31 SES 16 B, (ROOM CHANGE) Capturing and Investing in Multltingual Skills
The ability to communicate in more than one language is a key skill of the globally interconnected 21st century. With economies around the world becoming increasingly international, the demand for foreign languages continues to grow: For instance, European- and German-wide surveys amongst companies and employees have shown that a significant amount of business is lost due to a lack of language skills (CILT - The National Centre for Languages 2006). As such, intercultural and multilingual skills constitute a personal asset, e.g., when it comes to career opportunities. In Germany, the command of languages other than German is nowadays required of 60 percent of all employees (Hall, Tiemann 2015). Even though English is the most widely used language for business, academia and tourism, Russian and Turkish are ranked among the twelve most useful languages for foreign trade in Germany (Steinke-Institut 2011).
In order to meet the labor market demand for (foreign) language skills and to improve personal career opportunities, it seems important to motivate students to invest in their multilingual skills. In Europe, the development of multilingual skills has become a core issue of educational policies: In addition to the national language, all children are expected to learn (at least) two other languages in the course of their educational career (Commission of the European Communities 2008). However, there is very little research on students’ decisions to invest into their language skills.
According to human capital theory (Becker 1964), the amounts invested in education are modelled as rational responses in terms of an individual’s comparison of the monetary and psychic costs and benefits of an additional investment in education – such as future earnings and opportunity costs. Empirical studies typically focus on the decision to remain in or drop out of the education system for another year. As it is not school attendance itself but the accumulation of labour market-relevant skills (through additional education) that is assumed to matter to students’ labour market prospects, Becker’s framework is not limited to analyses of investments in formal education but can be extended to investments in (multilingual) language skills: According to his theory, the value of multilingual skills in the labour market can be assumed to increase students’ investments in their language skills. Building on subsequently emerged sociological rational choice models (e.g. Boudon 1974), we assume that it is not the actual but the perceived labour market value of multilingual skills that should matter to students’ investments. Sociological rational choice models further assume that migration-specific conditions may lead to a systematically different evaluation of the benefits and costs of educational investments in the native and migrant population (Heath & Brinbaum 2007).
Against this background, our contribution investigates (1) how mono- and multilingual students perceive the labour market value of multilingual skills with respect to the realization of their individual occupational aspirations and (2) whether the perceived labour market value of multilingual skills is in turn related to the students’ multilingual skills. We focus on the school-taught foreign language English and the heritage languages Russian and Turkish. As regards students’ English skills, we further investigate whether differences in the labour market value mono- and multilingual students attribute to English skills contribute to the explanation of the observation of initial differences in the language skills of mono- and multilingual students.
Our analyses are based on the first wave of the study “Multilingual Development: A Longitudinal Perspective” (MEZ), which follows two cohorts of almost 2,000 secondary school students (grades seven and nine) with monolingual German, German-Turkish and German-Russian language backgrounds over the course of three years. Data collection took place in spring 2016 at 72 public schools in eight German federal states. The instruments employed in the study comprise several tools to assess students’ receptive and productive language skills (in German, foreign and heritage languages), a test for cognitive abilities as well as questionnaires for parents, principals and students. The latter includes detailed information on the students’ career aspirations and on the value they attribute to skills in different languages with respect to the realization of their personal career aspirations. Students were asked to indicate how important they consider oral and written skills in different languages for their personal future careers based on 4-point Likert-type scales ranging from 1 (not important at all) to 4 (very important). In a first step of our analysis, we estimate binary probit models for each language (English, Russian and Turkish) in order to assess the probability that students consider the respective language as very (1) or less (0) important, and to identify background-adjusted differences in the importance multilingual and monolingual students attribute to English skills. In a second step, we model the students’ language skills as a function of the importance they attribute to the respective language skills by estimating linear regression models for each language: Assuming that the perceived value of language skills determines the students’ investments in these skills, students’ multilingual skills should be a function of the value they attribute to multilingual skills in the labour market. We control for several background variables that are known to affect students’ learning outcomes (sex, type of school attended, grade, cognitive abilities, socioeconomic status and educational aspirations). We use three different measures of language competencies: i) global language competencies in English as assessed by cloze tests (e.g. Şahingöz 2015), ii) receptive language skills in the heritage languages Russian and Turkish as assessed by means of a standardized reading speed and reading comprehension tests (Schneider et al. 2007), and iii) students’ productive writing skills in the foreign language English and in the home languages measured by the statistically validated assessment tool “Fast Catch Bumerang“(Reich et al. 2009) and newly constructed parallel versions.
