Foreign language and the curriculum : a transdisciplinary approach

dimanche 23 juillet 2017
par  ARB

Foreign language and the curriculum : a transdisciplinary

Line Audin

Along with the introduction of a foreign language in all French primary schools, a research team of the National Institute of Pedagogical Research (INRP) was given the charge of observing and following up the generalisation of the process in terms of language acquisition and learning obstacles (1995-2002). After a few years, it became obvious that some unexpected obstacles met with when learning a foreign language could not be explained or solved independently of the other school subjects. A team composed of linguists, language and maths teachers, language and maths didacticians started working together on the hypothesis that there are some common underlying concepts which should be taught at school in order to bridge the gap between school subjects and give coherence to the learning contents.

The research showed indeed that whatever the subject, be it French (the pupils’ school language), English as a foreign language or even mathematics, pupils are confused when it comes to dealing with language and reality, mainly because they pick up wrong clues and use unstable irrelevant strategies. Located at the heart of language activity, these obstacles are never tackled at school and the pupils who do not master them are unable to organise efficiently when they have to write or read in the mother tongue, or in a foreign language.

Following these results, the research team set up crosscut teaching concepts directly inspired from Antoine Culioli’s linguistic theory of Enunciative Operations, in order to improve linguistic competences in the three major subjects.These innovative contents were thus implemented for five years (2005-2010) in several French schools in classes of pupils aged 10 to 14 with the help of voluntary teachers. The cross-disciplinary contents are organised and hierarchized to cover the school year. They are always presented in relation with important aspects of the programmes of study in French, English and, more recently, mathematics. Although they are transdisciplinary, they always focus on a difficult point of the programme and they are always taught through a variety of discovery activities.

For example, the first concept introduced in class is called the « World-In-Between ». It is introduced in relation with a lesson on the nominal group in French and in English and the rules that govern compound words in each language. It aims at helping learners grasp the complex links between the “world of language” and the “world of reality”. Whenever they cannot understand or express something spontaneously, they can “travel” from one world to the other and stop in the « World-In-Between » to pick up the significant word, the word that corresponds to the notion of reality they hear or that they want to express. Thanks to the « World-In-Between, they accept grammatical rules in their own language (a school girl is not a girls’ school) because they discover theses rules have a strong link with reality. They also accept the idea that these rules are different from one language to the other (un match de boxe is not a matchbox), hence the importance of mastering them.

Now, they are ready for the next step, building relations between notions of reality with the “ARB” world. Any utterance is the result of a relation between two significant notions of reality. A is in relation with B thanks to R, usually a verb. The« ARB » model is a rigorous mental procedure that a trained pupil can use whenever he needs it to create his utterances or to understand what he hears.


I can mentally « see » the three significant notions of the reality I wish to share with the person I am talking to.



I identify the significant notions (no matter the language they are expressed in)




I hate that actress !


Cette actrice, moi
je la déteste !

The discovery that reality (as expressed in ARB) does not change when they switch to another language is a key to success. The more languages they can experiment, the better for the automatisation of the mental processes. That is why learning a foreign language is essential for the development of these new mental strategies. The regular assessments of the French experiment proved successful both from the learner’s and from the teacher’s points of views.


Audin L., 2014, Obstacles conceptuels et disciplines scolaires : l’exemple d’un modèle didactique intégré, anglais-français-mathématiques en collège, in Les didactiques en questions, état des lieux et perspectives pour la recherche et la formation, édition de Boeck, Bruxelles.

 Audin L., 2011, Altérité et invariants, une autre façon d’aborder l’apprentissage des langues au collège, in « Langues, Littératures et Civilisations de l’Arc Atlantique », EA 1925 (Rives, Cahiers de l’Arc Atlantique), L’Harmattan, pp 97-111

 Audin L., 2008, Langues étrangères à l’école primaire : recherches INRP 1998-2003 & 2005-2007, in Psycholinguistique et Didactique des langues étrangères, Groupe d’Études en Psycholinguistique et Didactique, Chini D. et Goutéraux P. (éd.), Cahier de recherches n°2, Ophrys.

Audin L. (coord.), 2005, Enseigner l’anglais de l’école au collège : comment aborder les principaux obstacles à l’apprentissage,
275p, Hatier, collection Hatier-Pédagogie.