Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. Mai 2004

8.1. Intercultural Education
HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Susanne Binder/Mikael Luciak (Vienna)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

A Multicultural Perspective on Integrating Non-Native Speaking Students into the Community in Vienna/Austria and Texas/Usa: A Preliminary Report

Eva Linton-Kubelka (Vienna)



The purpose of this paper is to give a preliminary report on a research project comparing middle school teachers' perceptions of non-native speaking students in the city of Vienna, Austria, with those of middle school teachers in the state of Texas, USA. The purpose of the project is to determine the effect of integration programs in both school systems in relation to the ways teachers perceive non-native speaking students. In Vienna, the students chosen for this study come from Turkey and the former Yugoslavia (currently the countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia). In Texas, the students were Mexican immigrants. Research was conducted using narrative interviews to compare the perceptions of teachers in the two different educational systems.

This paper is structured in three parts. First, a short introduction is necessary to explain the reasons why the narrative interview methodology was chosen as the research method in this field. Afterwards, the methods of integrating non-native speaking students into the two separate school systems are described. The last section discusses the importance of multicultural education for all students and the need for improved multicultural training for the teachers.


The Narrative Interview: An Alternative Approach to Interviewing

Many research projects that use the more traditional qualitative method are confronted with a large amount of data gathered through interviews, and researchers are often not able to gage this amount until it is time for the analysis. Then, due to time pressure, the material is often evaluated rather quickly and unsystematically. Another major problem with qualitative interviews is that frequently too much emphasis is placed on the researchers own interpretation, rather than using more objective interpretative methods (Aufenanger 1991).

In contrast, narrative interview gives a possibility to expand the critical character of empirical social sciences. As Spradley says, narrative interviews allow researchers to get "the view of the event out of the event itself" (Spradley 1979, p.24). In other words, narrative interviews are able to reconstruct a subjective perspective of the occurrence. They underline the perspective of the interviewed rather than the interviewer, and therefore can be seen as a discourse between the speakers instead of a stimulus/response model. As this study seeks to attain an insight into teacher's subjective perceptions of immigrant students, the narrative interview provided the most effective way of capturing teacher's main thoughts and opinions.

The narrative interview shares some features with a friendly conversation, but with some major differences: The interviewer and the informant do not take turns in asking questions, instead the interviewer asks questions and the informant talks about his/her experience. So the main interest lies in certain linguistic symbols that form the belief system of every culture.

These are just some of the issues raised to determine the methodology used in this study. It is now necessary to give a short overview of the Austrian and the US school systems and their approaches to educating non-native speaking students.


Educational Models for Non-Native Speaking Children in Vienna, Austria

The city of Vienna has seen a permanent increase of immigrants from the region now referred to as former Yugoslavia since 1966 and an increase of immigrants from Turkey since 1964. They came to work as labourers or in other blue collar jobs under the status of "guest workers". The idea was to allow young men to work in Vienna for some years and then to return to their country of origin.

This plan soon fell apart when many of the workers decided to stay and some began relocate their families to Vienna, which created an increase on the non-native speaking population. This caused an increase of demands on the government and the communities primarily to provide health insurance, housing and education for the new immigrants and their children.

The Austrian school system offers nine years of compulsory education, which starts when the children are six years old. After four years of elementary school, students have a choice of two different types of school, either a lower general secondary school (Hauptschule) or a higher one (Gymnasium). After eighth grade, a student has three choices. The first is to attend a vocational school, which is either a school in connection with an apprenticeship (Berufschule) or a one-year polytechnical school (Polytechnische Schule); the second is a business school (Handelsakademie or Handelsschule); and the third is an upper level academic secondary school (Realgymnasium).

Immigrant children are typically found in lower general secondary school. They make up 32% of the students in elementary schools and 40% in the lower general secondary schools (Weidinger, 2000). Because these schools were the first to be confronted with non-native speaking students, they were also the first to develop a program to deal with this situation. Many multicultural school models can be found in these types of compulsory schools. If the number of non-native speakers in the classroom is less than 30% then a more supportive model will be used depending on the grade level. For instance, in elementary schools, the aim is to integrate all students into the regular time schedule as soon as possible. The pupils remain in their classes and either specialist teachers are brought into the classroom or students are pulled out for a couple of hours. These regulations are used throughout Vienna as well as in other urban areas of Austria.


Educational Models for Non-Native Speaking Children in Texas, Usa.

Between 1965 and 1994, the percentage of the foreign born population in the USA rose from 5% to 8,5%. In Texas, this segment of the population made up to 12,2% percent of the population in 2000. Additionally, there is a percentage of 17% of 5 to 24 year olds who speak a language other than English at home (U.S. Department of Commerce, Current Population Survey, December 2002).

