Language teacher training and bilingual education

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Carmel Mary Coonan

University Ca' Foscari

Venice, Italy

1. Introduction
Bilingual education has become a focus of interest in European countries today and Italy is no exception. The information presented below attempts to describe the present situation in Italy regarding the training of teachers and bilingual education and identify the needs still required in (language) teacher training for the promotion of forms of bilingual education in Italy on a much larger scale than is the case at present.
The indications provided of activities underway in the field of bilingual education do not take into consideration the issues related to the teaching of pupils of recent immigration from non-community countries. This decision was taken in consideration of the generally negative replies that were received to the enquiry concerning actions undertaken to protect non-Community minority languages in the schools.
1.1. The national linguistic situation
From the linguistic point of view Italy is an interesting example of linguistic pluralism. Apart from Italian which is the national language, the country is characterised by the presence of a great number of dialects by means of which, in the past, all forms of communication (with, to a certain extent, the exception of literary communication) in the numerous states, republics and kingdoms of the area now known as Italy took place.

In addition to the presence of these dialects (understood here to mean autonomous language systems of romance origin, different from Italian) which are still spoken by a number of people particularly in certain areas and which in many cases represent the first language and therefore mother tongue of the speakers, Italy is also characterised by the presence throughout her territory of other languages or varieties of languages which are official or national languages of other European nations. These languages are classified geographically as linguistic peninsulas, that is, portions of territory that are contiguous with the borders of other nations where that same language or variety of the same language is spoken (e.g., German in Trentino-Alto-Adige - an area which shares its borders with Austria). Alternatively, they are classified as linguistic islands as the languages spoken there are isolated or cut off from the parent family ( e.g., the case of the Albanian communities in the southern areas of Italy). We have thus the following situation (adapted from Zuanelli-Sonino, 1984):

Peninsulas Italy Foreign nation
Franco-provençal Val d'Aosta France


Provençal (Occitane) Piedmont France
German dialects (Bavarian-Tirolean) Trentino-Alto-Adige Austria

German dialect (Ditsch or Walser) Val d'Aosta Switzerland

Slovene dialects Friuli-Venezia-

Giulia Slovenia

Ladin Trentino-Alto-Adige Switzerland


Franco-provençal Puglia France

Provençal (occitane) Calabria France

Greek dialects ('Greco' and 'Grico') Puglia

Calabria Greece

Serbo-Croat Molise ex-Yugoslavia

Albanian dialects Abruzzo, Molise

Campania, Puglia,

Basilicata, Calabria,

Sicilia Albania

Catalan Sardegna (Alghero) Spain (Catalonia)

German dialects (Bavarian-Tirolean) The Veneto; Friuli Austria

Ladin Friuli Switzerland


In short therefore, to consider Italy a majority of minority languages and cultures (Pellegrini cited in Zuanelli-Sonino, 1984:280) is not exaggerated and finds justification in the presence throughout the whole territory not only of standard Italian and its regional varieties but also the myriad of dialects, alloglot languages and their standard varieties. For it must be pointed out that, when considering these idioms, we must keep in mind the fact that alongside the local alloglot forms, we can find the regional variety, and the standard variety (literary and scholastic) . For example, in the province of Bolzano there is the German dialect (the local as well as the regional variety), standard German (used in schools), Ladin, and standard Italian (Zuanelli Sonino, 1984) .The situation in the Valle d'Aosta is even more complex with the presence of five languages: Franco-provençal, French, Walser, the Piedmontese dialect, and Italian (Guichonnet, 1992: 53-64).

Parallel to this composite linguistic situation is the composite way in which the languages are considered from an official, legal point of view. For, despite the fact that articles 3 and 6 of the constitution guarantee protection and equal status for all the linguistic minorities of Italy, it cannot be said that this is in fact the case. It is only in those Special Statute (a statuto speciale) areas and there again only in three of them (Trentino-Alto Adige, Valle d'Aosta, and to a lesser extent Friuli-Venezia-Giulia) that such protection and parity is attempted. In the other 'special statute' areas (Sicily, Sardegna), as well as in other areas of Italy which do not enjoy special statute status, no norms have been passed in defence of their linguistic patrimony.

A consequence deriving from the fact that these laws for the defence of certain alloglot languages are regional rather than national is that the same languages in different areas are not afforded the same treatment, and, different languages in the same administrative area are afforded different treatment. For example, the German dialects of Alto-Adige are protected but similar varieties in the Veneto and Friuli are not (see however the new law of 1996 concerning Cimbra and Mochena in schools). Franco-provençal is officially recognised in Valle d'Aosta (although it is French that is officially promoted) but ignored in Puglia and Calabria. In addition, although present in the Valle d'Aosta, the German Ditsch or Walser is excluded from the protection that the norms of the special statute afford Franco-provençal and French in the same region.

