Two-Way Immersion in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland: Multilingual Education in the Public Primary School Filière Bilingue (FiBi)

A Longitudinal Study of Oral Proficiency Development of K-4 Learners in Their Languages of Schooling (French and (Swiss) German)

by Melanie Buser (Author)
©2020 Monographs 302 Pages
Series: Exploration, Volume 191


The two-way immersion program Filière Bilingue (FiBi) is a choice-based educational alternative in a public school in Biel/Bienne. It integrates French-speaking, German-speaking and allophone students and strives to promote bilingualism and biliteracy in addition to grade-level academic achievement. This book presents a longitudinal study of oral proficiency development of K-4 learners in French and German (languages of schooling). Data were collected over four years and analyzed by using a mixed-method approach. Whereas the quantitative analysis shows the emergent multilinguals’ ability to use the two languages communicatively, the qualitative analysis provides some illustrative translanguaging examples of learners in their beginning stages of moving along a bilingual continuum.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Foreword by Prof. Dr. em. Jean-Paul Narcy-Combes (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris 3)
  • Acknowledgments
  • Contents
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Purpose of the Study
  • Research Context
  • Initial Questions
  • Significance of the Study
  • Part One Theoretical Background
  • 1 Perspectives on Language, Language Ability and Various Models of Bilingualism
  • 1.1 Foundational Issues
  • 1.1.1 Social Constructivism
  • 1.1.2 General Interactive Processing Theories
  • 1.1.3 Connectionism and Emergentism
  • 1.1.4 Structural vs. Mentalist Conception of Language
  • 1.1.5 From a Dynamic Systems Theory (DST) to a Dynamic Model of Multilingualism (DMM)
  • 1.2 A Dynamic Interactive Processing Conceptualization of Language
  • 1.3 Defining Language Ability or Proficiency
  • 1.3.1 Relative Levels of Language Ability, or Proficiency, in the Two Languages of Schooling
  • 1.3.2 Ways to Quantify Oral Proficiency in Emergent Multilingual FiBi Speakers
  • Comparison of Oral Proficiency in the Registration Language of FiBi Cohorts 2010, 2011 and 2012 (Between-Speaker Comparisons)
  • FiBi Speakers’ Oral Proficiency in Their Registration Language as Compared to Their Partner Language (Within-Speaker Comparisons)
  • Oral Proficiency of French/German Bilinguals of FiBi Compared to Other FiBi Students (Between-Speaker Comparisons)
  • 1.4 Different Models of Bilingualism
  • 1.4.1 Bilingualism as Dual
  • 1.4.2 Bilingualism as Dynamic
  • 1.4.3 Beyond Bilingualism: A More Holistic Approach with a Focus on Multilingualism
  • 2 Multilingual Development and Two-Way Immersion Education
  • 2.1 Towards a Definition of Multilingualism
  • 2.2 The Individual vs. Societal Dimension of Multilingualism
  • 2.3 The Proficiency vs. Use Dimension of Multilingualism
  • 2.4 Adopting a More Holistic View on Multilingual Development
  • 2.4.1 Engaging in Multilingual Discourse Practices: From Languaging to Translanguaging
  • 2.4.2 Critics of the Translanguaging Concept: Strong and Weak Version of Translanguaging
  • 2.4.3 Translanguaging (Strong Version) for Communicative Purposes: Four Categories
  • Translanguaging to Mediate Understandings
  • Translanguaging to Co-Construct and Construct Meaning
  • Translanguaging to Include
  • Translanguaging to Exclude
  • 2.5 Defining Two-Way Immersion Education Programs
  • 2.5.1 Defining Two-Way Immersion Education
  • 2.5.2 A Review of Research on Two-Way Immersion Students’ Oral Proficiency
  • Part Two Empirical Study
  • 3 Research Design
  • 3.1 Context of the Study
  • 3.1.1 The Role of the Sociolinguistic Context
  • The Swiss Linguistic Landscape
  • From Diglossia to Transglossia
  • Languages in the City of Biel/Bienne
  • Status of Languages of Schooling within the Filière Bilingue
  • 3.1.2 Filière Bilingue (FiBi) in Biel/Bienne: A Pilot Project in a Swiss Public School
  • 3.1.3 Composition of the Classes: Detailed Categories of Learners within the Filière Bilingue
  • 3.2 Participants in the Study
  • 3.2.1 Preliminary Remarks
  • 3.2.2 Categories of Emergent Multilingual FiBi Students
  • 3.3 Detailed Research Questions and Respective Hypotheses
  • 3.3.1 Comparison of Oral Proficiency in the Registration Language of FiBi Cohorts 2010, 2011 and 2012
  • 3.3.2 FiBi Speakers’ Oral Proficiency in Their Registration Language as Compared to Their Partner Language
  • 3.3.3 Oral Proficiency of French/German Bilinguals of FiBi Compared to Other FiBi Students
  • 3.4 Methodological Background
  • 3.4.1 Data Collection
  • A Longitudinal Perspective
  • Sample Size for Interviews 1 to 5
  • Effective Dates and Number of Interviews
  • 3.4.2 Methodology
  • Guidelines for Interviews 1 to 5
  • Construct Analysis
  • Quality Criteria
  • Limitations of the Method and Sources of Bias
  • Identify and Reduce Sources of Content Bias
  • Identify and Reduce Sources of Linguistic Bias
  • Individualized Timing of Ten Interviews
  • Language-Based Processing Measures
  • Resource-Orientation in the Development of Interview Guidelines
  • A Mixed-Method Approach
  • Methodological Framework for Quantitative Analysis
  • Methodological Framework for Qualitative Analysis
  • 4 Quantitative Analysis
  • 4.1 Introduction
  • 4.2 Results of the Quantitative Study
  • 4.2.1 Comparison of Oral Proficiency in the Registration Language of FiBi Cohorts 2010, 2011 and 2012
  • 4.2.2 FiBi Speakers’ Oral Proficiency in Their Registration Language as Compared to Their Partner Language
  • 4.2.3 Oral Proficiency of French/German Bilinguals of FiBi Compared to Other FiBi Students
  • 4.3 Discussion of the Quantitative Analysis
  • 5 Qualitative Analysis
  • 5.1 Introduction
  • 5.2 Selected Excerpts of Interviews 4 and 5 for Qualitative Analysis
  • 5.2.1 Total of Transcribed Interviews 4 and 5
  • 5.2.2 Transcripts of Oral Productions of FiBi Students with French (FRL and AFRL) and German (GRL and AGRL) as a Registration Language
  • 5.3 Results of the Qualitative Study
  • 5.3.1 Translanguaging to Mediate Understandings
  • Translanguaging to Mediate Understandings in Creative Ways
  • How Do You Say…?
  • To Be Understood in spite of Inaccuracies
  • Tacit Agreement between Interviewer and Interviewee
  • 5.3.2 Translanguaging to Co-Construct and Construct Meaning
  • Illustrative Examples of Polysemy to Co-Construct Meaning
  • Co-Construct Meaning by Acquiring Lexical Items
  • 5.3.3 Translanguaging to Include
  • 5.3.4 Translanguaging to Exclude
  • 5.4 Discussion of the Qualitative Analysis
  • Part Three Discussion and Future Perspectives
  • 6 Major Findings and Discussion
  • 6.1 Major Findings and Results
  • 6.2 Limitations of the Study
  • 6.3 Further Research
  • 7 Pedagogical Implications and Perspectives
  • 7.1 Research-Based and Practitioner-Informed Implications
  • 7.2 Which Profile for a Professional Two-Way Immersion Teacher?
  • 7.3 Towards a Professionalization of Two-Way Immersion Teacher Education
  • Conclusion
  • Appendices
  • References
  • List of Figures, Tables and Images
  • Glossary
  • Index
  • Autobiographical Note: Melanie Buser, PhD


