Languages in vocational training in Switzerland: discipline, tools and historical discourses

09.2020 - 08.2025
Didactics, Diversity, History, Institutions, Policy
The exploratory study is co-funded by PH Luzern

As the question of the teaching-learning of French in vocational schools in Switzerland is under debate once again, it is essential to study and understand the place and role of French as a school discipline, a working tool and a subject of discourse in the context of vocational training. A historical perspective will be used for this purpose, since examining current issues from a historical perspective allows for a better understanding of the origins of phenomena and the factors that have brought them about.

A first step in this process is an exploratory study (2020-2021) that focuses on the teaching-learning of French in Lucerne at the turn of the 20th century. At that time, the world was experiencing a wave of industrialisation and internationalisation, the Swiss federal state was under construction and vocational schools were being established. Lucerne was a place of contact between people and languages, and it developed a commercial and administrative vocational training program to meet the needs of the fast growing commerce, tourism and service sectors.

Basing on a sociolinguistic and historiographical research, the study will focus on French teaching-learning tools, such as curricula, didactic materials, assessment and performance criteria in use then at two business schools in Lucerne. These tools reflect what representations and attitudes were attached to French in a context of political and societal multilingualism. This study will clarify the roles and values assigned to French, and highlight the ideologies underlying the teaching and learning of languages in the context of cantonal and federal socio-economic policies.

This exploratory study is intended to create the basis for a broader historiographical study, encompassing the debates on foreign languages in vocational education in Switzerland.