This is easier said than done.
Experience has shown that traditional foreign language teaching has often failed to
produce satisfactory results, in particular in the academically less demanding school
types, especially so when grammar-based teaching focused on form. The globalisation of
business, trade and industry, however, necessarily demands a "working knowledge"
in more than one language for everybody leaving secondary schools and preparing for job
situations across Europe.
Some countries and areas in
Europe, among them Austria, Germany, Wales, the Alsace, the Basque province and Catalonia
have, in the past and for various reasons, experimented with bilingual teaching, i.e. have
established Mainstream Bilingual Education (MBE) as a way of teaching content subjects
such as History or Geography in a foreign (or second) language. It has turned out that
this type of foreign language use has not only furthered language learners progress
but has also improved their motivation towards continued foreign language learning.
Before this part of the Common
Module tries to exemplify such successful attempts by case studies from various parts of
Europe and different types of schools, the key issues in MBE should be discussed in order
to better evaluate the significance and future impact of bilingual teaching for
intercultural learning, understanding and communication among European citizens in the new
Starting an MBE-program in any
type of school cannot be done out of the blue. Quite in contrast, determination is called
for on all sides. Staff, parents, administrators and the community need to be convinced
that MBE will add to the schools profile and will meet the needs of the pupils in
their future professional careers. As some of the decision-makers may have more or less
ambivalent memories of their personal foreign language learning experience, a nucleus of
two or four committed teachers, pairs of teachers for foreign languages and content-matter
subjects, will be highly effective in convincing the groups in question.
Ideally, the entire staff should
back the decision to introduce an MBE-program; initially and factually. Foremost, however,
and first of all, the head of school and the colleagues in the languages , the social
sciences and the science departments must be convinced and asked for support. This can be
accomplished by several demonstration lessons in classes with pupils who have had up to
three years of a foreign language and will respond to the novelty of a History or
Geography lesson in that language, either in a team-teaching situation or given by
teachers open for the adventure of the new approach. Parents representatives should
be asked to observe the classes, and so should local school administrators. Unless the
MBE-program has the full support of the school community, it tends to be regarded as an
élitist enterprise in a separate section of the school and is unlikely to develop to its
Documentation, Official Approval and Extra Costs
Convincing the school community,
however, is not sufficient. It is essential in planning the introduction of bilingual
teaching in a school that a policy documentation is drawn up which states
- the over-all rationale of MBE,
- the content-matter subjects chosen for MBE,
- the ways in which meeting the teaching objectives in
such subjects will be secured,
- the ways in which teachers will handle assessment in
- the extra foreign language preparation for MBE,
- the sequencing of subjects, if two subjects are
- the exit qualifications in MBE that pupils will have
at school-leaving age,
- the precise type of certification of such
qualifications that the school will provide.
Such documentation needs to be
published and presented to parents, to the entire staff and to the local press. A
PR-evening with video-clips from the demonstration lesson or with excerpts from videos on
MBE that were professionally produced will also booster the general opinion on the
introduction of an MBE-program.
Depending on the structure of
the school system, regional or state authorities will have to be approached for official
approval. The more precise the policy documentation is, the more easily such approval will
be accomplished, provided the inevitable extra costs can be taken care of. These will
arise in terms of extra teaching hours for the necessary preparatory foreign language
lessons (see below), for suitable teaching materials and for an additional L1-lesson per
week in the content-matter subject in case authorities feel the specific subject
terminology needs to be learnt in the mother tongue as well. This latter point of extra
costs, albeit unpleasant, should be given appropriate consideration and funding should be
secured before the introduction of an MBE-program is started.
It goes without saying: finding
teachers with the specific qualifications that are prerequisites for successful bilingual
teaching is at the very core of the problems involved. There are several conceivable
solutions to this, depending on the type of teacher education a specific country has. When
teachers are trained with a dual subject qualification, as, for example, with teachers who
get their degrees in French and Geography, then the seemingly obvious solution will be
this type of teacher. However, this teacher training will usually not have provided them
with the specific Geography terminology in the French language, nor will they usually have
had any experience in teaching Geography in an MBE classroom.
In countries where teachers are
trained with only a single subject qualification the situation is much more difficult.