The two-way immersion program Filière Bilingue (FiBi) is a choice-based educational alternative in a Swiss public school that integrates French-speaking, German-speaking and allophone learners (having neither French nor German as a first language or as first languages). It strives to promote bilingualism and biliteracy in addition to grade-level academic achievement and intercultural competences for all FiBi learners. Located in the bilingual city of Biel/Bienne, the diglossic situation represented by the use of Swiss German (consisting of a multitude of oral dialects) and standard German results in francophone students learning both the Swiss German and the standard language to a certain degree. In school, standard German is gradually integrated but exclusively used in teaching from Grade 1 on. The amount of instructional time is equal in the two languages of schooling (French and (Swiss)German) at all grade levels (50/50 program model).

Our longitudinal study reports findings from statistical analyses of FiBi learners’ oral proficiency development in French and German by means of 868 interviews conducted during their first four years (K-4). A mixed-method approach was used for the analyses of data: whereas the qualitative analysis shows some illustrative examples of the emergent multilinguals’ “translanguaging” and therefore the deployment of the speakers’ full linguistic repertoire, the quantitative analysis focuses on the measurement of their ability to use their languages communicatively. In lieu of measuring a current level of achievement in the K-4 FiBi learners’ two languages of schooling, process measures provide a broader picture, including variations in performance from a longitudinal perspective and documenting the emergent multilinguals’ dynamic interactive process of becoming proficient in their two languages.

