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    Neighbouring languages

Why are neighbouring languages so important for language education in cross-border working environments?

This section explores about the very important topic of neighbouring languages. Depending on the border region you live and work in, they may be of different importance. But nevertheless, communication and mutual understanding with neighbours are essential – this is particularly evident today, for example when neighbours need to communicate about important cross-border issues or when refugees from a neighbour country seek shelter and safety. In any case, speaking and understanding the neighbouring language(s) is a huge asset for working and living in a border region. Hence, neighbouring language didactics is of special importance in cross-border vocational language education contexts.  But what are neighbouring languages and how can they be integrated in class?

What is a neighbouring language

The definitions of neighbouring languages, or also called neighbour languages, commonly used in research are based on proximity as a key aspect. Here, either the geographical proximity of neighbour countries or the kinship of languages are highlighted as the most important aspects. 

In this project, the term neighbouring language was chosen in contrast to the concept of a foreign language, and refers to the special status of a language due to its geographical, cultural, historical, linguistic and/or personal proximity to its neighbour in a border region. 

It can therefore be said that foreign language didactics and the latest knowledge of how foreign language teaching should be organized are part of a successful neighbouring language didactics. Nevertheless, neighbouring language didactics can also be seen as discipline in its own right due to the special context of which it forms part and the special learning spaces it offers.

Learn more about neighbouring languages.
Get to know basics of neighbouring language didactics.

Overview on neighbouring languages

Fostering plurilingualism is a fixed objective for the European Union. In addition to their mother tongue, citizens of EU countries are supposed to learn at least two other languages.

Here, border regions, with their "exotic proximity", provide space for special teaching and learning contexts; the country whose language is taught is on your doorstep and life on the other side of the border is – at least in theory –within reach.

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Status of neighbouring languages – language hierarchies

The status of a language(s) in society has a great influence on the motivation to learn it. It is therefore worth considering which position the neighbouring language occupies in what is referred to as a language hierarchy.

Language hierarchies are defined by Risager as "[...] an imagined social hierarchy between different languages or language variations created through exclusionary or inclusive practices, either through concrete language choices in specific situations or through representations in the linguistic landscape" (Risager 2005).

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A quick look at border region didactics

When it comes to integrating neighbouring languages into language education, several approaches exist. Raasch (2005/2008) developed one of the first and most known. He suggests a “Grenzkompetenzmodell” (‘border competence model’) containing the following five components:

  1. Regional and cultural competence in the understanding of knowledge about neighbour regions and their cultures (“Landeskundliche Kompetenz”)
  2. Contrastive cultural competence in the understanding of the ability to contrast elements of another culture with one's own (“Kontrastiv-landeskundliche Kompetenz”)
  3. Empathy Competence (“Empathiekompetenz”)
  4. Intercultural Competence (“Interkulturelle Kompetenz”)
  5. Intracultural Competence (“Intrakulturelle Kompetenz”)

The model was further developed in the context of action research, especially in the French-German border region Alsace/Baden Wurttemberg (cf. Faucompré 2014, 2017, 2018; Faucompré and Putsche 2015, 2017; Putsche 2013, 2016; Putsche and Faucompré 2016, 2017). 

It is important for border region didactics is to start from the specific living environment of learners. A first step is to ask oneself questions like: What are my learners interested in at the moment (in their free time, at school,…)? What is important to them? Have they already had experience of the border region? Have they taken part in an exchange or internship?, etc. You can also discuss these questions with your students and discover experiences, challenges and needs together. According to your reflection and/or discussion, you can choose authentic linguistic material from the border region for your language classes, e.g. a flyer from a museum, food advertisement, a company website, etc. Depending on the professional sector, you can also combine language learning with vocational content. In this way, teachers can facilitate and support the students' motivation, awareness and reflection processes. 

But how can we talk about neighbouring languages?

The following example activities may give you some ideas for including border region language didactics in your classroom:

Take away

Neighbouring languages are of special relevance in cross-border living and working environments and hence also for language learning and teaching in these contexts.

Neighbouring language didactics can open up new perspectives for the specific needs of language education in border regions. 

Language hierarchies play an important role when it comes to language learning, in general and especially in border regions. 

Thus, it is essential to motivate students to learn neighbouring languages and to highlight the multiple (job) perspectives.


References in Danish and German

References in Danish, French and German