A minority within the minority

Supporting heritage language speaking students in German vocabulary at Romansh schools
Project management
01.2022 - 12.2024
Didactics, Acquisition, Teaching

The canton of Grisons in Switzerland promotes the goal of Romansh-German bilingualism with unique school models in traditional Romansh-speaking areas. In those areas, the minority language Romansh is the school language in primary schools. At secondary school levels, however, school language is switched to the majority language German. Differences in contact with German outside of school settings lead to extremely heterogeneous class constellations during German lessons from the third grade on. Although children with a heritage language show similar qualifications in Romansh compared to classmates with Romansh or German as first language (L1), they perform on average significantly worse in German reading and writings tests. This may indicate a significant need for support in German for heritage language speakers.

The aim of my doctoral project is to examine the role of the school language regarding learning of vocabulary in another language. Studies have shown that glossing (i.e. word explanations at the margin of a text) and the use of the L1 are efficient for vocabulary acquisition. I investigate whether this is also the case for the school language Romansh. For this purpose, I developed teaching materials for expanding German vocabulary based on scientific recommendations and with feedback from teachers from the context. In order to compare the effect of glossing and word explanations in the target language German (L3) with the school language Romansh (L2), half of the teaching material is monolingual and bilingual respectively. During spring semester 2022, 5th and 6th class teachers from 6 Romansh schools used my material during 18 German lessons. By means of a within-school-design, every school and therefore every class went through both conditions (monolingual vs. bilingual). The effects of conditions will be shown with self-developed pre-, post- and follow-up-vocabulary tests. Questionnaires, teacher interviews and some films provide a qualitative insight into the intervention.