We have identified systematic differences in the value mono- and multilingual students attribute to English skills for their occupational futures. Furthermore, our analyses reveal the relationship between the perceived value of English skills for the students’ occupational future to be significantly and positively associated with their English proficiency (also when background variables are controlled for). However, differences in the English skills of native and migrant student cannot be explained by differences in the value they attribute to English skills (Lagemann et al. i.V.). As regards the students’ heritage languages, first descriptive analyses point out that heritage language skills are considered less important than English skills by students from both Russian and Turkish origin. Nonetheless, a considerable proportion of multilingual students consider skills in their heritage languages as important for the realization of their occupational aspirations. We expect to identify a positive association between students’ perceptions of the labour market value of their heritage languages and their heritage language skills. Given the increasing but still lesser (actual and perceived) relevance of Russian and Turkish skills in the labour market (compared to English skills), we expect the association between the students’ perceptions and their language skills to be comparatively weak (as compared to the association between the perceived value of English skills and the students’ English skills). The observation that multilingual students do not value their heritage languages as much as the English language gives rise to the interpretation that multilingual students are not (fully) aware of their multilingual potential. This result could be due to them previously having experienced their heritage language skills not to be valued during their school career. An important question arising from our findings is how (multilingual) students can be encouraged to invest in their language skills and thereby increase their chances for educational and occupational success.
Becker, Gary S. (1964): Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis, with Special Reference to Education. 1st edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Boudon, Raymond (1974): Education, Opportunity, and Social Inequality. Changing Prospects in Western Society. New York: Wiley and Sons. CILT - The National Centre for Languages (2006): ELAN: Effects on the European Economy of Shortages of Foreign Language Skills in Enterprise. Available online at http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/education_culture/repository/languages/policy/strategic-framework/documents/elan_en.pdf, checked on 4/21/2017. Commission of the European Communities (2008): Multilingualism: an asset for Europe and a shared commitment. COM(2008) 566 final. Available online at http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/ict/language-technologies/docs/multilingual-comm.pdf, checked on 2/15/2017. Hall, Anja; Tiemann, Michael (2015): BIBB/BAuA-Erwerbstätigenbefragung 2012. Arbeit und Beruf im Wandel, Erwerb und Verwertung beruflicher Qualifikationen. Abschlussbericht. Available online at https://www2.bibb.de/bibbtools/tools/dapro/data/documents/pdf/eb_21304.pdf, updated on 5/5/2017, checked on 5/5/2017. Lagemann, Marina; Brandt, Hanne; Gogolin, Ingrid (i.V.): Renditen von Investitionen in fremdsprachliche Fähigkeiten: Eine Untersuchung von Schülerwahrnehmungen und deren Zusammenhang mit ihren Englischkenntnissen. In Empirische Pädagogik 31 (4). Reich, Hans H.; Roth, Hans-Joachim; Döll, Marion (2009): Fast Catch Bumerang. Deutsche Sprachversion. Auswertungsbogen und Auswertungshinweise. In Drorit Lengyel, Hans H. Reich, Hans-Joachim Roth, Marion Döll (Eds.): Von der Sprachdiagnose zur Sprachförderung. 5th ed. Münster: Waxmann (FörMig Edition), pp. 209–241. Şahingöz, Yasemin (2015): Schulische Mehrsprachigkeit bei türkisch-deutsch bilingualen Schülern: Erwerb und Auswirkungen. PhD thesis. Hamburg: Universität Hamburg. Schneider, Wolfgang; Schlagmüller, Matthias; Ennemoser, Marco (2007): Lesegeschwindigkeits- und -verständnistest für die Klassen 6-12. Göttingen: Hogrefe. Steinke-Institut (2011): Steinke-Außenhandelssprachenindex. Available online at http://www.steinke-institut.de/sprachenundwirtschaft_aussenhandel.htm, checked on 5/5/2017.
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