Málfríður - 15.03.2005, Blaðsíða 27

Málfríður - 15.03.2005, Blaðsíða 27
MÁLFRÍÐUR 27 Multicultural Europe Clearly, one of the main objectives of language education in Europe is to foster the development of a multicultural society and intercultural com- petence. This objective is drawn from the social reality of today’s Europe which is unarguably multi- cultural and multilingual. Cultures in Europe are mixing at a rate not seen before in history because of ever-increasing globalization and mobility due to the rapid flow of information, relaxed boundaries and cheaper travel. This trend is being evidenced all over Europe. Statistics from the Council of Europe show that in France, 12 million French citizens do not have French as a mother tongue. Ten percent of the German popu- lation is foreign-born. Romania has 19 recognized minorities; Russia 176 culturally and linguistically distinct peoples. In London 300 languages, from Albanian to Zulu, are spoken by the city’s schoolchildren, yet most schools only teach French as a foreign language or perhaps German or Spanish. In many schools in London, 30% or more of the pupils speak another language in addition to English, yet the formal school context does not take into consideration their experiences. Similar statistics can be found in cities scattered throughout Europe. The most recent statistics for the number of languages spoken in Reykjavik come from the city’s preschools. At the end of the year 2004, 630 preschool children in Reykjavik have parents who come from 89 different countries. These children speak 52 different languages. So the challenge for language teachers is the same throughout Europe: how to relate language teaching to peoples’ experience of the languages around them, and at the same time broaden their experience of the world by introducing them to languages spoken outside their communities. From monolingual to multilingual In today’s Europe one cannot assume that all learn- ers in a classroom begin from the same monolingual starting point. In a report carried out by the European Commission entitled Foreign Language Teaching in Schools in Europe (Eurydice, 2001) only two coun- tries reported having only one official language and no minority/regional languages - Iceland and Liechtenstein. But in numerous schools in Iceland, many children do not have Icelandic as their mother tongue. Similarly, we cannot assume that learners’ experi- ences of other languages are only within a formal educational setting. This is particularly true in countries like Iceland that have extensive access to other languages through the media and a tradi- tion of travel and study in foreign countries. With this in mind it is necessary to adopt a plurilingual perspective which takes into account individuals’ varying levels of contact with and competence in a range of different languages, and supports the development of their plurilingual competence. One of the available tools which supports plurilingual competence is the European Language Portfolio. It is designed to recognize language learning experiences both in and outside of formal education, and provide individuals with a record of their achievements in all the languages they have learned. Which languages should be taught? The old model of language education in Europe was based on a monolingual view of the nation state with a single national language. One or two ‘foreign’ languages were offered in the school curriculum. But this model is far too narrow for the needs of the 21st century. With globalization and increasing European integration, we need to look at language education from a wider perspective. Compared to the rich diversity of languages spoken in Europe, most school systems offer a rather limited range of language options. Most schools focus on high status European languages rather than low status ‘immigrant’ languages – even when these are world languages like Arabic, Chinese, or Hindi and are highly relevant for economic, social and cultural purposes. Greater emphasis must be placed on the languages which more accurately reflect the citi- zens’ needs and cultural contacts outside the school system. How much do most Icelanders know about Polish or Filipino? Within a multilingual perspective, all languages add to the individual’s plurilingual competence, yet traditionally more emphasis is placed on the teaching of the national language and less support given to the maintenance and development of other mother tongues. Although there is an abundance of research that shows that the development of literacy in the mother tongue supports overall language develop- ment, there is still the fear that speaking the home language somehow keeps people from learning the national language. This is not an easy issue to tackle and often the efforts being made to support immigrant languages take place outside of the school curriculum. This is the case for example in Iceland where the first steps in providing support for immigrant languages and mother tongue maintenance were taken by a group



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