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Understanding languages through other languages (intercomprehension)

Have you ever had the experience that just by using your language skills you could understand elements of a text in a foreign language without having learnt it before?
Super! Understanding languages through other languages is called intercomprehension. You will get to know more about intercomprehension in this chapter and you can further develop your comprehension skills. Time to learn something new! Discover intercomprehension with us, the ability to understand languages through other languages.
The following input is based on the new digital EuroComCenter-website and adapted to our project context.

What is intercomprehension?

In general, intercomprehension is defined as the ability to communicate in a group of languages that have a common origin by understanding, through processes of inference and transfer, a language that was not formally learned.

Intercomprehension is based primarily on linguistic affinities. Each of the three major European language groups – the Romance, Slavic and Germanic language families – share many similarities. This means: If you know one language, you already know a lot about the other members of this language family. Not only does this apply to similar vocabulary, but also to the functioning of the languages, e.g. with regard to sentence structure, grammar, etc.

A further distinction is made between receptive and interactional intercomprehension competence, depending on whether it is 'only' about understanding or 'also' about actively communicating with speakers of other languages. In both cases, linguistic or language-related as well as cognitive skills and knowledge are at the centre; understanding is the indispensable core of intercomprehension competence.

Intercomprehension contributes to developing and fostering

  • learner autonomy
  • language awareness
  • learning strategies and techniques
  • reading strategies and techniques
  • self-evaluation
  • optimised deduction techniques for understanding texts
  • the use of transfer resources.
  • Getting to know intercomprehension - a simple way for understanding languages through other languages. 
  • Familiarising yourself with the EuroCom-concept - a systematic approach for developing understanding competences in closely related languages and their varieties. 
  • Reflect on possibilities and potentials of integrating intercomprehension in cross-border vocational language education.
Take part in our quizzes about European language families below!
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Romance languages

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Germanic languages

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Slavic languages

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Discover intercomprehension with the EuroCom approach

The EuroCom approach enables you to build up and expand your plurilingual competence on the basis of intercomprehension and your existing language knowledge and skills. The approach initially aimed at the fast acquisition of reading and listening skills in closely related languages. In this way, receptive competences can be acquired quickly and without great learning effort, either in one language of the language family or in the entire language family. The commonalities, which result – above all – from the close relationship of the languages with common roots, are systematically used and render learning easy.

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Intercomprehension in cross-border vocational language education

(Receptive) Intercomprehension helps learners acquire fast text understanding within closely related languages, which may serve as a basis for mutual communication. Especially in border region settings, this is of special importance. Often enough, languages of bordering countries, e.g. in France-Italy, Denmark-Germany, or Poland-Czech Republic – just to name a few examples – are closely related (and sometimes additionally connected by dialects). In some regions, (interactional) intercomprehension is normal and used for everyday communication, e.g. in Norway-Sweden. Nevertheless, intercomprehension is still a new concept for plurilingual learning in many cross-border settings and especially in cross-border vocational education.  

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Take a short text (e.g. from a company website) in a language that is (closely) related to one of your languages. Try to understand as much as possible of the text without using a dictionary. Mark all the words that you understand in one colour, then make a second round and mark all the words whose meanings you can approximately guess in a different colour. Summarize briefly what you understand. Think about which language(s) help you to understand the text. Try to formulate the strategies that you used.

If you do this activity with your students, you can provide them with a text that is about the sector they are involved in. This will raise their motivation!

Take away

  • Integrating all our language skills in language learning is beneficial.
  • Using similarities between (closely related) languages makes language learning easier.
  • The EuroCom-approach systematizes linguistic similarities in the language groups of Romance, Germanic and Slavic languages, and helps to promote the development of receptive competences.
  • Intercomprehension opens up new possibilities for cross-border vocational language education.