Research

Information on research topics
and research ressources at the LFE

The Acquisition of Content Knowledge in a Bilingual Context

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) has become more prevalent in the educational field, trying to describe a dual-focused instructional approach to simultaneously teach new content while acquiring foreign language skills. Subjects like Geography, biology or mathematics are taught in the second language (L2), e.g., English or French for German speaking pupils.

Taking a look at the development of school achievement for a subject like mathematics that is taught in a foreign language, research has shown that there are no disadvantages for bilingual in comparison to monolingual classroom settings (e.g., Gebauer, Zaunbauer, & Möller, 2013). Thus, educational programs can find support for their implementation, assuming a language-independent way of knowledge representation.

However, the assumption that knowledge is represented in a system that is independent of the specific language of instruction and, thus, can easily be accessed no matter what language the learner uses, is not empirically confirmed. There is even evidence suggesting that knowledge is represented in a way closely tied to the specific language of instruction and/or learning (Gentner & Goldin-Meadow, 2003).

Specifically, costs in terms of poorer performance have been found to emerge when the language of the instruction differs from the language of testing for fact knowledge (Spelke & Tsivkin, 2002; Grabner, Saalbach & Eckstein, 2012; Saalbach et al., 2013).

In our Research project “BiLearn”, we investigate under which conditions these “language switching costs” (LSC) occur, and the role of participant characteristics, in the field of mathematics.

Some of the research questions we are interested in include:
• Whether these LSC only occur when acquiring fact knowledge, or as well with procedural and conceptual knowledge.
• Whether the LSC for studied material also occur for unstudied material, and when the studied knowledge needs to be applied to more complex problems in a new context.
• The relevance of the direction of switching (L1 to L2 or vice versa).
• What kind of strategies participants use when retrieving knowledge in a language different from the one at study.
• Whether differences in participant characteristics (e.g. intelligence, math ability, executive functions, L2 language proficiency) are related to the amount of LSC that participants experience.

Prof. Dr. Henrik Saalbach
Head of Department