Multilingualism and cultural diversity are part of everyday life in daycare facilities today. In this context, both educational professionals and parents are faced with the question of which factors contribute to successful multilingual development. Over a period of six years, the collaboration project "IMKi - Effects of active integration of multilingualism in child daycare facilities" provided long-term support for the development of children and parents as well as educational professionals and their facilities in around 20 daycare centers. The focus was on children between the ages of three and six who are raised multilingually due to migration backgrounds.
The involved researchers from the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt (KU) and the Heidelberg University of Education have closed a research gap with their study. Until now, there has been little longitudinal data regarding the language development of children growing up in multilingual environments, both nationally and internationally. In particular, there have been few studies to date that take into account the course of development in the respective language of origin and consider the development of the surrounding language and language of origin together. The project was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
"The results of our long-term study show that the intensive inclusion of multilingualism in the daily routine of a daycare center has no negative effects on the children's development of German as the language of the environment. Contrary to this fear on the part of professionals and parents, the experience gained suggests instead that a conscious and well-founded approach to children's multilingualism in everyday life can lead to more and higher quality language interactions between children and between professionals and children", explains Prof. Dr. Jens Kaiser-Kratzmann. He holds the Professorship of Education with a focus on Early Childhood at the KU and collaborated on the project with Prof. Dr. Steffi Sachse (Professorship of Developmental Psychology with a focus on Language Development at the Heidelberg University of Education).
The recommendation to only speak German at home is not tenable based on the data collected. This would be at the expense of the language of origin. At the same time, targeted promotion of heritage language skills cannot take place in the daycare center due to the existing language diversity. Rather, the development of such skills must be achieved through the family. Professor Kaiser-Kratzmann adds: "From a social perspective, focusing on German as the language of the environment in daycare centers is a disregard for today's linguistically and culturally heterogeneous society. A purely monolingual orientation of educational institutions systematically neglects the benefits of multilingualism. In contrast, integrating the children's languages of origin into the day-to-day life of the daycare facility enables all children to engage with the linguistic diversity of our society, which is necessary for their educational process."
The study was carried out in 19 daycare centers in southern Germany with over 500 children between the ages of three and six. The parents of these children and around 300 educational professionals were also involved. The participating institutions were randomly divided into two groups and received ongoing internal training on how to deal with linguistic diversity and multilingualism. While one group received much more specific and structured support on the basis of a specially created training manual in order to develop strategies for anchoring linguistic diversity in the facilities, the daycare centers in the second group were free to design their own training on the topic. Changes resulting from the further training were recorded at child, institution and parent level. The researchers found that the structured training for daycare staff had a rapid and lasting effect on the linguistic and didactic knowledge of the professionals. However, a longer process was necessary to put this into practice.
No active promotion of the languages of origin in the sense of language teaching took place within the project. Rather, the support was primarily aimed at appreciating children's languages in everyday life, allowing children to express themselves in other languages and working with parents with a focus on multilingualism. In the facilities studied, the researchers observed that a lived naturalness and an honest interest in the languages of origin is also reflected in the cooperation with parents: "In some daycare centers, multilingual parents were often unsure which language they should speak to their children in and, in particular, how they should behave in relation to their language of origin. The educational professionals now know exactly how to advise multilingual parents: They encourage parents to focus on the language of origin if this is also the language that the parents speak best. This can quickly eliminate parents' insecurities." The children surveyed, on the other hand, were very differentiated and mostly had a positive view of their own multilingualism. Children should be able to develop a positive self-image with regard to their own multilingualism. The way the children's languages are dealt with in the daycare center can influence these attitudes.
In order to successfully create a learning environment that supports multilingualism in daycare centers, educational professionals need specific knowledge and, above all, a positive attitude. Although the education and upbringing plans of the federal states all attach great importance to language education and language promotion and also demand the inclusion of multilingualism, knowledge and skills for the inclusion of multilingualism are not comprehensively taught as part of the training. "Therefore, there is great need for further training that builds on previous theoretical knowledge and skills from training and practice, deepens and expands them and thus enables the development of an individual attitude that supports multilingualism", emphasizes Professor Kaiser-Kratzmann. The IMKi project has laid the foundations for this.
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