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Linguistic variation in language learning classrooms: considering the role of regional variation and ‘non-standard’ varieties

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Stollhans, Sascha 


• Attitudes to language norms and variation in language teaching vary widely. • Concerns among professionals include anxiety that introducing learners to ‘non-standard’ varieties might lead to ambiguity and confusion, and a risk that students might be penalised for non-standard language in assessments. • On the other hand, linguistic variation is a rich area of study that can appeal to language learners and have a positive impact on motivation. • In German, as with many other languages, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, communicative conventions etc. can vary depending on factors such as region, social context, degree of formality, medium and relationship between the speakers. • Learners are likely to come across different varieties, whether online, mixing with L1 speakers, or in the country. They will benefit from some awareness of and sensitivity to these varieties. • Textbooks for German tend to focus on the ‘standard’ variety of Germany and only introduce Austrian and Swiss vocabulary to an extent. • A particularly striking example of how attitudes towards variation in language teaching can be shaped is the Chinese Putonghua Proficiency Test. This mandatory test for Chinese language teachers focuses on pronunciation, which is largely based on the Beijing variety. • The Common European Framework for Languages (CEFR) offers some guidance for the inclusion of variation in language teaching. • Treating variation as an insightful and interesting area of study can have a motivational effect on learners. The paper makes concrete recommendations for policy-makers, publishers, authors of learning materials, examination boards and teacher training providers.



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