Author: Tanja Wagensohn, April 2023
In the past, multilingualism was usually considered an exceptional case. Monolingualism was thought to be the usual scenario. However, societies in the globalized world are increasingly diverse. "Think of the digitalization that comes with opening multilingual doors", suggests Evghenia Goltsev, UR’s junior professor for multilingualism. “There is an increasing interest in discovering different countries and gaining new perspectives.” At the same time, people are sometimes forced into multilingual situations through misfortune and disaster; they leave their home countries due to war, persecution, a lack of access to decent livelihoods – the list goes on.
What Makes a Difference
In the countries they move to, migrants start speaking different languages at school or at work while mostly maintaining their first or heritage languages and passing them on to new generations. “Multilingualism forms a resource for language learning and offers general cognitive advantages”, says Evghenia Goltsev. The researcher is interested in acquisition, use and perception as well as education and promotion of the multilingual repertoire of individuals and groups. She draws impulses mostly from sociology and pedagogy /educational sciences.
Within the University of Regensburg, Evghenia Goltsev closely cooperates with the Chair of German as a Second Language in the areas of research, teaching, and transfer. Soon after joining the UR, she started a common project with her colleagues with regard to Ukrainian refugees. Educational integration of children and young people with a migration background is important to her in general. “In my dissertation, I analyzed how people who do not speak German as their first language are perceived by society”, Evghenia Goltsev says. “One key question was if accent makes a difference.” Does it make one? The research findings of Goltsev and her colleagues show that it does, especially with regard to participation in society, educational success, and the influence on the self-perception of multilingual persons in society as well as in educational systems. Such challenges are of major interest to the 38-year-old researcher, who is multilingual herself. She speaks English, German and Russian, and understands Moldovan, Polish and Ukrainian.
The Complexity of Identity
The languages one speaks play a major role in the respective person’s negotiation of identity. “Multilingual persons will always be challenged by asking themselves - who am I?”, Goltsev says, knowing this from her own experience. Until the age of 12 she lived in Moldova, then moved to Hamburg. “I grew up in Germany, I was socialized here, I share the local social values, as far as one can define such values for a society at all. But am I German? Or Moldovan?” It is important to understand, the researcher says, that “being multilingual does not mean there are several monolingual people in one head, neither linguistically nor in terms of identity”. Evghenia Goltsev explains it by quoting her colleagues Ulrike Jessner and Elisabeth Allgäuer-Hackl: “Think about sports: There is high jump and sprinting as individual disciplines. A hurdler would train elements of both disciplines. However, it ends up being something different.”
So, a dual cultural background is no 1+1? “No, says Goltsev, “maybe call it a 1.5”. This was of major interest to her students, many of them being multilingual themselves and at the same time prospective teachers or future researchers. Evghenia Goltsev is committed generating new findings and transferring them immediately to such key multipliers. What is new and relevant when it comes to school classes with multilingual students? What should modern teacher education look like? She is looking at how several languages can be included in teaching, also didactically, and how teachers can be professionalized to follow this approach. “Transfer of findings and insights should be swift”, the researcher says.
Train the Teachers
Therefore, it is imperative for successful educational processes to include students’ entire linguistic system in teaching as well as learning processes “and to use it productively in the sense of a resource-oriented approach in the classroom.” Goltsev considers teachers to be a central pillar for the implementation – a consequence of the so-called multilingual turn. Together with her team, she initiates, prepares, and accompanies resource-oriented concepts and methods within the framework of appropriate professionalization measures, right from the start of teacher training. The necessary basis is provided by basic research, among other things on linguistic competencies; she is currently working on a project with regard to listening comprehension and is associated with two other projects on multilingual diagnostics.
The University of Regensburg, with its regional and transnational references and its broad research in the field of area studies, is an ideal research location for Goltsev. “You can experience a lot and at the same time continue with your research.” Of particular interest to her was the Forum Multilingualism and Regionality (FoMuR), Goltsev says, an interdisciplinary scientific network at UR’s Faculty of Linguistics, Literatures and Cultural Studies, founded in early 2018. But occasionally even successful scientists take some time off. What does the linguist do when she takes a break? Exploring Regensburg, discovering foodie culture, hiking – Evghenia Goltsev enjoys the mountains in spring, the sea in summer, and Israel in any season.