“Jo wunderbar so im apriu kann man nicht mehr erwarten, capisci?” Multilingualism in a German language class for retired Italian migrants in Berne

Krakenberger, Etna Rosa (19 June 2013). “Jo wunderbar so im apriu kann man nicht mehr erwarten, capisci?” Multilingualism in a German language class for retired Italian migrants in Berne (Unpublished). In: 5th AILA-Europe Junior Research Meeting in Applied Linguistics. Dublin. 18-20.06.2013.

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Our proposal presents some aspects and results of a project of the University of Bern dealing with the consequences of retirement on multilingual competences. Referring to De Bot (2007), who defined "language related major life events" as moments in life relevant for changes in multilingual competences, we assume that retirement can be a turning point in a language biography. Firstly, there are phenomena, such as the cessation of the use of a foreign language, which was formerly related to work. Secondly, retirement might elicit the improvement of foreign language skills as a way to spend excess time after retirement or as a “cognitive exercise”. Many language schools have identified the people of advanced age as a group of major interest and increasingly offer so-called 50+ (fifty plus) courses in their curriculum. Furthermore, the concept of lifelong learning is increasingly gaining importance, as the reference by the European commission (LLP) indicates. However, most of the programs are intended for educated middle-class people and there are considerably fewer offers for people who are less familiar with learning environments in general. The present paper aims at investigating the multilingual setting of an offer of the second kind: a German language course designed for retired, established Italian workforce migrants living in the city of Berne, Switzerland.

The multilingual setting is given by the facts that migrants living in Berne are confronted with diglossia (Standard German and Swissgerman dialects), that the Canton of Berne is bilingual (German and French) and that the migrants' mother tongue, Italian, is one of the Swiss national languages. As previous studies have shown, most of the Italian migrants have difficulties with the acquisition of Standard German due to the diglossic situation (Werlen, 2007) or never even learnt any of the German varieties. Another outcome of the linguistic situation the migrants are confronted with in Berne, is the usage of a continuum of varieties between Swissgerman dialect and Standard German (Zanovello-Müller, 1998). Therefore, in the classroom we find several varieties of German, as well as the Italian language and its varieties. In the present paper we will investigate the use of multilingual competences within the classroom and the dynamics of second language acquisition in a setting of older adults (>60 years old), learning their host country’s language after 40 years or more of living in it.

The methods applied are an ethnographic observation of the language class, combined with qualitative interviews to gain in-depth information of the subjects’ life stories and language biographies.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Linguistics and Literary Studies > Institute of Italian Language and Literature > Linguistic Studies

UniBE Contributor:

Krakenberger, Etna Rosa


400 Language > 450 Italian, Romanian & related languages




Etna Rosa Krakenberger

Date Deposited:

03 Mar 2015 14:47

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:41



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