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Multilingualism in Monolingual Schools and the German Example  

Ingrid Gogolin

The majority of European countries consider themselves as monolingual nation-states. Some exceptions are countries composed of different linguistic territories, such as Belgium and Switzerland. Another form of exception is countries where certain territories are inhabited by linguistic minorities who are granted particular linguistic rights. Monolingualism with exceptions for special constellations or cases is therefore considered the “linguistic normality” in European nations. This understanding of normality is also reflected in the nations’ public institutions and is particularly pronounced in the national education systems. The linguistic reality in Europe, however, contrasts with this notion of normality. Since time immemorial, the regions that have become European nation-states have been characterized by linguistic diversity, not only across but also within their boundaries. Since the second half of the 20th century, however, the number of languages that are vital and used daily has considerably increased. The most important driver of this development is international migration. Some European countries—Germany in particular—belong to the most attractive immigration destinations of the world. Despite of this reality, European national education systems largely persist in their monolingual mindset—or in other words: in a monolingual habitus. This ambiguity can be amply illustrated by the example of the German education system. Education research shows that it belongs to the causes of educational disadvantage for children from immigrant families. This is precisely why innovation initiatives have been launched to mitigate the risks to teaching and learning associated with multilingualism, while making the best use of the resources offered by linguistic diversity to all children—be they growing up in monolingual or multilingual families.