Saturday 12 April
9:30 - 13:00
Rm 4.36, Run Run Shaw Tower
Centennial Campus
The University of Hong Kong


Contextualizing Intercomprehension Strategies
in Hong Kong Foreign Language Classes

Contextualiser les stratégies d’intercompréhension
dans les classes de langues à Hong Kong

The concept of intercomprehension (IC) in respect of the didactics of languages has drawn much attention lately in Europe, owing to a host of factors: the European integration, language and social diversity, people mobility, linguistic multi-competence and intercultural dialogue.

The fundamental principle of IC is that the language learning process, and in particular at level ab initio, should capitalize on the learner’s passive command (or “receptive multilingualism”) of the target language rather than ignoring it. This passive command derives from the learner’s linguistic background and is all the more critical when the target language belongs to the same group (e.g., Romanic, Germanic or Slavic) that of the learner’s mother tongue or other acquired second languages. However, while much work and research was done in developing receptive skills of languages with close genetic features (e.g., French, Italian, Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese), much less attention was paid to the role of English, with its historically mixed Germanic-Romanic character, in facilitating intercomprehension strategies of the French language for instance.

With regard to the situation in Hong Kong, where most learners have English as a first or second language, this symposium aims to explore a recontextualizing of intercomprehension in an extra-European setting so as to provide fresh perspectives to local language teachers and specialists of language education.

La notion d’intercompréhension (IC) et ses implications sur la didactique des langues ont suscité beaucoup d’intérêt en Europe ces dernières années, en raison d’un certain nombre de facteurs : l’intégration européenne, la diversité des langues et des sociétés, la mobilité humaine, les compétences multilingues ou encore les contacts entre cultures.

L’un des principes fondamentaux de l’IC est de reconnaître que dans le processus d’apprentissage d’une langue, et particulièrement dès les premiers niveaux, la stratégie d’enseignement doit tenir compte des connaissances préalables de l’apprenant sur la langue cible, plutôt que de les ignorer. Ces connaissances préalables, passives, dérivent du fonds linguistique de l’apprenant et sont d’autant plus cruciales lorsque la langue cible appartient au même groupe linguistique (e.g., roman, germanique, slave) que la langue maternelle ou les autres langues étrangères apprises de l’apprenant. Toutefois, alors que de nombreuses recherches et expériences ont été conduites pour développer la réception de langues aux généalogies communes (e.g., français, espagnol, italien, portugais, catalan), l’attention s’est beaucoup moins portée sur le rôle facilitateur de l’anglais, dont le caractère à la fois germanique et roman fait de cette langue un véritable vecteur d’intercompréhension dans la stratégie d’apprentissage, en particulier du français.

A partir d’une réflexion sur la situation spécifique de Hong Kong, où la plupart des apprenants ont l’anglais en première langue étrangère, ce symposium se donne pour objectif de recontextualiser la notion d’intercompréhension hors de l’espace européen afin d’ouvrir des perspectives nouvelles aux enseignants et aux spécialistes des langues étrangères de la région.


- Guest Speakers -

Professor Eric Castagne, University of Reims, France.

Professor of Linguistics, Faculty of Letters and Humanities, University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne (URCA)
Director, Master of Letters, Foreign Languages and Cultures.
Director, University Diploma of French as a Foreign Language.
Research and teaching:
Contrastive Linguistics of the Romance and Germanic languages, Modeling simultaneous teaching of mutual comprehension, Didactics of plurilinguism and French as a foreign language.
In charge of the research programme Mutual Comprehension and Didactics of plurilingualism
In charge of European research project : « Axe Intercompréhension et didactique du plurilinguisme du CIRLEP EA 4299 »
Director, Research programme : ICE - InterCompréhension Européenne


Professor Philippe Martin, University of Paris Diderot (Paris 7), France.

Professor of French Linguistics, University of Toronto and University Paris Diderot.
Director, School of Linguistics, University Paris Diderot, France.
Research and teaching: Experimental phonetics; intonation and syntax of European languages; learning methods of French prosodic system; speech analysis and synthesis; theories of syntax and intonation ; contrastive studies of French and English prosodic systems ; applied research in speech recognition and automated systems.
Philippe Martin has published 7 books and more than 200 scholarly articles. He has taught as guest professor and delivered conference papers in many countries (Algeria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Italy, Japan, Marocco, Portugual Russia, Singapore, Sweden, The Netherlands, Poland, Tchad and Czech Republic).
Recent publications:
Ph. Martin (2008) "Phonétique acoustique", A. Colin, Paris, 163p.
Ph. Martin (2009) "Intonation du français", A. Colin, Paris, 256p



- Programme -



Opening Remarks
Dr Denis C. Meyer, School of Modern Languages and Cultures, HKU.

