Dr. Gabriela Steffen / Laurent Gajo (Université de Genève, Schweiz)

Multilingual Representations and Teaching Practices in Higher Education: the case of Switzerland

In multilingual Switzerland, plurilingual education is driven by social representations anchored in Swiss language policy and tradition, both shaped by and torn between language territorial separation and the need to promote citizens' mutual understanding of other languages. As a result, universities provide instruction through non-local national languages and/or English to promote international research and student mobility, as well as to meet national and international job market requirements. Yet plurilingualism is often built on a monolingual view and seen as an addition of monolingual skills.
Our study uncovers this tension between monolingual and bilingual representations of plurilingualism. While, social representations in academic language policy texts may hold on a monolingual view of plurilingualism, teachers' practices tend to produce new bilingual forms of teaching. We analyse different forms of bilingual teaching ranging from a unilingual mode (L2 used as it were a L1) to an exolingual/bilingual CLIL-type mode (L2 used in alternation or contrast with L1). While a unilingual mode makes little use of plurilingual resources and an exolingual mode is found to be favourable for processing communicative problems, the joint use of an exolingual and a bilingual mode opens new ways of questioning and negotiating knowledge, and tackling the conceptual organization of the subject matter. Hence, it brings in new forms of teaching and learning.

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