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Recent research on plurilingualism and its didactics proposes a functional definition of plurilingualism. According to this, you can call yourself plurilingual if you are able to communicate in at least three languages, however limited your language competences are in some of them. Even if you are only able only to understand another language, you can participate in communication, especially if your interlocutor can understand you in your own language (this form of multilingual communication is the subject of the chapter about intercomprehension).
Research also shows that we are often not aware of our linguistic and cultural resources and how we can use them for language learning - for ourselves and our students. Nevertheless, there exist various didactic approaches that aim to activate and use the learners' existing language knowledge in order to learn in a way that establishes connections/bridges between languages. This also contributes to widening the learners’ awareness of their linguistic competences and shows how they can use them to understand further languages.
Especially in cross-border vocational settings, language proficiency plays an important role and can be a 'door-opener' for employment opportunities. If we take the EU as an example, it becomes clear that multilingualism is normal in our daily life. The EU consists of 27 member states (in the year 2023), 24 official languages and over 60 recognized regional and minority languages, and not least, countless linguistic varieties (e.g. dialects) – many of them used in border regions.
But wait a minute: Are we talking about plurilingualism or multilingualism? What's the difference? Plurilingualism refers to the linguistic competence of an individual speaker - for example you and your students or colleagues. Multilingualism refers to the presence of different languages in a certain geographical region (or in an institution, such as the United Nations or a specific enterprise), for example multilingualism in Luxembourg with the three co-official languages Luxemburgish, French and German. This is regardless of whether all the individuals living in Luxemburg also master all these languages - in contrast to individual plurilingualism, which addresses an individuals' actual plurilingual competence as a whole.
This is an important concept to keep in mind as you approach our five thematic chapters!