The Franco-German Youth Office (FGYO) has been working not only on conceptual frameworks but also on the actual implementation of Franco-German youth programs for more than 50 years. These meetings are conceived as valuable building blocks for the process of Europe’s further unification by testing and creating the space for an open and common exchange.
The increasing significance of using English as the primary means of communication on the one hand and the growing proportion of young people from families from migrant backgrounds on the other lead to a focus on multilingualism within education.
The research project “Appreciation and Development of Multilinguistic Skills in Franco-German Youth Meetings” that runs from 2016 until 2019, is therefore addressing the FGYO’s concern with the multilingualism of many participants in its Franco-German youth meetings.
Our primary interest lies in the migratory context and its consequences, as well as on the language practices and the dominance of English in the micro-context of youth meetings within our heterogeneous societies.
Youth meetings are conducted by experienced language animators that have received specific training by the FGYO to prepare them for tasks related greater social awareness of linguistic diversity and heterogeneous cultural practices. The methods our language animators apply are therefore significant for a successful implementation of youth meetings in accordance with the FGYO’s directives.
The research project’s aim is to reform language animator training in such a way that it corresponds to the hybrid reality of our program’ s young participants. Their multilingualism should be understood not as a barrier but as a tool to be used for achieving more openness with regard to developing foreign language skills, learning about foreign cultures and having dialogue.
The FGYO’s priority in this regard is to increase the motivation of participants and linguistic animators alike, so they think about languages and language practices in new ways. This aim applies to the language of participants’ partners even if the context goes beyond Franco-German bilingualism.
The result of this research project will be methods and incentives that should be delivered in the form of videos and accompanying materials for the further training of linguistic animators.
To develop relevant teaching materials and methods, the following questions have been used as guidelines:
“How is multilingualism, linguistic heterogeneity and linguistic diversity addressed and supported?”
More specifically, how can participants’ prior multilingual experiences contribute to achieving the goals set for youth meetings?
On the one hand, it is important to embrace the dominant role that the English language plays in this context. English has become the primary means of communication during meetings like this and is furthermore the most important foreign language in both countries’ education systems.
Moreover, the research project aims to obtain results regarding the importance of other languages related to the many participants’ migrant backgrounds on the one hand and regional languages, like Alsatian, for example, on the other.
How do languages and language variants figure in informal situations of communication, how are the language variants evoked by linguistic animation or do they get neglected?
Other than the direct and concrete use of language during the individual meetings, another point of reference would be the subjective attitude and approach of our young participants, as well as our linguistic animators, towards the individual languages. How do these emerge and how do they manifest themselves during meetings?
Another research objective in the different forms of linguistic norms that emerge during a meeting. These can concern the choice of one language as a primary means of communication between the groups or be a relation to conventions in syntax, lexis and communication.
Methodology and procedure
Methodological aspects of the project are based on action research, as well as research in the field.
During our ethnographical field research, we observe different language practices occurring during various binational or trilateral meetings which receive funding by the FGYO to observe and interpret communication and animation practices. The primary means of observation and measurement are ethnographic methods like interviews, interaction recordings and participatory observation.
The role of action research in our project is the examination of new practices for education and their trial during youth meetings. By doing so, we resort to our instructor-pool which is composed of instructors responsible for the education of future linguistic animators that receive an invitation by the FGYO twice a year for a meeting to discuss ideas and best-practice approaches to further education. The participatory and collaborative dimension of our action research aims at including all participating groups and stakeholders in the process of framing specific questions and creating proposals for action.
Field and action research are therefore complementary. During the research in the field the primary interest lies in finding out more about whether multilingualism should be understood as a carrier or barrier to multilinguistic practices. The aim is to find out which practices are generally useful and therefore eligible for increased support. Together with the instructor-pool the research group will choose different practices of linguistic support which are tested in a trial and examined before they might be further developed and implemented. The examination during the trial phase will also be recorded and examined.
The final research report will contain the results of the field research, as well as a summary of the action research as a working paper of the FGYO. Another part of the research project’s examination will be published as contributions to conferences, articles in specific anthologies or other publications.
Members of the research group
- Violaine Bigot, lecturer, DILTEC (Didactics of languages, texts and cultures), Université Paris 3, Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris
- Alice Levy, PhD-student, Université Paris 3, Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris
- Sarah Mutschler, PhD-student, Université Paris 3, Didactics of languages, Specialty French as a foreign language, Paris
- Prof. Dr. Olivier Mentz, Dean, Faculty of Social and Cultural Studies, University of Education Freiburg i. Br.
- Dr. phil., Ingelore Oomen-Welke, Professor for German and didactics of languages, University of Education Freiburg i. Br.