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Language Competence and Knowledge Development

In the professorship of Language Competence and Knowledge Development, we conduct research on the interaction between language skills in different languages and modalities and how they are practically implemented in a variety of communication contexts. For example, we investigate how we communicate in written or oral form in spoken language or interactively or via video in sign language. And we research how we gradually learn different means of communication and language use. This enables us to discover how people manage to do all this and what is needed to successfully harness our knowledge. Our findings help to develop teaching and learning programmes in educational contexts and act as a catalyst for advancing research because they show us what we do not understand well. In the professional world and society in general, this knowledge helps us to better evaluate language competences and improve teaching. Thus, we were able to contribute to a project that extended the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages to include sign language.

In focus

Learning and teaching sign language and assessing language levels

For 19 years, we have used the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) to describe communicative activities and language skills in foreign languages. Learning and teaching activities as well as the examinations for the six language proficiency levels A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2 are based on this. In the meantime, the CEFR has been revised, expanded significantly and reformulated in a gender- and modality-neutral manner. In particular, sign languages are now also included. In collaboration with the deaf community in Switzerland, our research group developed the descriptors for this international reference work.

CEFR websites for Swiss sign languages

The current European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR 2020) for this first time includes descriptors for the determination of sign language proficiency. However, the print edition available to date makes it unnecessarily difficult for deaf people to make use of this concentrated knowledge for themselves. Together with the Swiss Association of the Deaf (SGB), we are therefore developing a video-based version of the CEFR. The videos are also specific to the three sign languages used in Switzerland – the Swiss-German Sign Language version is currently being prepared.

Individualised language support

The Swiss municipality of Zell has created a special learning opportunity for parents with a migration background that they can make use of while their children attend school. It has been seen that the group of course participants is highly heterogeneous and it was this observation that formed the starting point of our project. The aim was to develop individualised learning and teaching materials that go beyond internal differentiation, to evaluate their suitability, and to use them in a sustainable manner. The basic idea here is that such materials are shared between teachers and made accessible to others in order to gradually develop a broad pool of resources.

Research-based teaching

The results from our research are integrated into teaching in the German as a foreign/second language (DaF/Daz) courses, the continuing education of DaF/DaZ instructors (CAS and DAS) and in university teaching (in particular for engineering students at the ZHAW).