The development and practice of plurilingual education is one of the Council of Europe’s and the ECML’s most important priorities. Europe is multilingual and in order to fulfil its social and cultural aims, it seeks to provide education adapted to the needs of plurilingual citizens. This includes :
- Europe’s linguistic diversity
- The mobility of Europe's citizens
- Social cohesion
- Access to quality education for all
What do we mean by plurilingual education ?
More information on plurilingual education can be found here.
Plurilingual education has two major aspects – education for plurilingualism and education through plurilingualism. Understanding and experiencing the diversity of languages and cultures is both an aim of and a resource for quality education.
Its practice is based on a number of key concepts :
- A holistic view of languages in education – rather than considering each language as a separate entity each in its own compartment, there is a global approach to all the languages present in learning environments. They include the « language of schooling » which is usually the national language of the country or region ; languages spoken at home by the learners, which are frequently not the same ; foreign languages learnt as subjects in the school and in some cases classical languages like Latin and Greek as well as the languages used to teach different subject areas in CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) approaches. Common strategies and plural complementary approaches can result in more effective language learning.
- Linguistic repertoires and partial competences – individual learners develop their own "repertoires" of the different languages they know and use. The competences acquired in one language can be of use in learning another one and there is complementarity and interplay among the languages known. Our competence in a language is always "partial" and our repertoires consist of a number of partial competences in different languages.
- Bi- and plurilinguism are "normal" and achievable by all – more than half the population of the world is bi- or plurilingual, so establishing education systems which promote it is a feasible aim.
Cognitive benefits of plurilingual education – there is strong research evidence of the cognitive benefits in being plurilingual and from plurilingual approaches to education, particularly where tasks requiring intellectual flexibility are concerned.
- Plurilingual approaches contribute to social integration – acknowledging and valuing the home languages and cultures of migrants help their integration into schools and society; and plural approaches encourage the development of openness, respect and intercultural competences in all learners. This in turn can contribute to more harmony in our schools and our society.
- Plurilingual competences are empowering for all learners – they are better prepared for employment, for further study, for effective additional language learning and for citizenship.
These key concepts are at different levels of generality and complexity. Some relate to the educational outcomes, others to the educational process itself.
How ECML projects contribute to plurilingual education
The FREPA project (A Framework of Reference for Pluralistic Approaches to Languages and Cultures) provides a comprehensive description of the knowledge, attitudes and skills which constitute plurilingual and pluricultural competences. Like the Common European Framework, it describes the skills in "can do" statements – "can identify / compare / analyse etc." and breaks new ground in the descriptors of attitudes – as "will / disposition / determination".
FREPA also describes three didactic approaches to plurilingual education :
- Integrated didactics in which the teaching of different foreign languages is made complementary, by using links and similarities between them in an explicit way to help learning. An earlier ECML publication Learning more than one language efficiently: Tertiary language teaching and learning in Europe exemplifies this approach, especially on how the learning of German can be helped by using previous study of English as a springboard.
- Awakening to languages – this approach is designed to raise learners’, especially young learners’, awareness of the diversity of languages in their homes, schools and societies. In this approach several languages are introduced in order to encourage thinking about language and to give value to the different languages present in the school.
- Intercomprehension between related languages is based on developing comprehension within families of languages. For example, courses have been devised where students work in parallel on several Romance, Slav, Germanic or Scandinavian languages. They tend to concentrate on the learning of receptive skills.
In order to help teachers put these approaches into practice, the FREPA project team has created a bank of resources and teaching materials in a database linked to the descriptors in the frame of reference.
There are theoretical frameworks for other aspects of plurilingual education too, such as the Framework for CLIL (CLIL Start).
Specific domains of plurilingual education
- The Language of Schooling
Two projects (Marille and Maledive) have addressed the issue of how plurilingual education can have an impact on the teaching of the language of schooling. (French as a school subject in French-speaking countries and regions, Danish in Denmark etc.). Although the language is the national or regional language, in most classes in Europe there are students for whom it is not the first language or mother tongue. The projects explore ways in which plurilingual and intercultural approaches can contribute to enriching the appreciation of the national/regional language and literature and to the integration of all the learners in the class. One example of this is in comparative studies of folk stories or traditional tales in different cultures.
Learners from migrant backgrounds need particular support in developing academic literacy to be able to cope with cognitive tasks in different subject areas. The Language Descriptors project has produced can do statements for the specific skills used by those studying history or mathematics in a second language.
- Content and Language integrated Learning (CLIL)
In more and more countries, especially at secondary levels, students study a number of subjects in a second or foreign language using CLIL approaches. A number of ECML projects have produced guides for implementing CLIL in language education. They include a Framework for CLIL (CLIL Start), a practical guide to getting started with CLIL programmes and for their further development (CLIL GO), where the methodological skills needed by CLIL teachers are described and illustrated. A further project, CLIL and Literacy links plurilingual approaches and the development of literacy.
The development of whole school approaches to language education is an important factor in promoting plurilingual education; creating synergies between the teaching and learning of the national/regional language, the different foreign languages and the other languages present in schools, raises awareness of plurilingualism and practical opportunities for students to develop their plurilingual repertoires. The PlurCur project explores different ways in which this can be achieved – at school, department and regional levels.
A further element in the promotion of plurilingual education and linguistic diversity relates to the encouragement of the learning of regional and local languages. An ECML project, Minority languages, collateral languages and bi-/plurilingual education (EBP-ICI) describes a number of approaches to doing this for a variety of languages – among them Provençal French, Scots and Catalan.
Resources for plurilingual education
A number of different ECML projects provide ideas and resources for plurilingual and intercultural teaching activities. In addition to the The CARAP/ FREPA data bank mentioned above, other resources include Conbat, which offers a bank of teaching materials, together with a training kit and guidance on how to use the materials. For teachers of French and German there is EPLC – Content-based teaching for young learners.
Platform of resources and references for plurilingual and intercultural education of the Council of Europe
The work of the ECML in the area of plurilingual and intercultural education complements a major initiative of the Council of Europe. The Platform is "an instrument to enhance coherence and transparency in reflection and decision making on policies and standards, at both national and at European level. It addresses aims, outcomes, contents, methods and approaches to evaluation of the language of schooling, taking into account the needs of all students in compulsory education, including disadvantaged learners and migrant children.
The project includes a focus on (i) the language as a school subject; (ii) the language as a medium of teaching and learning across the curriculum; (iii) possible convergences between the language(s) of school education and modern (‘foreign’) languages in a global or holistic approach to language education policy aimed at promoting coherence in the development of the learner’s plurilingual repertoire."
It provides guidance on the language of different subject areas, together with a large collection of resources, articles and papers related to the field.