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Does plural spelling in French as a foreign language help to improve capitalization of nouns in German, the language of literacy?

by Constanze Weth (University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg)

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Due to early foreign language instruction, spelling acquisition in two languages has become normality in primary school. Some aspects of spelling that are taught since early schooling relate to domains of syntax, such as plural markers in French (‘les chats noirs’), or German capitalization of nouns (‘sein schönes Singen’). Experimental studies have shown that syntactic training is effective for spelling these syntactic markers (Brucher et al., 2020; Weth et al., 2021). However, field studies show less clear effects (Wahl et al., 2017). Moreover, although multilingual classrooms have become normality, no study exists that looks at possible interferences of grammar instruction in the language of literacy and the early foreign language. This paper presents an intervention study of two syntactic markers, French plural spelling and German capitalization of nouns in Grade 4 (n = 200) in Luxembourg. The students have been learning German for three years as the language of schooling, and French for one year as foreign language. Training focused on the cohesion of the noun phrase and the production/recognition of the grapheme encoding the grammatical information. Training was provided via learner videos in the classroom. All children have got training and did spelling tests (pre-, post-, follow-up) in both languages. The study has a crossover design with a counterbalanced order of the trained languages. The results show large, sustainable effect sizes for training in French against the active control group. However, no training effects in German were found. The paper discusses the results in respect to the similarities and differences of the linguistic structure of the German and French syntactic markers and the design of the training. It also discusses the results in respect to the role of each language in the school curriculum, German as the language of instruction and of literacy, French as a foreign language. All in all, the paper suggests that a syntactic training is beneficial for syntactic spelling. The French writing system seems to be particularly well designed in order to relate the orthographic and syntactic structure in teaching.

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References:

Brucher, Linda / Ugen, Sonja / Weth, Constanze (2020). “The impact of syntactic and lexical trainings on capitalization of nouns in German in grade five”. In: L1 Educational Studies in Language and Literature, 1–23.

 

Wahl, Stefan / Rautenberg, Iris / Helms, Stefanie (2017). "Evaluation einer syntaxbasierten Didaktik zur satzinternen Großschreibung“. In: Didaktik Deutsch, 42, 32–51. 

 

Weth, Constanze / Ugen, Sonja / Fayol, Michel / Bîlici, Natalia (2021). “Spelling patterns of plural marking and learning trajectories in French taught as a foreign language”. In: Written Language & Literacy, 24(1), 81–110.