lends itself very well to topic-based
and cross-curricular teaching, if one should wish to include
this kind of teaching unit in a wider framework. Storyline
would be a suitable method to apply; pupils could for
example build on the story they had already read, or make
up new stories - in simple German - with help from the teacher.
A story based on Dachsleben could be made into a chapter
of the story Farmlife a hundred years ago. In Norwegian
school efforts are made to find themes and teaching materials
that can be applied in different settings and on different
4.7 Twelve-year-olds and intercomprehension
As with the very young learners described above, these 12-year-olds
benefited from illustrations in order to understand the text.
They furthermore were better able to understand when they
were given the text to look at while the teacher read it.
Even if German was totally unfamiliar to them, they could
still detect words and phrases that they could compare with
Norwegian and English, and thus use their knowledge of the
mother tongue and the first foreign language to interpret
a second foreign language. With increasing support in the
four readings, the pupils were gradually able to comprehend
more of what was going on, until they in the end understood
so much that they ended up asking for more lessons of this
Another aspect that would have been interesting
to examine, is the pupils' own reflection on what they could
understand with increasing support from the teacher. Twelve-year-olds,
and particularly these twelve-year-olds, who were mature for
their age and bright pupils, have reached a level of cognitive
development where they would be in a position to reflect on
their own performance - at least with some help from the teacher.
So, if we compare with the very young ones,
recognition of language is definitely at work. The cultural
element in this experiment one could claim is represented
in the illustrations. On the other hand, illustrations are
associated with picture books, so from that point of view,
intercomprehension would be linked to recognition of genre.
Since the story was about an animal often found on or near
a farm, and since they had worked with the topic Farmlife
a hundred years ago, it could be maintained that recognition
of theme is also a factor here. This experiment with twelve-year-olds
illustrates that the four intercomprehension factors discussed
in 4.5 - recognition of language, culture, genre, and theme
- will be operative and overlap to a smaller or larger degree,
depending on how a lesson or a series of lessons is designed.
To investigate how 13-16-year-olds (grades 8-10) could cope
with a text in an unfamiliar language, an experiment involving
40 pupils in two 10th grade classes was conducted at a lower
secondary school. The pupils were asked to make educated guesses
with regard to cognates in an unfamiliar language based on
their prior knowledge of their mother tongue and other languages.
Since English is obligatory all through compulsory school
and German a popular elective in lower secondary, a French
text was chosen to represent the unfamiliar language. One
pupil who had been brought up bilingually (Norwegian and French)
was given a Spanish text. This pupil then had a cognate language
to work with, but the rest of the group, who worked with the
French text, had a more demanding task since their reference
languages were all Germanic languages (Norwegian, English
The pupils were given two tasks - to summarize
an understanding of the text, and to focus on individual words
and relate those to English and German, as well as to their
native Norwegian. In other words, they were asked to make
an attempt to recognize words in the French (Spanish) text
which could be linguistically tied to English, German, and
Norwegian, preferably as cognates. Since no oral exercise
was involved, the pupils had to rely merely on what they could
detect of familiar combinations pertaining to orthography.
They were, however, encouraged to try to produce sounds as
they were working, as an aid in decoding words.
The teacher who conducted the task was convinced that the
assignment should not be a chore, but rather an incitement
to similar exercises in the future. The idea was to put the
textbook aside and allow the pupils simply to play around
with vocabulary, its spelling and visual impressions.
The text was about the French province of
La Provence, and was accompanied by a small map with drawings
of various objects relating to certain areas of the province
- be it a palm tree, a castle, a horse or a bottle of perfume.
Even if such a picture would represent a bit of help in achieving
correct results, one must also bear in mind that no pre-reading
activity took place. In spite of this, the pupils on the whole
managed to come up with fairly good interpretations of the
text, some even with excellent ones. There were pupils who
thought that certain words were very difficult to define,
but then again, guessing was part of the strategy involved.
By distinguishing words like région, sud-est,
fruits, soleil, température, moyenne,
heures and others, they were able to write down coherent
sentences in Norwegian explaining important information about
La Provence in general. In addition, judging from the listing
of vocabulary in columns picked out from the text, it is safe
to conclude that Norwegian pupils at this level can, with
educated guesses, recognize cognates and even sound patterns
in an unfamiliar language. Their knowledge then is based on
one or two foreign languages (English and German) as well
as their native Norwegian. The table made by one of the pupils
is shown below.
The same pupil made the following summary of the French text:
Jeg tror at teksten handler om en region i syd Frankrike.
Der blir det meste av verdens parfyme lagd. Det står
også om hvor mange kilo blomster man trenger til å
lage en kilo essens med parfyme. Det kan også hende
at det står om eksportartikler som frukt og nougat,
altså sjokolade. Jeg tror også at det står
nedover ett eller annet med at det er veldig mye sol der,
altså mange soldager. Gjennomsnittstemperaturen i
måneden ligger rundt 22 grader. Det står kanskje
at det er ca 3000 timer med sol i året.
