Conditions for success in early foreign language learning: teaching including intercultural competence

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The aforementioned ideas mainly refer to the objectives of FL education at all levels. But what is true of FL learning in general can be applied to primary schools in particular. In the past years, primary teachers have aimed at a certain level of achievement in the basic skills yet no attempts were made to integrate the three domains into a superior goal of intercultural communicative competence. Nowadays, the scene is changing. More and more people have realised that changes in the political reality of our society have an impact on the aims of primary FL learning. For young children, contact with people of other cultures is no longer an event but an everyday thing. As I said before, they often meet speakers of other languages like their peers who are immigrants and so bilingual. Monolingual children have to learn to deal with such encounters. It is the duty of schools and FL education to help them in their learning. Furthermore, formal education should support bilingual children in their efforts of becoming accepted by their classmates. A good method would be to encourage bilingual children to use their mother-tongue at school to demonstrate that their language is valued. Supporting bilingualism in this way gives status to the pupils’ first language and raises language awareness among monolingual children.
It must be noted, however, that positive cultural values can only result from favourable teaching situations (i.e. small learning groups, suitable teaching aids, appropriate methodological approaches and properly trained teachers) If these conditions can not be met, early foreign language teaching might easily become related to negative attitudes towards another culture. Every effort should be made to guarantee teaching and learning situations in which the foreign language is explored and approached in a positive manner.
In order to effectively support either teachers or bilingual and monolingual students, the selection of learner-appropriate content and materials is to be made on a plausible basis. The main characteristic of these is that they pinpoint the representations of other cultures in the children’s environment and utilise them as starting points for intercultural exchange. The representations can be grouped as follows:

  •  Cultural symbols (flags and insignia),
  • Cultural products (stories and songs, coins and stamps),
  • Cultural customs (greetings, body language, food and drinks).

The selection of materials that meet the requirements of particular teaching programmes has always been a major concern of curriculum developers of any field of learning. In fact, it is the core didactic issue of education. In FL teaching, research has long concentrated on the selection of linguistic contents. What should follow is a similar effort to locate the matching cultural contents of the respective teaching programme. A suitable strategy could be to start teaching from the directly experienced environment of the children (local social identity) in relation to the corresponding reality of the target language (social interaction) and the reality of the home countries of the bilingual children. Teachers do not neglect the children’s surroundings and do not deal with other ways of life at the expense of the children’s own, but they put the three in relation to each other.

They take the subjects provided in the actual primary curriculum as the starting point; they treat them extensive and adequately as in conventional pedagogy, but adding the intercultural perspective by relating them to the respective phenomena in the target culture.

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