Keywords: Two-way immersion education; oral proficiency assessment; dynamic interactive processing perspective on language(s); emergent multilinguals; translanguaging; two-way immersion teacher education.←19 | 20→←20 | 21→


Purpose of the Study

In today’s society, individuals and groups from diverse backgrounds come into contact. Whether they are competitors or seek to collaborate, they need to communicate with each other. Globalization is a twenty-first-century reality. UNESCO emphasizes the importance of multilingual education for all children in the world on a global and national level, and declares that “the specific needs of particular, culturally and linguistically distinct communities can only be addressed by multilingual education” (UNESCO, 2003: 17). Moreover, UNESCO suggests three basic principles by focusing on intercultural multilingual education as a resource for all (UNESCO, 2003: 30):

1. Mother tongue instruction as a means of improving educational quality by building upon the knowledge and experience of the learners and teachers;

2. Bilingual and/or multilingual education at all levels of education as a means of promoting both social and gender equality and as a key element of linguistically diverse societies;

3. Language as an essential component of inter-cultural education in order to encourage understanding between different population groups and ensure respect for fundamental rights.”

Advances in new technologies, the increasingly transnational mobility of the population, new ways of doing business, political shifts and instabilities in many countries, and a growing multilingual population are contributing factors that challenge Switzerland and its residents to develop an enhanced capacity to engage effectively and efficiently with people from around the world. Consequently, one of the most pressing challenges for bi- and multilingual education today is to ensure that languages do not compete with each other, but that “they be developed and used in functional interrelationship” (García, 2009a: 79).

Internationally, and increasingly in Switzerland, educators and policy makers realize that the revolutionary changes and challenges of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries caused by globalization require an expansion of the definition of traditional language learning and teaching to include methods such as immersion education (for a detailed definition, cf. chapter 2.5 Defining Two-Way Immersion Education Programs). The Swiss education system, however, has made little progress in implementing immersion programs into public school curricula, even though the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education, the policy and coordinating body on a national level, has published in 2009 the document “Profil für Zusatzausbildungen für bilinguales / immersives Unterrichten – Profil ←21 | 22→pour les formations complémentaires Enseignement bilingue / en immersion”. This document puts forward several arguments as to why immersion programs should be implemented into school curricula for teaching additional languages and into professional teacher education curricula. Moreover, there has been little research into how immersion programs might be successfully integrated into Swiss public primary school curricula (Gajo et al., 2017) or, conversely, why this integration has been unsuccessful thus far – especially at kindergarten, primary school and secondary I level.

Generally, the following study provides an analysis of the oral proficiency development of learners attending a two-way immersion program in a Swiss school named Filière Bilingue (FiBi). This choice-based educational alternative is located in a public school in the city of Biel/Bienne (Buser, 2014a). Two-way immersion programs represent a program in which the presence of approximately equal numbers of native speakers of both languages of schooling provides opportunities for students to communicate with native-speaker peers. This model could probably be transferred to any other context, especially in areas with a substantial population that speaks a language other than the majority language at home. With regard to the Swiss context, it would perhaps be possible to implement two-way immersion programs in Swiss monolingual contexts as in the cantons of Zurich or Geneva as long as it was possible to find for a class half of the students of any “other” language than the majority language, as well as motivated parents and policy makers. As a result, while half of the learners would be experts in German in the German-speaking canton of Zurich, the other half would be experts in another language (respectively in French and another language in any French-speaking canton).

More specifically, this study’s focus is on the development of oral proficiency, or language ability, in the FiBi students’ two languages of schooling: French and (Swiss) German. The notion “languages of schooling” refers to a “registration language” (either French or German) and a “partner language” (either French or German) according to the registration of the parents of the emergent FiBi multilinguals. The data set consists of 868 interviews from five different data collection points that were analyzed quantitatively and a section of these were analyzed qualitatively. The participants of the study were K-4 students (from Kindergarten until the end of forth grade) schooled in a two-way immersion program that integrates French-speaking and German-speaking students and strives to promote bilingualism and biliteracy in addition to grade-level academic achievement and intercultural competencies for all students (Christian, 1996). In the case of the multilingual school Filière Bilingue, it is more appropriate to speak of “multilingualism and multiliteracy” instead of “bilingualism ←22 | 23→and biliteracy” as required aims of multilingual education. These expressions are used throughout this study as umbrella terms that include bilingual education as its most common form but that also refer to other types of multilingual education in three or more languages. However, caution ought to be used when defining the term multiliteracy. In this study, we refer to this notion as communication in two or more languages, including the capacity to read and write in two or more languages. The languages and media through which multiliteracy is learnt and used are crucial in the process of becoming able to read and write in two or more languages, since in the twenty-first-century multimodal literacy practices are gaining in importance.