Of course this is the situation of the alloglot languages. No such measures can be said to exist for the defence of the very numerous dialects of Italy with the notable exceptions of Friulan and Sardinian (for the situation in Friuli see Francescato in Freddi, 1983; for the situation in Sardinia see Sole in Freddi, 1983).

1.2. Area specific understanding of bilingual education
The term bilingual education is currently used in Italy to refer to two quite distinct situations:
i) the teaching of foreign languages

ii) the use of a language, other than the national language Italian, as a vehicular language for teaching other subjects .

As far as regards foreign language teaching the term is used both to refer to

a) the situation of foreign language teaching in primary schools (the teaching of one foreign language in the primary school was made compulsory in 1985 and was officially applied in 1992 after several years of experimentation).

b) the situation in lower and upper secondary schools where a second foreign language (or more rarely a third foreign language) is introduced as part of experimental programmes. These are sometimes called experiments in bilingualism or bilingual instruction.

We are not concerned here with this use of the term 'bilingual education'.

Our interest is focused on the second meaning of the term - the use of a second/foreign language as a language of instruction in the curriculum. Not all the experiences mentioned here however actually use the term bilingual education to refer to their programmes where a language other than Italian is used as a vehicular language.

i) The term bilingual education is specifically used with reference to the bilingual school system in the Valle d'Aosta.

ii) Ladin schools in the Province of Bolzano talk of plurilingual education;

iii) The term educazione linguistica (language education) in the schools in the Val di Fassa area of Trentino covers the vehicular use of Ladino and Italian which can be either first or second language for the pupils;

iv) The cautious introduction of the vehicular use of German in Italian schools in Alto Adige is called mini-immersion;

v) The vehicular use of a modern foreign language in the Licei Linguistici Europei / Licei Classici Europei is generally referred to within the concept of European education.

Various forms of bilingual education are practised in Italian schools - public and private, from primary (as well as nursery) to high school. Some aim at the conservation of a minority language (Ladin, Cimbra, Mochena), some to promote the dominant language in minority language speakers (German and Italian in the Ladin schools of Alto Adige), some aim at promoting two second languages (Ladin schools in Alto Adige and schools in the Valle d'Aosta); some aim at promoting competence in a foreign language (Licei Europei, International schools). To render effective these aims, two basic forms are adopted:
a) monolingual schools where only one vehicle language of instruction is adopted;

b) bilingual schools where two languages - either a minority (alloglot) language or a foreign language alongside the national language Italian - are used as vehicle languages of instruction. The quantitative distribution of time allotted to the two languages varies from situation to situation as do the subjects taught through the two languages.

Two are the regions where there is a declared intent in promoting bilingualism - Valle D'Aosta and Trentino-Alto-Adige. Friuli-Venezia-Giulia too has just passed a regional law (March, 1996 n. 15 ) for the promotion of the Friulan language in all sectors of society and has called for the creation of a service aimed at promoting and protecting the linguistic patrimony of the area. No mention is made however of its role in schools.
I. The understanding of bilingual education in Trentino-Alto-Adige
First of all a distinction has to be made between the Province of Bolzano and the Province of Trento. In these two areas, which together constitute the region of Trentino-Alto-Adige, the promotion of bilingualism in the community through the scholastic institutions is quite different. This difference has been made possible through the Statuto Speciale of 1972, known as the "Pacchetto", which devolves autonomous legislative powers to the two provinces.
a) Province of Bolzano
A careful reading of article 19 of the Statute for the Province of Bolzano shows that, despite the fact that there are two ethnic communities living side by side in the region, the intention of the legislator is to keep them separate. This intention is reflected in the dispositions of the Statute regarding the school system where it is specified that each group is to have its own school. All schooling has to be imparted in the mother tongue of the pupils by mother-tongue teachers. "Bilingualism" is promoted through the teaching of the second language by a native speaker from the second or third class of primary school upwards. Thus, a German speaker will attend a German school (because it is there that he will (obligatorily) receive his education in his mother tongue) and will be taught Italian as a separate subject by a native speaker of Italian. Likewise, an Italian speaker. He will attend an Italian school and will be taught German (standard German - not the German of the region) as a second language by a native speaker of German. In this way the schools remain totally separate - monuments of monolingualism in a bilingual region that has, and has had, serious problems of coexistence.

In short, therefore, the bilingualism of the region is maintained through the provision of mother tongue schools that promote, separately, the two languages of the province.

