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Friday, October 5th, 2012

Two days ago, I went to a seminar at the European Parliament organised in collaboration with the European Commission; about the European Survey on Language Competences (ESLC) which I have already mentioned here twice.

It’s an important survey, and it’s the first one of its nature.

I met Mr. Miguel Angel Martinez Martinez, vice-President of the European Parliament who hosted the event. He is a charming man, dedicated to the task of spreading the word of multilingualism.

As DR Neil Jones, the ESLC Director, put it, the survey doesn’t reveal any big surprises. It underlines a few things, such as the importance of the motivation for language learners. It also emphasises the fact that if both teachers and pupils use a foreign language in lessons the pupils’ language skills will improve. Another important factor is the image given to the pupils by the parents of the language learned. Traditional and new media play a big role, as well as peer learning with friends.. Subtitles in television and cinema helps, it’s important to start learning languages early, teachers need thorough training etc, etc. We know all those things. But the merit of the survey is that is shows in figures that they are relevant.

A main point of the discussion, introduced by Professor Piet Van de Craen from the Vrije Universiteit Brussels, was about the role of the so-called CLIL (Content and language integrated learning) approach (EMILE as we call it in French).

This method,  based on principles established by research on “language immersion”, offers the possibility to learn content through an additional language besides the mother tongue. Language is not anymore a subject of study, but a tool. Let’s take an example: you teach history, but you do it in French, with pupils that do French as a second language. This method has been very successful. It helps fighting the inhibition of the learners, it gives them confidence, and helps them practicing the language for concrete reasons.

As a former CLIL teacher, I certainly know the benefit of this method, and firmly believe that it must be promoted.

However, this tool is just one solution among others and it might be very difficult to introduce it in every schooling system.

Teaching is a difficult and complex task. You must have knowledge about pedagogy and the subject you’re teaching. If you have to do this in another language, it becomes really complicated. It goes without saying that a special focus must be put on initial training and vocational training. But this will take time and money. This must be clarified from the very beginning.

In the best of all worlds, the CLIL teachers would be mother tongue teachers. But how do you find them? Well, you could ask teachers from other countries to go abroad for a certain period. This would be a nice solution since it would also bring teachers from different countries to meet and share their views about the way they work. But in order to promote this, a few obstacles are lying ahead, and not just political or administrative ones, but first and foremost economical. This won’t be easy for sure.

Before we get there, we could already try easier things. Why not do some team teaching across disciplines, and invite the language teachers to do some interventions in the history lessons or whatever subject, when needed? This is not that difficult to do, and more realistic at the moment.

Let language be present everywhere in school, from math to sport! Bring in new ideas!

And by the way, Happy World Teachers Day to everyone!

Keep up the good work, and don’t forget that you have a wonderful job, and that the sharing of good practices and ideas will help you in exploring new horizons. Over to you!

T. Denigot

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