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Linguistic Diversity: Studying the European Model

Linguistic Diversity: Studying the European Model

When it comes to speaking about cultural and linguistic diversity, Europe is one continent to look at. As borders open, mobility increases and new complex markets emerge, the need for linguistically competent professionals rises. This is the reason why multilingual schools are not a new feature of Europe’s diverse and complex linguistic landscape. They operate in many contexts: international schools for expat communities; schools providing instruction in a regional, minority, or indigenous languages; or schools that have opted for a degree of bilingual education, where another language is partly used for instruction, common for example in border regions and more recently to teach English1.

Each country establishes a strategy and approach according to the European Guidelines to reach the common objective to become “a competitive economy based on knowledge”. As each of the 27 countries understands that language instruction not only creates professional opportunities and economic growth in the global markets but also aids in the mutual understanding across cultures that results in social cohesion.

Guidelines to become a Language-Aware School

The European Council determines that, for schools to have a comprehensive approach to language teaching and learning, they must be language-aware schools. To become one, there are five rudiments the council establishes. A school must2:

• have a positive attitude towards linguistic diversity and language learning;
• know which languages are present in their school even if these languages are not part of the curricula;
• integrate language learning across the curriculum and support children’s entire linguistic repertoire;
• support pupil mobility and use digital tools to their full potential to enhance language learning and boost motivation;
• support teachers of other subjects than modern languages to gain language awareness and knowledge about language didactics.

These fundamentals come from the realization that instruction is not enough for pupils to become proficient in a foreign language. The results of The European Survey on Language Competences from 2012 revealed that only 42% of secondary students who received language instruction for several years, reached an independent use for their first foreign language. These findings support the need for a comprehensive strategy for foreign language acquisition.

Linguistic Diversity

The Bilingual Model in Austria

In Austria, an inclusive multilingual education model has been adopted by schools in Carinthia. The goal of these programs is to provide students with equal time exposure in two languages and use both as a medium of instruction. Schools take on a speaker-centered approach drawn from biographical, ethnographic, and participatory methods. They take into account the perspectives of students, parents, and teachers alike3.

It is a time-based model in which the language of the classes changes daily: if one day the instruction is given in German, the following will be in Slovene. Furthermore, schools in Carinthia offer Slovene immersion weeks at the beginning of a school year, regular student exchanges in Slovenia, a well-equipped library, and add language-related projects into the classrooms and hallways.
European Mobility Schemes for Language Competence

The model comprehends that the pedagogical motivations and experiences of teachers are highly relevant for a learner’s comprehension of the language and that speakers interact in a complex environment that is not static, but that changes over time. Strategies to strengthen the use of Slovene include its use as a meta-language as well as in informal settings (i.e. breaks) and during the exchange program, which is an occasion for students to overcome shyness and to start experimenting with the language4.

With the implementation of the time-based models, schools perceived a positive effect in language acquisition and proficiency both for students and teachers. Through social practices in their learning experience, students were stimulated to the use of different languages. This led to considering linguistic resources to be less at the periphery of their lives. For teachers, the interest in being bi- and multilingual increased, motivated by their impact as role models for both languages. Lastly, the absence of another language, encouraged the use of the single language for all purposes, decreasing the switch to the “stronger” one and resulting in higher levels of bilingualism.

European Mobility Schemes for Language Competence

In 2009 the Council of the European Union remarked on the importance of transnational mobility, especially for teachers. The council encouraged that teachers partake in exchange schemes with countries where their target language is spoken, as part of their education and professional development. Participation in exchanges strengthens both their oral skills in the target language and the understanding of the “everyday culture”. This results in better use of methodology and context in their language instruction.

An alternative option to expose language teachers to the culture and to give them tools that improve their oral skills is the Language Assistant Scheme. Countries like Spain, France, Ireland, and the Czech Republic have adopted these schemes. These programs offer a cultural immersion for the Language Assistant and an opportunity to gain cultural awareness for their teachers.

The scheme has proven to be highly effective in foreign language instruction and the end goal of the European Union to implement a more comprehensive approach to language teaching and learning. In the 2017-2026 strategy for foreign languages’ education, Minister Bruton remarked his intention to double the number of foreign Language Assistants in Irish schools5.

Linguistic Diversity

In 2019 Spain hosted over 5.000 Language Assistants back in 2017 France hosted around 4,500 assistants from more than 50 countries7.

When it comes to linguistic diversity there is much more to learn from the European models than what is covered in this post. But it is evident that it can only be reached when language instruction goes further than the classroom. Exposing both learners and teachers to real-life situations in the foreign language results in higher and more effective second language acquisition.

 
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