Creating language-friendly spaces

A plethora of languages are used at Styrian elementary schools (“Volkschulen” or VS). About 15% of Styrian elementary school children have a native language other than German. In total, over 60 different languages are used at Styrian elementary schools.

The participating elementary schools were very diverse: Some had high numbers of students, such as the VS Deutschlandsberg with 230 children, while others had rather small numbers such as the VS Neudau with 72 children. Schools also differed in their linguistic diversity: For instance, at the VS Graz-Bertha von Suttner, 26 different languages were used, whereas only 7 languages were used at the VS Graz-St. Johann. At all of these schools as well as at the VS Leoben-Seegraben, the VS Judenburg-Lindfeld, the VS Schladming, the VS Sinabelkirchen and the Graz-based schools VS Engelsdorf, VS Neuhart and VS Murfeld, teachers as well as schoolchildren were committed to join us in creating language-friendly environments.

Everybody profits from embedding this linguistic diversity into everyday school life! Every new language adds a new perspective and understanding of the world and expands our horizon. Engaging oneself with other languages also facilitates the understanding of one’s own native language. Embracing all languages in day-to-day school life not only benefits learning but is also a matter of social justice, as language is a vital part of our identity. Language-friendly spaces signal mutual respect and represent equal opportunities. Research clearly shows that a positive self-perception of children correlates with higher learning success. Showing appreciation for all native languages is an important step in the development of such a self-perception. Consistent with the situation in society as a whole, schools have not paid much attention to a language-friendly setting thus far.

The project ZUSAMMENreden was dedicated to the linguistic diversity at Styrian elementary schools. Our research questions were: How can living together in a multilingual school setting be successful? How can this process be supported? What would language-friendly spaces look like? Our indirect objective for this project was to act as a catalyst for a societal change of values in which multilingualism is considered an asset – a resource for the individual as well as for society as a whole. This means stepping away from focusing on the negatively-connotated image of a “non-German native language”.

ZUSAMMENreden offered a language action day to participating schools on which different stations presented opportunities for exploring and playing. Moreover, the schools’ teachers were provided with in-depth information about dealing with multilingualism. A travelling exhibition called Sprachenlandschaft Deluxe (Linguistic landscape Deluxe) was made available to help schools to continue their work on the subject. At each school, a distinct art project was carried out: Together with all participants, we explored what language-friendly spaces in schools may look like.

At the language action day, one of the workshops was dedicated to these art projects as well. In cooperation with each of the schools, the artist duo RESANITA developed the concept for this particular project. The goal was to involve all children into the creation process at all times and to render their linguistic expertise visible. Additionally, parents got involved in the multilingual investigations through their children. On the language action day, as well as through the art projects and the continuing education workshops, we could experience the linguistic diversity at Styrian schools firsthand; we had the chance to gather experience and share ideas on how linguistic diversity could be incorporated into school lessons in a positive way and how appreciation for all of the children’s native languages could be expressed. We compiled the results of this cooperation into a short book (a “Reader”). This way, interested schools can make use of the existing materials to find personalized solutions for their own situations.



A project by Akademie Graz, treffpunkt sprachen / Plurilingualism Research Unit at the University of Graz, Pädagogische Hochschule Steiermark, on the initiative of Integrationsressort / Land Steiermark

Contributors: Barbara Schrammel-Leber, Christina Korb, Anna Windisch, Kerstin Gruber