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    Inspiring language learning in the early years
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    Inspiring Language Learning

Inspiring language learning in the early years
Why it matters and what it looks like for children age 3-12


Overview
What it is
about
Context
Guiding principles
Inspiring practice
Quiz & FAQ
Links and further reading
Glossary

What it is about

The ILLEY team has used the evidence from research and the experience of practising teachers and educators to answer the question of how to make language learning inspirational for young learners. In this website we present ideas and examples that we hope will be of interest and help to you in making language learning exciting and stimulating for the children in your classrooms.

Valuing children’s learning

As professionals and/or parents, we aspire to making a positive difference in the lives of children. We want our involvement with them to be of value in their development, their learning and, from the very beginning, to success in their lives. What better place to start than by valuing the young learners themselves and the contribution they make to their own education? Children learn best in settings that are meaningful to them, where they have space to develop and expand their interests and talents.

Acknowledging the importance of home languages

As language1  is the conduit through which most learning takes place, it makes sense that if we value our children, we must also value their language(s). For it is through their home language(s), the language(s) they grow up with, whether or not these are the languages used in an educational setting (crèche, kindergarten, preschool, primary school), that they learn how the world works and how to negotiate it. They experience using these languages from the context in which they live and the people they are in contact with. By including their home language(s) in school, we take a first step in making children realize that they are valued.

1 In this website, we understand language in the broadest sense including different languages and dialects as well as different ways of using a language (casual or formal ways, etc.).

Building on what children know

The confidence derived from this inclusive approach becomes a powerful motivator for (language) learning: It facilitates children’s adaptation to new environments; makes discovery meaningful and learning exciting; supports their learning of new languages including the language(s) of schooling. This, in turn, gives access to school curricula and learning in general. By focusing on what they already know, we help children to build bridges between their existing knowledge and new learning. The success that follows, lends support for further achievement. 

Adopting a lifelong learning perspective

Facilitating the kind of inspirational learning where children are encouraged to be curious, questioning, and empowered in their own capacity to learn, provides the impetus and support for them to become autonomous learners. In this way, young learners are facilitated to develop the interest and skills that will be available to them for life-long learning and for other areas of learning as well.

Considering diversity as an opportunity for all children

Increasing linguistic diversity, present to varying degrees in educational settings all over Europe, can be exploited for the benefit of all children where an inclusive approach to language education is used. In such an environment, even children who may have thought themselves to be monolingual can find, to their surprise, that they actually have a previously unacknowledged plurilingual repertoire. In this way, the cognitive benefits of additional language learning become potentially accessible to all.

Reconsidering assumptions about plurilingualism

As teachers and educators, we cannot possibly know, nor have competence in all the languages that may be present in our group or class. Yet, we may inspire our children and make them want to learn new languages – by showing them the benefits of plurilingualism on an everyday basis. Seeing teachers and educators, their role models, using their languages in daily interactions, provides a powerful incentive for engagement by young learners. 

Parents, too, play an important role in this context; as the first educators of their child and fluent users of home languages, they can support the development of language learning outside the educational context

Learning a foreign language

Situations where children learn a foreign language allow all of them, regardless of their home language, to learn the new language as beginners. When it becomes a medium for communication within the group or class, the foreign language becomes the point at which each child's plurilingual repertoire intersects to provide a supportive contribution to language learning. In this way, learners are enabled to use the new language for meaningful interaction, thus using language to learn language.

Accessing different dimensions of the languages of schooling

Not all young children come to school with the same level of language proficiency even if they speak the same language(s). For some of them, the linguistic demands of language use in school differ from those used in everyday contexts (informal and spontaneous use of languages). Thus, language learning and teaching can become challenging. Allowing children to discover the linguistic potential of different subjects (e.g. mathematics, sciences) not only facilitates access to subject-relevant topics but also enhances their understanding.

For children who grow up with the language(s) used in school, a plurilingual approach affords the opportunity to become aware of the languages of others and of language itself, what it is, and how it works. It allows them to realize that there are myriad ways to express the same thought, concept or idea. Experiencing an educational environment where plurilingual skills are viewed as a desirable asset, held in high regard by teachers, educators, parents and peers, can be highly influential in encouraging children to expand their own boundaries by exploration and use of the languages present in their surroundings. 

Want to know more? Do visit the different sections of the website where we hope you will find ideas and tools for promoting inspiring language learning.