10:00 – 10:50

Professor Eric Castagne
University Of Reims Champagne-Ardenne

Globalized world, complex intercommunication and plural learners: the education for intercomprehension, an innovative, relevant and efficient solution.

10:55 – 11:15


11:20 – 12:10

Professor Philippe Martin
University Paris-Diderot (Paris VII)

Oral Intercomprehension

12:15 – 13:00

« Langue-pont, lingua franca et DDL »

13:05 – 14:30

Light Buffet


Note: The speakers will deliver their presentations in French,
English may be used for visual aids, notes etc.
Debates and discussions are in French or English.



- Abstracts -

Globalized world, complex intercommunication and plural learners: the education for intercomprehension, an innovative, relevant and efficient solution.

Prof. Eric Castagne

The world is now globalized, people are more and more mobile, languages ​​are more and more in touch, and human being “mutated” in contact with connected technologies. In this context, researchers had to evaluate language needs useful for the society, define the contents to teach and develop adequate methodologies. All barometers show that if English is required, it is not enough: multilingualism is crucial. This is why, from the 90s, several international research programs (EuRom4, EuroCom, Galatea, etc.) have been exploring the most functional multilingual intercom solutions and the most effective methodologies for teaching. One of the most efficient paths seems to be intercomprehension (or mutual understanding), by which one understands the language of others while expressing oneself in our own mother tongue or in a foreign language.

The team of the InterComprehension Européenne (ICE) research program has developed a method of teaching mutual understanding of neighbouring languages, related or not to the mother tongue, which objectives, principles and results will be presented in this communication. “Intercomprehension” is certainly an innovation in teaching, but it is also an innovation in culture, communication and strategy, and that is why we shall finish our presentation explaining how the curricular integration of education for mutual understanding in the Hong Kong educational context could be beneficial to the cultural influence of languages ​​(such as French or Portuguese), the reliability of messages content exchanged in the original version (by researchers or managers), and cross-cultural management which has recently become essential in international businesses.

Oral intercomprehension

Prof. Philippe Martin

Until now, research on intercomprehension between different languages ​​has been focused on the morphological and syntactic similarities of their writing form. However, oral intercomprehension should involve a different kind of approach pertaining to the phonological similarity between the languages ​​in question, and particularly to the prosodic structure, which is in fact the first structure processed by the listener in a speech act. Neglected in most conventional learning methods, the prosodic structure functions as an essential bootstrap allowing the listener to recover quickly the syntactic and informational structures of the utterance.

The prosodic structure of all languages ​​obeys constraints universal by nature, related to the cognitive processing of auditory information in the brain. The treatment and identification of sequences of syllables perceived by the listener is synchronized by Theta waves (4 Hz to 10 Hz) whereas Delta waves (1 Hz to 4 Hz) synchronize stress groups. Stress groups are therefore subject to specific time constraints, such as the minimum and maximum duration between successive stressed syllables (respectively of the order of 250 ms and 1200 ms).

Tonal languages ​​obey the same constraints but instead of stress, rhythmic properties determine the prosodic structure and limit the temporal groups to about four or five syllables. These temporal groups, like stress groups of non-tonal languages, ​​constitute the building blocks of prosodic structure.

Therefore, oral intercomprehension requires learners awareness of similarities and differences in stress and temporal groups as well as prosodic grammars of the languages ​​considered. To illustrate this concept, I will present intercomprehension strategies using examples drawn from tonal and non-tonal languages: Mandarin with a rhythmic temporal prosodic unit, English with a lexical stress group system and French with no lexical stress and only stress groups’ tone boundaries.



- Information and Registration -


All are welcome
To facilitate the organization of the event, please take a few seconds to

register here


For more information, please send email to: Dr. D.C. Meyer

Where to find us ? See maps


Organized by:

School of Modern Languages and Cultures
The University of Hong Kong


With the support of:

The French Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau



The Association of Teachers of French in Hong Kong and Macau

French at HKU