Mobility is one of the cornerstones of European society both for the Council of Europe and for the European Union. This includes mobility of work, of study or of residence as a means of creating both economic flexibility and intercultural understanding.
What do we mean by mobility?
By mobility we mean individuals (children, adolescents or adults) moving from one environment to another for short or long periods of time. Mobility in language education is important as it provides students and teachers with opportunities to spend time studying, training or working in another country and to improve their language skills and develop their intercultural competences.
The length of a mobility period usually ranges from a few days or weeks for primary and secondary pupils, to longer periods, such as one or two university semesters for students. Mobility programmes such as Erasmus+ give students and teachers opportunities for travel and professional development and this enhances their employability.
Mobility can be either physical or virtual. Both of these types of mobility help individuals to acquire new skills and to develop existing competences, through face to face interaction or Internet.
Language competence is a clear prerequisite for mobility, and this implies that mobility needs to be a part of the learning process. Mobility and exchange programmes are crucial ways for language learners and teachers to improve their language skills and develop their intercultural competences. The ECML provides resources to help learners and teachers make the most of mobility and ensure such programmes are truly meaningful.
Questions relating to mobility and intercultural learning
What is intercultural learning?
“Intercultural learning involves individuals becoming aware of the similarities and differences between cultures and learning to embrace them. When individuals embrace these similarities and differences, they can reflect on aspects of their own culture that are normally taken for granted. In addition, they can reflect on and evaluate their own thoughts, feelings and behaviour in order to enhance their self-awareness. Finally, they can act as cultural mediators to interpret and explain different points of view to individuals from different cultural backgrounds.” (Autobiography of intercultural encounters – Concepts for discussion, p.7)
Why are mobility and intercultural learning so important?
Competences developed and enhanced through mobility increase the individual’s self - awareness and awareness of others. Each of these competences is particularly important for the individuals’ future personal, academic and professional development.
Pedagogical approaches which help make mobility programmes effective
The simple experience of leaving your own environment is an educational experience; this is reinforced when it means using another language and encountering new rhythms of daily life and new approaches to learning. However, the learning experience can be enhanced by a structured approach. The use of research tasks and learning scenarios can enrich the contact with hosts and develop intercultural skills with more focus and more questioning. There have been experiments where ethnological research case studies have been included as part of Erasmus years abroad (Celia Roberts, Language and Cultural Issues in Innovation, Addison Wesley Longman, 1998). A student in this study said “I think I learned to look at things differently, more carefully, not just sit there and let things wash over me.”
Resources and research in relation to the value of mobility and intercultural learning
ECML and Council of Europe resources
The ECML is currently running the Mobility Programmes for Sustainable Plurilingual and Intercultural Learning Plurimobil project. The project aims to promote best practice in mobility programmes, using tools developed by the Council of Europe to develop linguistic and intercultural competences. The project provides model learning scenarios for trainee teachers and pupils in upper secondary education. It focuses mainly on the promotion and development of mobility in school contexts, so that learners on exchange programmes gain maximum benefit from their experiences in a new environment.
Professional mobility also provides opportunities to develop intercultural skills, and the ECML publication ICOPROMO focuses on how to improve intercultural competence for professional mobility.
The Gulliver project and publication - “Getting to know each other leads to better understanding” is concerned with virtual mobility and gives guidance on how to set up forums between schools on topics related to intercultural understanding.
Other EU resources and research
- The ELOS project has created a network of schools with a framework related to international exchange, a Portfolio for European Competence, together with quality standards which include the language requirements for this.
- Defining, measuring, and facilitating intercultural learning: a conceptual introduction to the IJIE special issue. State of the Art Research on Intercultural Learning in Study Abroad and Best Practice for Intercultural Learning in International Educational Exchange (Milton J. Bennett, Ph.D., Intercultural Development Research Institute)
- Teaching international students: Strategies for enhancing students’learning (Jude Carroll - Educational Development Consultant)