How Much Linguistics Does Early Childhood Education Need?

Rosemarie Tracy (University of Mannheim)

Over the last several years, most federal states of Germany have developed and proceeded to implement standards and guidelines for early childhood education. In the state of Baden-Württemberg, which hosts this conference, Kindergarten teachers are expected to closely observe and document the language development of individual children, to recognize their developmental stage(s) and to react to specific needs, for instance in the case of children acquiring German as a second language. What this means, though, is that educators are faced with challenges and demands for which, a few new academic study programs apart, their training has not prepared them. To makes things worse, many diagnostic tools currently in use in order to assess the linguistic competence of minority-language children were originally developed (and normed) for monolingual German-speaking children and should therefore only be used for these new tasks with greatest circumspection, if at all.

On the basis of my own research on acquisition (monolingual L1, bilingual or double L1, and early L2) and on my experience with various applied linguistics projects I will address the following questions: (a) What kind of knowledge does the preschool and elementary school teacher need in order to understand at least the basics of the acquisition task that a learner faces? (b) Which persistent myths and ideologies can we ? on the basis of current work on bilingualism and language acquisition ? identify and (hopefully) eradicate? (c) How can we enhance public (and political) awareness that exposure (i.e. quantity and quality of input) matters and that resources (especially with respect to personnel) currently available are simply not sufficient?