Here the only solutions to the problem are likely to be a foreign language native speaker
who happens to have been trained in a content-matter subject such as History or
MBE-teaching being delivered in a small-scale, project-type way by experienced foreign
Neither of these types of
teachers will have been taught the specific MBE-teaching methodology, an area that is only
slowly developing in its own right. Even countries with a history of some 25 years of
bilingual teaching, as is, for instance, the case in Germany, have up till now neglected
the need for special attention to this area in their teacher-training courses. Instead,
teachers working in schools with bilingual sections have pragmatically developed a certain
teaching method of their own, frequently unsystematic, highly personal in style, and yet,
just as frequently, highly successful due to many years of experience. The need for
systematic MBE-oriented teacher training, specifically geared to the needs of the MBE
classroom, is more than obvious.
MBE teaching is, for many
teachers, a true challenge because it means coping with problems off the beaten track, in
questions of methods, content, language and - last but not least - in the search for
appropriate materials. Authentic teaching materials from the country of the target
language are fairly easy to collect, at least for the dedicated teacher who travels.
However, they are in most cases unsuitable for immediate use in the classroom as their
original language version will be much too demanding for the L2 learners. Hence it means
extra work for the teacher to adapt the language of authentic materials to the
learners level of achievement in the L2. Quite frequently, too, the teaching
approach, particularly in subjects like History or Geography will differ. On the other
hand, authentic materials provide the international and intercultural touch that
MBE-teaching would like to provide. It therefore remains a delicate balance and is up to
the individual judgement of the teacher to assess such materials for use in the classroom.
One might be led to believe that
coursebook publishers had discovered a new market in this area. Very few have because,
from a profit point of view, this is a vicious circle. So far MBE teaching has been done
on only a small scale and therefore publications for this will only sell in limited
numbers. Teachers, on the other hand, hesitate to start MBE due to the limited choice of
teaching materials available. At this point, the situation calls for teaching centres to
step in and develop, in co-operation with experienced MBE teachers, materials that provide
an appropriate blending of authenticity and classroom needs.
Selection of Pupils?
One of the issues that is most
hotly debated in the context of MBE is the question of whether it should be "MBE for
all" or whether this type of instruction should be offered to a selected group of
pupils only. Arguments for the latter position cite the possible burden and extra learning
load of coping with a content-matter subject in a foreign language which in itself has not
yet been sufficiently mastered. It is believed that only the more cognitively gifted among
the pupils will succeed in the bilingual classroom. In the past, this conviction has
typically led to the organisation of "bilingual sections" in schools which, one
must admit, does produce exceedingly good results.
On the other hand, experience
has shown that it is not so much the cognitive potential of pupils which determines
success or failure but the type of teaching: it is the methodology used in the MBE
classroom which enables pupils to follow the bilingual setting in content-matter subjects.
Experiments in vocationally-oriented schools in the Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany have
shown that it is indeed possible to use the foreign language in such contexts.
Prerequisites are the belief of pupils and teachers alike that this type of teaching holds
a future professional value and the thorough preparation of learners for this type of
teaching. Secondly, the teaching needs to transmit the motivation to use the foreign
language in contexts that focus on message rather than on form (see below: Classroom
It will therefore be helpful
when implementing the idea of MBA to keep in mind a possible "continuum" of
school settings. Whereas tradition has it that only a certain percentage of the school
population will take part in a bilingual programme and that this percentage must be
selected on the grounds of academic ability and previous school achievement, there has
also been convincing proof that MBE can be taught to learners of lower academic ability.
For these learners, however, the above-mentioned thorough preparation could require an
early start to foreign language instruction in Primary School and very intensive
preparatory foreign language teaching immediately before MBE starts.
It is the firm belief of the
partner institutions represented in the TEL2L project that MBE can and must be achieved.
Provided the above prerequisites are met, MBE can ensure that schoolchildren from all
walks of life become better qualified for professional life.
