Why languages matter: European and national perspectives on multilingualism

The conference Why languages matter: European and national perspectives on mulitlingualism was held in Florence, Italy on 25th and 26th September 2014 in the frame of the Italian presidency. The event was attended by Arja Krauchenberg on behalf of EPA. Read her comprehensive report here:

The conference on multilingualism and its perspectives for the future, held in Florence on September 25th and 26th on the occasion of the European Day of Languages, assembled around 300 delegates from various institutions all over Europe. The keynote speakers as well as the panelists stressed the importance and the advantages of learning languages for the personal development of each individual but also to foster mutual understanding between citizens of different member states. It was however pointed out that there are still a number of obstacles as surveys show that the number of people actually speaking one foreign language is less than predicted for 2014 (45%) and the proportion reaching the EC´s goal of mother tongue + 2 languages is only 65% of those.

Important points:
A language test will be compulsory for anybody going abroad within an Erasmus+ program in English, French, German, Spanish and Dutch. Online-courses will be provided for those candidates whose level is judged insufficient at the first test. They will then have to pass a second test before leaving. On return there will be another test in order to monitor the progress.

An interesting new suggestion was brought in to more actively involve cities in promoting and providing facilities for multilingualism. Most cities in Europe being multilingual nowadays are trying to develop strategies to deal with this challenge. They should be encouraged and supported in doing so, more best practice exchange should take place. Pierre Mairesse, the director general for the EU 2020 strategy, promised to look into the matter and is open for suggestions of how to implement such a cooperation.

Material for including the new digital devices in the classroom but also to encourage youngsters to use those possibilities for learning outside the classroom were introduced by an international team. The development of those items took place in the frame of an ECML project and is now in the phase of dissemination. The proposed activities can be easily included in the existing programs and don’t need a new structure or an enormous change of curriclum.

Better trained teachers were an issue on various panels: more language competences in order to deal with immigration, foreign language teaching, using the existing digital tools and helping pupils and students to develop their personality and their professional orientation were mentioned. The subject of including parents in all those processes was raised by Arja Krauchenberg as board member of the European Parents’ Association and met with great support from the audience as well as from the panelists. The development and implementation of such strategies however seems rather vague. Best practice examples need to be disseminated further and in a following private conversation Pierre Mairesse uttered the wish for a teacher trainer modul on plurilingualism that could be applied throughout the European Union with local modifications.

Problems and challenges of translation were addressed on the afternoon of the second day. On the one hand there is a need for highly qualified translators and  interpreters as requested by the European institutions on conference level. On the other hand very often unqualified bi- or plurilingual  persons are asked to serve as intermediators between people of different origins. The EC is thinking about giving these people proper training on a lower level than conference translation but recognizing their skills and having them evaluated and valorized. This idea was strongly disputed by one representative of the Union of Translators and Interpreters saying that it would lead to pricedumping and less quality.

Apart from the section on translation which concerns parents only indirectly, in all other fields parents should have a role as stakeholders. Especially the unanimous demand for better (trained) teachers shows that this is challenge all over Europe for which no “perfect” solution exists but exchange of ideas and best practice examples can foster development in this domain without having to “reinvent the wheel” every time!
Many interesting contacts emerged during the breaks and networking events and the projects presented are all worth disseminating.

More information, the presentations and abstracts can be found on the website by clicking on programme: http://edl-2014.teamwork.fr/en/pictures

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