Education Talks | Metrolingualism, superdiversity and European classrooms


What are superdiversity and metrolingualism? I think the most important thing about the
concept of superdiversity – which is actually a lens of looking at society, not a theory
– is that we have the situation that lots of people make use of modern technologies,
social networks, and that they communicate with people in other parts of the world: their
friends, their relations. So they are permanently not in one place but
they are in different places. And we have lots of young refugees whose language
repertoires are like a map of the route that they have taken – from Afghanistan, Iran,
Iraq to Austria. And their situation: because there is one
guy who had Somali in his repertoire because he spent three months in Traiskirchen, the
refugee centre, and he had friends from Somalia, so he learned Somali. And all these kids have seven or eight languages
in their repertoires. It is fascinating. Metrolingualism is a concept that an Australian
linguist has proposed and this is actually using languages – many languages, different
languages – to communicate. So that actually sort of destroys the concept
of a language is a language, is an entity that you can count, that has borders, that
has a beginning and an end and is complete. Repertoires mean that I use some Pashto words,
some Arabic words, some Kurdish words, some German words, some English words, some Somali
words to communicate with other people. So metrolingualism actually is sort of the
mingling and merging of languages. Multilingual classrooms are a challenge for
teachers these days – how do teachers manage to deal with them? Multilingual classrooms are a gift. We have been working on multilingual classrooms
quite a long time now – the last six, seven years – devising activities, making use
of multilingualism in classrooms. And what we found is that it is not only making
use of languages that probably the teachers don’t know; it’s also a question of power
and tolerance. And I think the basic thing about multilingualism
is that it opens up a wide range of resources. But what we have to do is we have to make
use of the resources. For example, if a child speaks Pashto and
is able to compare Pashto grammar to German grammar, not only is this child – at the
moment of making use and presenting that to the rest of the class – the expert, but
also it might and it will and it certainly does make it easier to understand the German
grammar and to make a comparison. We think we can prove – and other people
have proved – that this actually helps kids to learn other languages. And especially kids between the ages of six
and ten are curious; they want to learn languages. We need to take this interest in languages
and we need to make use of these resources. And then it’s fun. And then teachers can learn on the job. And metrolingualism comes in here as well
to look at errors and mistakes with a curious perspective, with an ethnographic perspective
– just to see what’s there and try to find out why it’s there. What do you think about segregating language
learners? I think the idea of this separate German as
a second – or probably as a foreign language in this case – for kids is totally misled. It is based on two wrong assumptions. One is that language learning takes place
when language teaching happens. And I think we as teachers have to accept
that language learning takes place when teaching is not there; a lot of language learning takes
place when kids communicate with their peers. So if you have German-only classes for certain
groups of kids, then we cut this possibility off. The second assumption is that only when you
understand German very well you can understand what is going on in school, which I think
is also wrong – because this is only true for very much language-based content. And it is a counter-integration measure. If we aim at integration, then we have to
do integration, and one part of integration is integrated classrooms.

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