Separate provision has been made in the Statute for the Ladin-speaking group in the Province.
The Ladin-speakers are to be found in two distinct areas of the region: Val Badia and Val Gardena. In a survey conducted in 1991 90% of the population in these two areas declared they belonged to the Ladin ethnic group. The total population of the two valleys today is 18,500 (cf. Rifesser, 1994).
The statute of 1948 specifies that the schools in the two areas be trilingual:
i) German and Italian are taught not only as a subjects from the scuola materna (nursery schools) upwards but also as vehicle languages for other subjects.

ii) Ladin is to be taught as a subject and can be used as a lingua strumentale , that is as a language of explanation in the first year or two of primary school in order to help the pupils pass over to a full use of the two second languages. The statute specifies not only that equal weight be given to both Italian and German (both second languages for the great majority of the pupils) in school instruction but that equal competence in both the languages be reached (cf. 3.1. for more details of the school model).

The concept of bilingual education adopted in these schools would seem to be one of early partial immersion (Artigal Lauren, 1996) with elements of maintenance and enrichment and, possibly, submersion in the case of Ladin (Carli, 1993).
b) Province of Trento
In the Province of Trento, where Ladin is spoken in the Val di Fassa and where German is considered a foreign as opposed to a second language, there is not, as yet, true bilingual education. Up until now the sole language of instruction has been Italian, the national language. It has been estimated that in the Ladin families of the province 45.5% use Ladin with their children and 42.6% use Italian. In addition it must be remembered that Italian dominates in social contacts outside of the family environment. Thus in the Ladin speaking area Italian is the second language for over half the children and Ladin is a second language for nearly half the children. Aware however of the danger that Ladin faces of being submerged, a new provincial law has been passed promoting its use in the schools of the area (cf. 3.1.).
As far as regards the German-related minority languages in the province - Cimbra and Mochena - the Provincial Council passed a deliberation (n° 8023) in July 1996 approving the teaching of the two languages as subjects at the level of compulsory schooling (with however the subject being broached more from a cultural point of view at the lower secondary school). Of particular interest is the specification that Cimbra and Mochena can also be used as languages of instruction alongside Italian from nursery school up to the end of primary school. The model of bilingual education proposed would seem to be one of early partial L2 immersion.
II The understanding of bilingualism in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia
At the present moment in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia a policy for the promotion of bilingualism through bilingual education exists only for the Slovene speakers of the area. The term bilingual education is used here to refer to schools where the whole curriculum is conducted through the Slovene language. It is in other words a monolingual model which uses the minority language of the area as the vehicular language. Most (but not all) of the students are mother tongue speakers of this language or have family connections with the Slovene group.
III The understanding of bilingualism in the Valle d'Aosta
The promotion of bilingualism in the Valle d'Aosta through the school system is a result of the Special Statute of 1948, article 38, which establishes equal rights to both French and Italian. Since 1985 all nursery schooling has been bilingual and since 1988 the primary schools also. The lower secondary school became bilingual in 1994-5 after an experimental period of three years and all upper secondary schools are introducing it at the present time (1996-7).
Bilingual education is conducted using both Italian and French as vehicle languages and both enjoy 50% of the curriculum time available. Generally speaking, the mother tongue of the pupils, especially in certain rural and mountain areas, is Franco-provençal (patois). Italian is, for most, a second language and French too is considered a second language for most of the inhabitants. French was the official language of the region as far back as the XVI century. It was the unification of Italy that brought Italian to the area. After the Fascist era and the end of the war the Special Statute recognised the particular linguistic and cultural patrimony of the area by assigning equal legal status to the two languages and cultures.

The type of education adopted is denominated bilingual education and it is strictly related to the political project concerning the defence of regional autonomy and the protection and promotion of French.

IV Other examples
Other forms of bilingual education exist on an established basis throughout the Italian territory in the form of European and International schools. These are few in number, (but growing), mostly private (an exception is the United World College of the Adriatic), sometimes part of an international consortium (e.g., European Schools, United World College, the International Baccalaureate Organisation) with a student population which is essentially international in nature. In some the curriculum is taught through the medium of two or more languages (including Italian which is the second language for many of the pupils), in others it is taught through one language only. Of particular interest, for the experience they have gathered and the solutions found for enacting bilingual education programmes where more than one language of instruction is used, are the schools that use two languages of instruction (e.g. European schools) (cf. Baetens Beardsmore, 1993).

