With over 40 official languages in the member states of the Council of Europe and more than 70 regional and minority languages officially recognized in addition to a number of languages spoken by migrants, it is important that Europe’s language diversity is recognized and acknowledged.
The reality for many European citizens is that in the course of their lives they will need to develop proficiency, not only in their native language, but in a variety of languages. Demands of study, work, travel, relocation and personal development will also mean that skills in new languages will need to be added to their existing repertoire. Therefore, learning the skills required to learn languages is of paramount importance. Furthermore, language learning and identity construction are closely interlinked.
Recognizing the importance of languages in the lives of Europeans and the benefits that early language learning provides, the European Centre for Modern Languages (ECML) has launched a two-year project "Inspiring language learning and teaching in the early years – Why it matters and what it looks like for children age 3-12".
The project is focused on early language learning, from 3 to 12 years of age. The innate curiosity and enthusiasm that children bring to learning during this initial period in their formal education makes it the ideal time to introduce, nurture and motivate learners in the area of additional language learning. Strong foundations, built at this stage in children’s development, will facilitate language learning throughout life and openness to, as well as respect for different cultures, values and traditions.
One of the aims of the project is to help those working with young learners to embrace their own plurilingualism and to recognize the potential for further learning that this can bring. With this recognition, teachers and educators can begin to understand the importance of linguistic interdependency, where knowledge of one language can be used to inform the learning of another. In this way, each child´s unique language potential can be included to support his/her educational development and may also contribute to social cohesion in multilingual/multicultural environments, not only in the classroom, but also in wider society. For this reason, another aim of the project is to provide teachers and educators with resources they can use to support plurilingualism in their classrooms. Useful activities and examples of good practice will be made available in the form of a new website.
The international project team consists of five members: Flore Schank (team leader, Luxembourg), Ingeborg Birnie (United Kingdom), Déirdre Kirwan (Ireland), Dana Musilová, (Czech Republic) and Jakob Patekar (Croatia). The project consultant is Frank Heyworth. Other experts in the field of plurilingualism and early education are also involved in the project as associate members, such as Piet van de Craen (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Adelheid Hu (Université du Luxembourg) and Sandie Mourão (Universidade de Lisboa). Other associate partners will follow.
The team is optimistic that their work will encourage and help teachers and educators to open the doors of their schools to more languages not only as resources for further language learning, but also for the development of a better multilingual/multicultural world.