Have you ever heard what mutual intelligibility is?

Is it possible to read Italian, Spanish or Portuguese news papers if you don’t know these languages? Or to understand the indications received from a Spanish in Madrid or give information to a Romanian in Paris, speaking each one their own language?

The answer is yes, it is possible for the mutual intelligibility.

In this method of language learning the communication efforts are focuses on the reception abilities of foreign language (reading, listening) rather than the production abilities (speaking, writing).

Defining the concept of mutual intelligibility is not easy because there are different interpretations of it. For example, Umberto Eco, in an attempt to define the importance of mutual intelligibility says:

“A Europe of polyglots is not a Europe of people who

speak many languages fluently, but, in the best case

scenario, of people who can communicate, each

speaking his own language and understanding that of

the other. People who, while not being able to speak it

fluently, by understanding it, even with difficulty,

would understand the “spirit”, the cultural universe

that every one expresses when speaking the language

of his ancestors and of his own tradition.”

In the context of language teaching, the mutual intelligibility is associated with different approaches that aim at the development of  a multilingual and multicultural competence. All of these theories are based on the following principle: the learner of a language belonging to a certain “family” (eg the Romance languages​​), is immediately or relatively soon able to understand the languages ​​of the same group.

So, what are the advantages of mutual intelligibility?

First, effectiveness in communicating: the capacity of expressing themselves in their own language without going through a foreign language, which would require them to reformulate thoughts in a simplified way. On the other hand, the interlocutor has the same advantages. It is certainly true that the exchange obliges each party to make an effort to be comprehensible, but is much easier to produce a message in one’s own language. The second advantage is the speed of learning: mutual intelligibility stimulates the development of receptive skills, so a few weeks are sufficient to “intercomprehend” the written word.

What is the method to teach mutual intelligibility?

Practicing mutual intelligibility in class strengthens the awareness of diversity while creating bridges between different cultures, promoting tolerance and respect for others.

The teaching methods for the mutual intelligibility are all relatively recent or are being currently developed. They differ, among other things, in terms of the audience they are aimed at (school children, students, those in professional training, etc.), the languages they teach, and the tools they use (courses, online networks, websites…). Researchers and educationalists are developing two areas: on the one hand, extending reading skills to listening skills; on the other hand, using the same methods, progressing to families of languages other than that of the family of languages of the learner.

What do you think ab out this method?

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