They were encouraged to make educated guesses, and this summary
is very good, both in terms of content and the fact that the
pupil is able to write a coherent summary. He/she makes use
of phrases like jeg tror - det kan også hende
- jeg tror også - det står kanskje
(I believe - it may also be - I also believe
- it says perhaps) in order to make his/her text coherent
and to underline that this is guessing on his/her part.
Most of the summaries were much less comprehensive
and to the point than the one quoted, and some of them were
very brief, for example Teksten er om hva man dyrker hvor
(The text is about what is grown where).
Very few of the pupils compared with German
words. The pupil whose table is quoted, listed ist
in parentheses in the last but one line. Another pupil had
arranged his/her words in four columns, one for French, English,
Norwegian and German words respectively, but had listed only
ist and ein as the German words he/she could
think of and compare with.
This may be a coincidence, but it may also
indicate that since there are many French words that are the
same in English, it was felt to be easier to relate to English
than to German. Words like fleurs and heures
are very similar in English and very different in German (Blumen,
Stunden). On the other hand, words like fabrique,
produit and climat are the same in all four
languages. So if German was simply forgotten as reference,
or left out for other reasons is hard to say. In the experiment
with 12-year-olds described in 4.6 where the unfamiliar language
was German, the pupils used whatever knowledge they had from
either Norwegian or English.
As mentioned above, the pupils were also encouraged
to try to pronounce the words while they were working. One
of the pupils commented on sud-est: sud-est
= sydøst, du hører det ...norsk
(you can hear it ...Norwegian). This example gives
little evidence, but still one can perhaps claim that both
the spoken and the written word can be valuable sources for
reference and comparison when unfamiliar languages are dealt
with. The experiment with 12-year-olds indicated that spoken
German also meant much to their understanding of the text.
In the future one might consider to make more systematic use
of this "think-aloud technique".
The following school year a follow-up experiment was decided
on. This time the setting was somewhat different since it
involved a 10th grade class as well as an 8th grade class.
Consequently there would be an opportunity to make comparisons
between the two grades. The text used this time differed from
the one used in the previous experiment. But it was a text
about French industry with pictures included, and the task
given to the pupils was the same.
All in all, both classes did well, even if
there were a few polysyllabic words which a great majority
of the pupils missed completely. An argument in their favour
may be the fact that the previous groups dealt with a simpler
body of vocabulary in general (unwittingly to them, of course),
since the reference map with its drawings depicted mainly
The most positive factor in the experiment
was the fact that the pupils in the 8th grade class did very
well compared with the pupils in the 10th grade. This, of
course, can be seen as a mere coincidence. Nevertheless, the
finding may also suggest that there is more challenging work
of this kind to be done in the future; one may start this
kind of classroom work earlier than with 15-year-olds, perhaps
13-year-olds will benefit a lot from the type of activity
The teacher conducting the experiments summed
them up in this way:
If we, the teachers of English as a foreign language, are
to believe what some linguists claim, that a person's second
language, like the first, develops globally, not linearly,
and that a language is not learned as a jigsaw of tiny bits
of mastered skills, but rather as an entire picture that
is at first blurred and then gradually comes into focus,
then I feel the study at Risum lower secondary school was
4.9 Fifteen-year-olds and intercomprehension
The results of the experiment with 15-year-olds show that
language transfer and language comparison was a heavy factor
when decoding the French text. The illustration accompanying
the text may have given certain clues as to cultural features
associated with the region, but the main clues seem to have
been the text itself. Therefore the language factor of intercomprehension
seems to have been the crucial one in this experiment. At
this level of education (grade 10) pupils are used to working
with factual texts, so genre is at play here too. In addition,
they have some knowledge of the specific genre of tourist
guides to regions, which certainly also have been a help.
Pupils in grade 10 have developed their cognitive abilities
to a fairly high level; therefore an activity where they are
asked to make educated guesses about a text in an unfamiliar
language can give good results. They have experienced learning
two foreign languages, their ability to generalize is fairly
good, and when the activity is presented not like a chore,
but as a rest from the textbook and tasks associated with
the syllabus, it can be motivating and stimulating and whet
The activity outlined in 4.8 can be compared to a translation
activity, only here it was a question of finding cognates.
The results from the follow-up experiment, however, indicate
that the pupils were concerned with finding not only cognates,
but also the corresponding word, the translation, in the other
language(s). One pupil listed for example French beauté,
English beautiful, German schön, Norwegian
skjønn, another pupil French automobil,
English car, German Auto, Norwegian bil.
Still another example is French informatique, English
information, German Auskunft, Norwegian informasjon.
These examples illustrate eagerness to find words, not only
cognates. This may indicate that translation used to promote
comprehension of several languages may be a fruitful activity,
or the other side of the coin: an activity where the same
text in several languages is compared. Translation has over
the years lost credibility as a useful activity in the classroom
- who has not been exposed to the read-and-translate-one-by-one
task and thereby lost interest in the foreign language? But
translation could maybe gain new ground if applied in a more
constructive way, as for example for comparing languages and
discovering similarities and differences between them. The
experiments carried out with 13-year-olds and 15-year-olds
seem to indicate just that.
Next - 5.0 Intercomprehension,
foreign language teaching and foreign language learning
Previous - 3.0
ILTE and the Norwegian partner's national context