The Apprentice. Experiencing migration and multilingualism in the Austrian language discourse

//The Apprentice. Experiencing migration and multilingualism in the Austrian language discourse

Daniel MarcherPhD Candidate, University of Innsbruck

What’s it like, to do an apprenticeship training as a non-native German speaker in Austria?

Since the 1990s, the acquisition of the German language has become a more and more central aspect of the Austrian discourse on migration and integration. It’s a basic requirement for membership and social or political participation. Whether in Austria somebody is considered “well integrated” is often determined by their way of speaking or by an ascribed knowledge of the German language. Language tests are being institutionalized and installed to regulate migration. They function as obstacles for access to social benefits, citizenship jobs and the housing market. This issues became even more central with the legal introduction of the Integration Agreement (Integrationsvereinbarung) and the National Action Plan for Integration (Nationaler Aktionsplan für Integration) in 2011 (Netzwerk SprachenRechte – press conference 2011). Language related factors makes it difficult for some migrants and refugees to build up a life in Austria, as I had to find out again and again during my profession as a teacher for German as a second language. And it is becoming increasingly clear that these developments are barely targeting the acquisition of language or communication skills. Rather, the German language represents an acceptable and seemingly harmless surrogate (substitute category) for other categories – categories of exclusion that have become problematic, such as place of origin, religion or ethnicity. In my opinion, this circumstance should be questioned critically from both a linguistic and a social perspective, which is why I examine the effects of such linguistic and political processes more closely by focussing on the language-experiencing individual. This way it is possible to understand how discourses about linguistic power and belonging influence interactions as well as the social effects they can have as a result. For far too long the discussion about language acquisition and integration in Austria has been conducted mostly over the heads of the actual speakers concerned – so I want to ask.

I am specifically interested in the ways in which the Austrian monolingual discourse manifests in interactions of learning and work. I would particularly like to find out more about the connections between language acquisition and the positioning on the job and education market. A place of interest which is ideal for a research like this is the Austrian apprenticeship program. On the one hand an apprenticeship enables to gain access to financial and social security by entering employment and training to become a skilled worker. Furthermore, 2019 the vocational training of apprentices in the context of flight or migration came into focus of a political debate in Austria about asylum procedures, (labour market) integration and a lack of skilled workers Austrian Parliament Correspondence 11.12.2019). One aspect is that people in asylum proceedings in Austria can be granted a postponement of deportation for the duration of an apprenticeship, which makes the vocational education system even more relevant to this debate. It’s also interesting methodologically. The Austrian apprenticeship training system is dual structured – takes place simultaneously in two institutions (vocational school and workplace). Comparable linguistic spaces of work and learning open up, which are interrelated and closely interwoven with each other. At the same time, however, they bring different interactional and contextual conditions with them. In terms of communicative requirements and language management, disparities are likely to arise. These could be perceived and experienced both as relief and as an additional obstacle, which has a direct influence on situational learning and understanding processes.

In order to investigate my considerations, a mixed-method approach will be applied to a sociolinguistic study on interaction. Three apprentices who have acquired German as a second language in Austria in connection to flight or migration participate in the study as main subjects. The central part are subjective perspectives on experiencing language in social contexts (Brigitta Busch – PPT on lived language experience 2016). The experiences are compared with ethnographic observations and video recordings of interactions at work or at the vocational school. The data collection takes about 6 months and is divided into three phases. At first, the perspectives of the multilingual apprentices are collected through interviews. The results – the central linguistic issues addressed and interpreted by the interview partners – then form a guideline for an ethnographic observation study. The study participants are accompanied for three days each to the company they work at and three days each to the vocational school they are attending. Interactions with work colleagues, classmates, trainers and customers are observed specifically on the categories developed in the first phase. At the end of each working day, selected interactions noted in the observation protocol are reflected in short interviews (approx. 25 min) with the main subjects in order to compare the observed with the subjectively experience. In the vocational school, additional questionnaires are handed out to the classmates and at the end of the second day a group discussion with the main subject and five other classmates takes place. By this a wider data sample is produced. The interviews and the group discussion are recorded on audio. The last days of school and work are recorded on video which will then become the data for the interactional analysis. Phase 3 concludes with a second interview with the main participants, in which the previous training year is reflected and the gained insights will be discussed again together. Parallel to all three phases, me and the participants will study together in regular intervals, which will give me a better insight into language-specific requirements and problems for multilingual apprentices.

At the end of the data collection, the corpus consists of twelve observation protocols, audio recordings of six main interviews, nine short interviews and three group discussions, and approximately 25 hours of video material – all centrally guided by the subjects’ perspective. The video material will be pre-selected according to the categories and codes developed by the subjective perspective and observations in phases 1 and 2. Through the combination of the different material it is intended to create a data corpus that is intertwined within itself on several levels. The observed and selected interaction sequences are based on the categories experienced centrally by the multilingual apprentices, the observation protocols are then re-discussed with the research participants, and at the end the meta-lingual interviews can be used to search for interpretations and evaluations by the participants themselves regarding specific language practise in the recorded interaction sequences. Furthermore, possible linguistic disadvantages for a successful completion of apprenticeship training as well as (non-)linguistic counteracts and -strategies can be identified. By this, it’s possible to understand the effects of linguistic differences in the apprenticeship training in a migration context better – starting from the perspective of the individual experiencing language.

So I want to ask which linguistic aspects are central to young migrants for a successful professional education and which aren’t. What opportunities and problems arise from multilingualism in vocational training and what counter-strategies are applied? I want to understand linguistic differences between the workplace and vocational school and how they influence learning e.g. can practical or professional learning alleviate linguistic problems? So I want to ask: What’s it like, to do an apprenticeship training as a non-native German speaker in Austria?

By |2021-10-12T17:22:30+02:00December 9th, 2020|PhD Conference|