News | Education 19.12.2013

Under scrutiny: What constitutes a good language development method?

© Siemens Stiftung

There are many programs aimed at helping children acquire a language in Germany, but only few reliable studies on their effect. Reason enough for Siemens Stiftung to support TransferZentrum für Neurowissenschaften und Lernen - ZNL (transfer center for neuroscience and learning) in a three-year study. The objective is to identify factors that are key to successful development of German skills among multilingual children. Scientists are thus conducting surveys of the literacy skills of around 200 three- to four-year-old children from the Munich region who have grown up multilingual.

“We hope, in particular thanks to the relatively long period of time covered by the study and the large number of participants, to obtain reliable statements on the development of multilingual children,” is how Dr. Barbara Filtzinger, Head of Working Area Education at Siemens Stiftung, explains the study’s goal. “That’s precisely what we don’t have so far in Germany.” For example, German studies to date often only provide snapshots and do not permit any conclusions to be drawn as to longer-term development processes. ZNL now wishes to expand the focus of research, both in terms of methodology and content. A forecasting model is to group the factors that influence multilingual children. Some of those factors will be included in a study for the first time, such as the quality of interaction between the educator and child or the importance of children of the same age.

In addition, the scientists will also examine the effect of systematic language development with reference to a concrete example: The KIKUS method (Children in Cultures and Languages), which has been developed by the Zentrum für kindliche Mehrsprachigkeit e.V. - zkm - (center for multilingualism in early childhood) and which Siemens Stiftung helps fund as part of its commitment to promoting language development. After all, language is the foundation for acquiring knowledge, including in the fields of science and technology, which is the focus of Siemens Stiftung’s educational program.

The project team will analyze the linguistic skills of the participating children before and after several months of using the language learning method and compare them with a control group that has not used KIKUS. The focus will not only be on the children - parents, educators and heads of educational establishments will also be surveyed so that influencing factors can be identified as comprehensively as possible. The response from the establishments involved has been positive: “They have been very obliging and supportive to our project team. The parents are very willing to help and the children like taking part in the surveys of their linguistic skills,” states Dr. Katarina Groth, a psychologist at ZNL.