Necessary Additional Preparatory L2 Teaching
Using a foreign (or second)
language in content-matter subjects means first of all that sufficient competence in that
particular language must be available, at the pupils "fingertips" in other
words. Again this is easier said than done. It calls for intensive preparation. Countries
with many years of experience in bilingual teaching, such as Germany, therefore allow for
two extra hours per week of foreign language teaching, in addition to the normal timetable
and as preparation for bilingual teaching, during the first two years in secondary
schools. (This, among other things, accounts for extra costs in MBE, see above). Sometimes
these extra two hours per week are taught by the normal foreign language teacher; more
frequently, however, they are taught by an experienced bilingual teacher who knows which
language functions (see below: Classroom Issues) should be introduced before bilingual
It is absolutely vital to keep
in mind that MBE-teaching cannot be started "out of the blue". Regardless of
which policy a school adopts concerning pro or against the selection of pupils for the
bilingual classroom, some form of initial preparatory and additional L2 teaching should
definitely be made available to all pupils in the school in order to provide everybody
with equal opportunities for a later start in the MBE or the traditional bilingual
difference in language functions: When it comes to defining the very essence of foreign
language use in the MBE classroom, it is the different type of language functions that
stand out. While the "normal" foreign language classroom focuses on
communicative activities such as, for instance, "asking for information" or
"refusing to do a favour", it is the very nature of foreign language use in the
MBE classroom to have a high incidence of speech acts that serve categories such as
describing, classifying, explaining, arguing, reporting and evaluating. It is quite
obvious that in analysing a geographical map, in interpreting a Chemistry experiment, in
arguing about the correct set of instructions for a technical device or in evaluating
research results in a History lesson, different lexical items must be available - exactly
those that pupils will initially have been introduced to during their intensive initial
preparatory course (see above).
Message before accuracy:
Learning in the MBE classroom is not the pupils responsibility alone. It is also the
teacher who has to make major adaptations to her concepts. While in many foreign language
classrooms the language is taught per se, it is now, as was described above, a different
teaching approach. It is the dominance of language use in activity-oriented classroom
phases which requires a focus on the message rather than on L2 accuracy. The MBE
classroom, in other words, is NOT primarily a foreign language teaching classroom. Quite
in contrast, it is a content-matter subject classroom in which the L2 is being used. This
implies that at no point L2 grammar is taught unless it is in the form of a brief revision
in passing. "Message before accuracy" also calls for error tolerance towards the
L2 productions of pupils who may need help with the more subject-oriented language
functions but who should at no point feel intimidated in actually using them. Again: This
is a very demanding learning process for teachers who, especially with a strong background
in more traditional, grammar-based L2 teaching, will find it difficult to integrate this
concept into their teaching behaviour.
Code-switching: In the L2
classroom, code-switching, i.e. the change from the L2 to the mother tongue when a word or
structure is unknown or temporarily forgotten, is strongly discouraged because it might
easily lead to a certain laziness in paraphrasing of what one would like to say. In the
MBE classroom in contrast, code-switching can be a natural short-cut frequently used by
truly bilingual speakers, and, as such, a learning aid when a specific part of the
terminology is not available. A typical such exchange between teacher and pupil in a
German History-in-English classroom might be:
Pupil: The Turks - eh - früher?
Pupil: Was heisst früher?
Pupil: Earlier the Turks were
Code-switching, just as "error
tolerance" and the "message before accuracy" - principle are
characteristics to look for when evaluating an MBE classroom, keeping well in mind that it
will take time for these features to become "second nature" to the teacher.
Assessment: The above-listed
principles will not remain without effect on the tried and tested methods of assessment.
Again teachers will have to follow a different line of priorities. First of all it must be
decided and published as part of the schools MBE policy whether achievement testing
in bilingually taught content-matter subjects will be done in the L2 or in the
pupils mother tongue. There are good reasons for and against either choice. If a
school opts for testing in the L2, teachers will have to agree on the importance of L2
correctness in the test papers. A very pragmatic approach is to place less value on formal
L2 correctness and more on content, with the exception of downgrading a paper crowded with
language errors to the point where the message can no longer be understood. Some school
authorities have issued guidelines to this effect, stating that two thirds of the mark
should be accounted for by content whereas one third should be attributed to correct L2
recent teaching concept will incorporate an emphasis on a twofold meaning of
"activity-orientation" in the classroom. This also holds true for the MBE
classroom in which the major objective is the use of the L2 in a way which provides pupils
with qualifications for their future professional lives. A mechanic from France, for
example, will have to be qualified to give instructions about the proper maintenance of an
excavator shovel produced in France to a mechanic in the Emirates in English, which is a
lingua franca for both of them.
The other meaning underlying
this concept is of a methodological nature. Functioning in a language in the classroom,
i.e. preparing graphs, charts, posters, going into the Internet to collect information,
drafting sets of instructions, giving presentations and debating the pros and cons of
issues are all activities which promote language use as a matter of course. It is
therefore not accidental that project work, done in small groups, is a typical but not
exclusive characteristic of good bilingual teaching.
The following case studies will
each illustrate one, two or more of the above-mentioned points, in different types of
schools from different countries. They will provide insight into the bilingual classroom,
traditional or experimental, and will, it is hoped, convince interested students, teachers
and administrators alike of the powerful potential of the MBE classroom and its
significance for the new millennium.