Two-way immersion programs go by different names in the literature, such as dual language bilingual programs, dual immersion programs, two-way bilingual programs, or simply dual language programs. In this study, we refer to the notion of two-way immersion with regard to the context in which data were collected. Two-way immersion programs involve sustained use of a student’s home language, in which instruction occurs in two languages of schooling with the goals that students develop bilingualism, biliteracy, and intercultural competences. The two-way immersion education model is thus a bilingual stream, which means that not only are there two languages of schooling used to teach curriculum content but it is also taught to a class that consists of learners who are linguistic experts in either French or (Swiss) German. More precisely, while half the students of one class are able to communicate in French when they enter the Filière Bilingue, the other half of the same class are fluent in (Swiss) German. That is why the students’ language development in French and German in a class is not only enhanced by their teachers, but also by their peers (Buser and Melfi, 2019a, 2019b). Students exposed to two languages of schooling develop bi- or multilingual proficiency to some degree.

As will show the lines that follow, measuring language ability, or proficiency, is no easy task and there are different ways to quantify and qualify language ability in emergent multilinguals. Alluding to García‘s definition of the term emergent bilinguals as learners “who are in the beginning stages of moving along a bilingual continuum” (García, 2009a: 397), all participants of this study will be referred to as “emergent multilinguals”. In an article about the growing linguistic heterogeneity in New York City schools and how to deal with this fact in bilingual education programs, García has argued for “the use of the term emergent bilingual in referring to these children [in New York City] as a way to remind all of us that the effective teaching of English will make them bilingual, not merely teach them English” (García, 2011: 141). Even though this term was used in a completely different context than the one in the city of Biel/Bienne, there are nevertheless ←23 | 24→general global similarities between the two contexts, including the demographic shifts and the technological advances in a globalized world as well as the great linguistic and cultural diversity in the respective classrooms. Throughout this study, we use the term emergent multilinguals to describe learners of the public multilingual school Filière Bilingue.

It is the goal of this study to present the development of languages of schooling in emergent multilinguals from a longitudinal perspective (a period of four years) and to investigate the students’ ability to use language(s) communicatively (Bachman and Palmer, 2010). Accordingly, this longitudinal study aims to provide a documentation of the linguistic development of potential multilinguals within the Swiss two-way immersion setting (FiBi) by referring to heteroglossic ideologies of multilingualism and multilingual education as opposed to monoglossic ideologies. Whereas the latter treat each of the two languages of schooling as isolated and consider them as autonomous systems, the former take into consideration the learners’ diverse language practices in interdependence. Bakhtin (1981) opposes to the traditional concept of monoglossia that of heteroglossia, that is, the multiplicity of languages and rhetorical forms that construct linguistic interaction. García provides a summary of the two concepts (García, 2009a: 7):

Monoglossic ideologies of bilingualism and bilingual education treat each of the child’s languages as separate and whole, and view the two languages as bounded autonomous systems. We contrast this monoglossic language ideology to one based on Bakhtin’s (1981) use of heteroglossic as multiple voices. A heteroglossic ideology of bilingualism considers multiple language practices in interrelationship, and leads to other constructions of bilingual education, […].”


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2020 (July)
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 302 pp., 16 fig. col., 28 tables.

Biographical notes

Melanie Buser (Author)

Melanie Buser is the developer and coordinator of the two-way immersion curriculum « Cursus bilingue/ Bilingualer Studiengang » of the two Universities of Teacher Education HEP-BEJUNE & PHBern located in the French-speaking and German-speaking parts of Switzerland, respectively. She has a solid eight-year experience as a Secondary 1 teacher. She then continued her studies at University of Zurich where she earned her Master of Arts degree in French and English Literature and Linguistics and Philosophy in 2007. In 2015, she obtained her PhD from the University of Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris 3) and is now a postdoctoral researcher at Université de Montréal (UdeM) and HEP-BEJUNE in the field of professionalization of teacher education.


Title: Two-Way Immersion in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland: Multilingual Education in the Public Primary School Filière Bilingue (FiBi)