Classroom language practices and useful linguistic resources at the transition between school and vocational training in Switzerland

Daniel Stotz

Zurich University of Teacher Education, Switzerland

WS161: Bilingual education recast in the wake of globalisation: researching the second/foreign language interface

This paper explores changes in the ways and configurations in which foreign/second languages are taught and learnt in two secondary schools in German-speaking Switzerland. A recent prioritisation of English as the first foreign language to be taught (rather than French, the second national language), positions students differently with respect to the additional linguistic resources they can expect to pick up through schooling (Stotz 2006). Classroom observation of language lessons (English, French and German) and ethnographic interviews with students and teachers suggest that the opportunity to learn English at an earlier age is associated with high expectations. At the same time, the interactional construction of language lessons appears to follow patterns that cast learners in mostly receptive roles. The analysis of classroom interaction focuses on instances where such participant structures are broken or subverted.

A comparison of the trajectories of bi-/multilingual learners in a suburban setting with mono- and bilingual students in a rural situation, both at the transition between school and vocational training, provides evidence as to linguistic and social practices of valorising and devaluing linguistic resources as well as of gender and ethnic issues. In the unstable construction of classroom interaction around diglossia (Standard German and Swiss dialects), foreign language lessons can be sites for practices that problematize the boundaries between school subjects and between school and leisure.

The combination of classroom interaction data with students’ language biographies and representations of what language learning and bilingualism mean for them attempts to capture ways in which school reform may (or may not) have an impact on students’ identities and their life trajectories. Ultimately, the reality of social selection and reproduction is not easily subverted with newly gained competence in the “language of opportunity”, English.

Stotz, Daniel (2006). Breaching the peace: struggles around multilingualism in Switzerland. Language Policy 5: 247-265.

Session: Themed Panel (part 2)
Bilingual education recast in the wake of globalisation: researching the second/foreign language interface
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 02