(cf. 3.1. also for newly developing experimental bilingual programmes in certain upper secondary schools in Italy)

1. 3. Legislation and Language Teacher Training
From the Commission report entitled "The Italian Teacher Education System" by Santelli Beccegato it is clear that an integrated, coherent, and comprehensive system of training, either initial or INSET, for teachers at all level of schooling in Italy does not exist. Against this general picture, however, the situation of the language teacher, in terms of the training required and offered, can be considered to be better.
Initial training
The situation of the foreign language teacher in the primary school is different in certain respects from that of the foreign language teacher in the lower and upper secondary schools from the point of view of the training procedures and requirements.
a) Primary school
All teachers who wish to teach a foreign language in the primary school (now a compulsory subject from the 2° class onwards, for 3 hours a week in (normally) 3 separate days) receive specialised initial training.
In addition, those teachers who wish to teach the foreign language have to be fully qualified primary school teachers who are di ruolo , i.e., who have won tenure.

Two routes exist for initial training for those who are already fully fledged teachers in the primary school..

i) Teachers who profess some competence in the foreign language they wish to teach (English, German, French, Spanish) go before a commission who ascertain the level of that competence and assign them to one of three training courses: 300 hours; 150 hours; 100 hours.
Of these hours about 50 are devoted to language teaching methodology and work shop activities. In fact, however, methodology can also be covered during the hours devoted to language improvement by presenting topics concerning the field in the foreign language being learnt.
ii) Teachers without any competence follow a course of 500 hours of language learning and language teaching methodology. At the end of this course (and unlike the previous group) there is a written exam and an oral exam to ascertain the level of competence reached in both areas.

These courses are financed by the Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione (Ministry of Public Education) which attributes funds on the basis of the indications which each provincial Provveditore alla Pubblica Istruzione (the equivalent of the Local Education Authority) provides concerning numbers of teachers required for training to fill vacant positions in the schools. The Provveditorato itself can organise the courses or charge another agency (e.g. University Language Centres) or even private individuals to organise them .

Teachers who teach the foreign language are of two types:
- specializzato. This means that the teacher maintains his role as class/module teacher and is obliged to teach the foreign language to his class (or, if a module teacher, to the two or three classes the module operates over).
- specialista. This means that the teacher gives up his role as class teacher/module teacher to teach only the foreign language to 6-7 classes.

Specialisti are entered into a list which the Provveditore consults to choose foreign language teachers for foreign language teaching in schools that cannot be covered by the existing class teacher or module teachers though lack of competence and training.
The specialista (who represents an extra cost to the state) is destined to disappear as gradually more and more qualified teachers are trained to do the foreign language teaching as specializzati..
For those wishing to become primary school teachers and wish at the same time to acquire certification of competence in teaching a foreign language at the primary school level there is the possibility of sitting a language teaching component in the normal concorso (national exam/competition).
b) Lower Secondary and Upper Secondary schools
At the level of the secondary school, the legislation concerning the initial training for foreign language teachers is no different from that for teachers of other disciplines.

Unlike primary school teachers of a foreign language all secondary school foreign language teachers are required to have a degree in a foreign language and literature (see 4. 1. for changes that are coming about in this area).

The secondary school teacher can, if he wishes, teach not only the major language taken to degree level (the one studied for four years), but also the subsidiary language (the one studied for three years).
A sine qua non condition, however, for being able to do any of this is to sit and pass the concorso for lower secondary or upper secondary school level and get the abilitazione (teacher qualification). The concorso consists of a written and an oral exam. There is no practical part.
No organisation is officially encumbered with the responsibility of holding courses that will prepare future candidates to sit and pass these exams. Generally speaking, candidates prepare themselves by following courses organised privately by the teacher's associations, home study, or even courses abroad.
After passing the concorso the teachers are put on a list and can become di ruolo when a post becomes vacant in their discipline.
On becoming di ruolo there follows a probationary period of a year, called the anno di formazione (the training year), during which the teacher is followed by a tutor and at the end of which the teacher presents a research project which is discussed in front of a commission made up of the headmaster/mistress and four teachers. The evaluation is felt to be more or less purely pro forma unless there is gross inadequacy.

In service training
Refresher or up-dating courses (be they of a linguistic or methodological nature) have never been obligatory. However, as of 1995, a clause has been written into the national contract of all teachers whereby 100 hours of re-training/refresher courses must be followed by a teacher over a 6-year period if he wishes to pass up automatically to the next category on the pay scale.
Any course can be followed as long as they (the courses) meet the requirements of the provincial up-dating plan elaborated by the Provveditorati. Needless to say teachers choose courses more for the convenience offered (near home, time of year held, cost, etc.) rather than for reasons more pertinent to his/her profession and practice in the class.
The courses can be organised by anyone - the schools themselves, foreign agencies (British Council, Alliance Française, Goethe Institut), teachers unions, teachers associations, publishers, etc. The condition is that the aims and contents reflect the provincial plan.
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