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Intercomprehension in Language Teacher Education

8.0 Conclusion

It may be claimed that intercomprehension is nothing new and that it has existed as long as humans have felt the need to understand and be understood in communication exchanges with other humans speaking another language than themselves. It may furthermore be claimed that intercomprehension is not a new phenomenon in the classroom: Pupils striving to learn a foreign language have always used whatever resources they had to overcome difficulties when dealing with the foreign language. However, what perhaps is a new idea, is that of mobilizing one's general language and cultural knowledge, skills and experience in a more systematic way than before, by being encouraged by a teacher who acknowledges the significance of this capacity.

Through experiments carried out with 12-year-old pupils dealing with a German text, 15-year-olds working with a French text, and student teachers working with a Spanish text, none of whom knew German, French, and Spanish respectively, we saw that these learners were fully capable of dealing with languages they supposedly did not know. They mobilized their complete range of resources and were able to decode the unknown language on the basis of various clues: clues that we have argued for and labelled "language", "culture", "genre" and "topic".

It is this capacity we think can be developed in the foreign language classroom by working systematically with enhancing the learner's language and culture awareness. We showed this by working with teachers willing to experiment and take risks and we learnt from these experiments some of the elements which need to be included in a course of training for teachers. For a student teacher it is vital to develop both his/her own awareness and to be able to motivate and stimulate his/her future pupils to build up their linguistic and cultural awareness. Outside the classroom such awareness-raising will be valuable in order to meet different nationalities and to function in a society where plurilingualism will gradually become an increasingly essential feature inside and outside Europe.

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