ERG SES G 11, Sociologies of Education
Society shapes how languages are viewed: Categorizing languages as either national languages, foreign languages, or as heritage or community languages points out how differently languages are valued. National languages are considered to be of highest value in a language hierarchy, followed by foreign languages, while heritage languages are considered least prestigious (cf. e.g. Ellis, Gogolin & Clyne, 2011). The teaching of languages considered to be prestigious foreign languages is well-established in Germany, whereas the teaching of heritage languages is questioned regularly by parents, teachers, policy makers as well as the society as a whole. The language hierarchy is part of German schools’ curricula as students are mostly used to a system in which many languages are not welcome (cf. e.g. Lengyel & Rosen, 2015; Fürstenau & Gomolla, 2011).
Language policies are a basis for the justification of language ideologies (cf. e.g. Pulinx, Van Avermaet & Agirdag 2017). The educational system classifies languages as valuable or not valuable which affects teachers’ beliefs and the way they address and treat students’ plurilingualism. Pulinx, Van Avermaet and Agirdag found that three-quarters of questioned teachers in Flanders, Belgium (N=674) agree with a monolingual approach by arguing that languages other than the dominant language should not be spoken in school (cf. ibid.). Similarly, many German schools marginalize heritage languages.Through language curricula, schools often require students to assimilate to an environment shaped by the dominant language.
While linguistic diversity in the EU is valued on a policy level (Franke & Hériard, 2018), European students are often taught in an environment shaped by a dominant, national language. This is not only true for Europe, but also internationally as students are often taught in submersion settings (cf. e.g. Piller, 2016). While language hierarchies and teachers’ views of plurilingualism have been empirically investigated, little research has been conducted on the effects these beliefs have on plurilingual students seen from a student perspective. The aim of my PhD thesis is to answer the following questions:
- How do students perceive their teachers’ roles in support for plurilingualism?
- How does school support for plurilingualism influence students‘ self-perceptions?
In my proposed presentation, I will discuss these questions based on preliminary results. Self-perceptions of plurilingual individuals will be focused on closely to the concept of identity, which I analyze in relation to social interaction taking into account power and hierarchy relations. I understand interaction to be of dominant relevance in the construction of self and identity. Hence, the theories of Mead (1967), Butler (2001) and Foucault (1982) are considered to be of significance.Foucault (1982) argues that what we learn and assume to be the norm influences us as it exercises power over us and is present in daily routine. According to Foucault’s theory, teachers act as representatives of a societal norm system and thus influence the thinking of students, especially in terms of how to view the world, and in the end, how to view themselves as actors in a multilingual society.
My study is qualitative employing interviews as a method of data collection. The interviews are problem focused and conducted in one-on-one settings. The selection of the participants is based on the strategy of theoretical sampling (cf. Glaser & Strauss, 1967). After having interpreted the first cases, I aim to find further contrasting cases. This allows for theoretical saturation (cf. Morse, 2004). So far my sample consists of eight individuals, five female and three male, between the ages of 18 and 28. Two in-depth interviews have been conducted while I have talked to the other six interviewees individually in preliminary meetings. By the time of the presentation, I will most likely have carried out eight full interviews. Most interviewees of the sample are People of Color who speak languages that are considered not to be prestigious and/or languages that are valued in society. Two white interviewees speak English besides speaking German. While the majority of those questioned attend university, two interviewees do not attend college. The data will be analyzed using the documentary method (cf. Bohnsack, 2014). Many of the interviewees have learned about my research interest in university seminars or other professional contexts. These initially recruited participants further function as gate keepers (e.g. De Laine, 2000) who help to get in touch with further individuals who are interested to speak to me. The interviews start with an open question, guided by the study’s focus. Further, I utilize a problem-focused interview approach which allows for me to provide specific questions that can be asked during the course of the interview. First, interviewees are asked to name teachers they specifically remember and for what reason. While this question allows for broad answers, follow-up questions help to structure the interviews towards the handling of plurilingualism by the interviewees’ former teachers and how the participants believe this specifically influenced them in their development.
What we know about educational process is that language policies are based on which languages are believed to be prestigious and useful, and which languages are not. What we do not know is how self-conceptions of individuals are influenced by policies, curricula, and teachers viewing certain languages as illegitimate and others as legitimate. Initial results of my interview study provide insights into institutionalized discrimination, specifically racist and linguicist (i.e. discrimination on the basis of language) experiences. Some of the interviewed individuals mark linguicist experiences as rather unimportant for their personal development. Others provide insights into the dangers of a school environment that is hostile towards certain languages explaining that what they experienced influenced their identity concepts negatively. The interviewees further report other forms of racist discrimination that led one interviewed student to drop out of school, pointing at the danger of a school system that does not take dominant power structures into account in a critical manner. While negative experiences are usually mentioned by Students of Color speaking less-valued languages in society, white students speaking valued languages such as English rather experienced praise and support of the languages they spoke and ultimately, of who they are. Taking into account my first findings and international research on teachers’ beliefs as well as students’ experiences, on the basis of critical race theory, I will discuss the relevance of supporting heritage languages. The German educational system should make the promise to address inequalities and provide insights on acts of discrimination. It is the role of universities to include critical pedagogy perspectives in teacher studies. This is crucial for plurilingual students’ sense of belonging and their identity development in order not to put them at risk.
Bohnsack, R. (2014). Rekonstruktive Sozialforschung: Einführung in qualitative Methoden (Vol. 9). Opladen: Verlag Barbara Budrich. Butler, J. (2001). Psyche der Macht: Das Subjekt der Unterwerfung (9th ed.). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag. Chadderton, C. (2012). Problematising the role of the white researcher in social justice research. Ethnography and Education, 7(3), 363–380. https://doi.org/10.1080/17457823.2012.717203 De Laine, M. (2000). Fieldwork, Participation and Practice: Ethics and Dilemmas in Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks: Sage. Ellis, E., Gogolin, I., & Clyne, M. (2010). The Janus face of monolingualism: a comparison of German and Australian language education policies. Current Issues in Language Planning, 11(4), 439–460. https://doi.org/10.1080/14664208.2010.550544 Foucault, M. (1982). The Subject and Power. Critical Inquiry, 8(4), 777–795. Franke, M., & Hériard, P. (2018). Language policy | Fact Sheets on the European Union | European Parliament. Retrieved January 29, 2019, from http://www.europarl.europa.eu/factsheets/en/sheet/142/language-policy. Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. Aldine. Lengyel, D., & Rosen, L. (2015). Minority teachers in different educational contexts: Introduction. Teritium Comparationis, 21(2), 153–160. Mahboob, A., & Szenes, E. (2010). Linguicism and Racism in Assessment Practices in Higher Education. Linguistics and the Human Sciences, 3(3). https://doi.org/10.1558/lhs.v3i3.325 Mead, G. H. (1967). Mind, Self, and Society: From The Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Morse, J. M. (2004). Theoretical Saturation. In M. Lewis-Beck, A. Bryman, & T. Futing Liao (Eds.), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781412950589.n1011 Piller, I. (2016). Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice: An Introduction to Applied Sociolinguistics (1st ed.). Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press. Pulinx, R., Avermaet, P. V., & Agirdag, O. (2017). Silencing linguistic diversity: the extent, the determinants and consequences of the monolingual beliefs of Flemish teachers. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 20(5), 542–556. https://doi.org/10.1080/13670050.2015.1102860
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