Since immigrants constitute more than one fourth of the growth of the national labour force, their preparation for work is very important. Up to the level of middle school, immigrants are nearly as likely to be enrolled in school as natives in the same age group (Vernez and Abrahamse 1996). Immigrant children who enter the country after the age of 15, particularly those of Hispanic origin, are less likely to enter the US school system.

There are two prevalent methods used in the USA for the education of non-native speaking children. The first is an ESL program, which is English as a second language. Children in this program are taught all subjects in English with other non-native speakers, before gradually being moved into mainstream classes. The second prevalent model is the bilingual program, where immigrant children are taught a large proportion of their school subjects, such as Mathematics and Science, in their native language, which in Texas is primarily Spanish.


Role of Education in a Multicultural Society

The middle school age group was chosen for this study because it is at this time that non-native speaking pupils are mostly integrated into mainstream classes. Socialization is one of the primary purposes of school and the educational system of any country. The education system cannot exist in a vacuum and must to some extent reflect the benevolence and malevolence of the society at large.

Despite the need for people from diverse backgrounds to get along, intercultural communication is made difficult by pervasive discrimination, stereotyping, and distrust. For example, in Texas, most immigrant students from Mexico were embarrassed to say where they were from, while in Vienna many immigrant students only feel accepted once they receive the Austrian citizenship as I found out during my interviews.

A multicultural education should emphasize the similarities and differences existing from one culture to the next. Prejudices about certain ethnic groups should be dispelled and pupils should be taught not to judge people based on learned stereotypes. In Vienna, for example, many of the female Muslim students are made fun of for continuing to wear the traditional head scarf. Teachers in Texas told me that many of the immigrant students from Mexico are called "wet backs" by other pupils, a pejorative term for a recent immigrant who were seen to have just crossed over the Rio Grande, the border separating the US and Mexico.

When students feel respected, they begin to feel better about themselves. Once they feel better about themselves, they are then able to feel better about others. Therefore a great emphasis should be placed on educating teachers about the diversity of their students, and on developing a curriculum that is more relevant for the pupil's cultural background. Teachers should also be helped to develop a cognitive flexibility that allows them to help pupils to find their preferred learning styles. By doing so, the gap between theory and practice in multicultural education will be reduced.

Attention needs to be drawn to the necessity of preparing students from different ethnic groups to live in a culturally pluralistic society. Experts have shown that in a diverse society it is important to accept other life styles and ways of socialization.

However, it is also important that individuals are free to retain their own ethnic and cultural distinctiveness. Teachers in both Texas and Vienna told me that if they had a multicultural dance festival or song contest at their school, most of the pupils were enthusiastic participants, particularly the non-native students, because it provided the opportunity to share their own culture.

Multicultural education can also enhance positive awareness of different ethnic cultures by utilizing diversity to assist changing stereotypes and prejudices. An understanding of the different historical experiences of each cultural group can be of tremendous value. Systems of education between people of different ethnic backgrounds can also be used to facilitate the interactions between teachers and students.

Additionally, more training is needed to give teachers the tools and skills to discuss issues related to human diversity and multiculturality. Once teachers feel comfortable talking about the different ethnic issues, they can start discussions about the attitude of the dominant culture, which can widen the perceptions of both students and teachers of different cultural, ethnical, and gender issues. For example, when teachers in Vienna were asked if they were bothered by student's wearing head scarfs, they agreed. But during the conversation became clear that a lot of them have not put a lot of thought into the religious or ethnic background of the immigrant students which is important because members of various ethnic groups follow different customs regarding the head scarf. This study points to a need for more sensitive training to help teachers to incorporate multicultural issues in their main topic areas. This can help develop an awareness of biased material.

Multicultural consciousness should be an important part of the curriculum. Teachers need more training to see how multicultural perspectives can fit into existing systems. The simple reflection of different cultural images is not enough. Instead, we must also carefully examine existing stereotypes in order to work more effectively toward an integrated, yet culturally diverse, classroom.

© Eva Linton-Kubelka (Vienna)


Aufenanger, Stefan (1991): Qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews: a report in "Qualitative-Empirical Research", Graz, D. and K. Kraimer, eds., Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen

Olsen, Laurie (1997): "Made in America. Immigrant Students in our Public Schools", The New Press, New York

Spradley, James P. (1979): "The Ethnographic Interview", Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York

Thomas, Terrence (1992): "Relationships between Teacher Philosophy and Teacher Behaviour in Education that is Multicultural", University of Texas at Austin

Vernez, Georges and Taylor Abrahamse (1996): "How Immigrants Fare in U.S. Education", Rand, Santa Monica

Weidinger, Walter (2000): "Wiener Kinder sind unsere Kinder", Stadtschulrat Wien

8.1. Intercultural Education

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For quotation purposes:
Eva Linton-Kubelka (Vienna): A Multicultural Perspective on Integrating Non-Native Speaking Students into the Community in Vienna/Austria and Texas/Usa: A Preliminary Report. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW:

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