(Virtual) Wednesday Seminar: Invented spelling of German 4th graders in French: Insights into spelling solutions of multilinguals

Constanze Weth, Associate Professor for Multilingual Education at the University of Luxembourg, will give a talk on French spelling patterns of German fourth graders with French as Foreign language.

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The purpose of this presentation is to gain insights into cross-language transfer in vowel spelling in French by German 4thgraders with French as a foreign language. Transfer in vowel spelling is difficult to detect because the relation between a vowel and its grapheme is often ambiguous within a writing system and therefore the interpretation of transfer across writing systems is complex.

The talk presents to perspectives on the learner writings collected based on a dictation: Interviews of the children about their writing (Weth 2010), and a fine-grained measure to the differences in spelling (Weth & Wollschläger 2020). The last study  differentiates between phonologically and graphematically joint vs. unshared vowel graphemes in French and German and the contribution of each category to transfer. To reach this aim, the vowels of the target language French are differentiated into three categories: French vowels sharing (or not) overlap with the German phoneme and (or) grapheme. Instead of testing orthographic knowledge as in applying the orthographic norm correctly, it uses the model of the “graphematic solution space” (Neef 2015) that takes into account spelling that is graphematically licensed within the involved writing system. 

Furthermore, the analysis distinguished between poor and good German spellers to get insights on the relation of the pupils’ competence in the German and French spelling. Results showed an influence of the phonological and graphematic overlap in the spelling patterns, but also inconsistencies with both writing systems. The findings will be contrasted by the children’s perspective on their writing. Altogether, the findings challenge statistical learning in multilingual contexts as the produced graphotactic patterns are rather ‘French-like’ and ‘German-like’ than French or German. 


Neef, M. (2015). Writing systems as modular objects: Proposals for theory design in grapholinguistics. Open Linguistics, 1(1), 708–721.

Weth, C., & Wollschläger, R. (2020). Spelling patterns of German 4th graders in French vowels: insights into spelling solutions within and across two alphabetic writing systems. Writing Systems Research. doi: 10.1080/17586801.2020.1754997

Weth, C. (2010). Gesteuert-ungesteuerter Schrifterwerb in der Fremdsprache [Controlled-uncontrolled spelling acquisition in foreign language teaching]. IMIS-Beiträge, 37, 121–142.



Constanze Weth has a background in linguistics and language pedagogy. She is Associate Professor for Multilingual Education at University of Luxembourg in 2013, and Head of the Institute for Research on Multilingualism since 2014. 

C. Weth specialized in multilingual literacies and writing development in multilingual contexts. Coming originally from sociolinguistics carrying out qualitative research on literacy practices in families and school in multilingual contexts. During the last years, she has specialized in fine-grained linguistic and psycholinguistic analyses in two domains of spelling acquisition, invented spelling on the level of grapheme and phoneme correspondences, and syntactic spelling. Related to this last domain, she carries out intervention studies in collaboration with teachers in Luxembourg.

The overall motivation of her work lies in the desire to contribute in learner-centered pedagogies of language and literacy in multilingual contexts. This motivation led to the writing of a grammar for primary school children in Luxembourg (on Luxembourgish, German and French), symbolizing word and phrase structures with Lego.

Published June 1, 2020 11:33 PM - Last modified Mar. 16, 2021 9:30 AM