After more analysis on the data and information extracted from my research on Multilingualism in the Abrera public school Francesc Platón i Sartí, I reflected on some more questions regarding Language Education.
How are the different languages taught in this school?
Catalan is the common language spoken at Francesc Platón i Sartí, therefore they foster Catalan language at all levels. This means Primary students have 122’5 hours of Catalan per year.
105 hours of Spanish lessons are taught per year in Primary Education. This means that students are bilinguals; they know and are able to speak both Catalan and Spanish.
Being taught in Catalan is very important for those immigrants who’s mother tongue is different, because it is the only moment where they would listen to and use it. Nevertheless, Spanish is the common language used within students. If you walk around the school at lunch time, for instance, you would notice Spanish is used among students and even with the monitors too. Translanguaging occurs too in those student-student conversations, changing from Spanish to Catalan in some cases, or from immigrants minority languages to common language spoken at school in other cases (see this Psychology Today interview for further information about Translanguaging).
English is taught as a subject, starting at the age of 6. Students at Cicle Inicial attend no more than 52,5 hours a school year. English language input increases as they move forward to Cicle Mitjà, attending to 70 hours per year and Cicle Superior, having a total of 87,5 hours.
The majority of pre-primary school families are demanding having an early introduction of English language, starting at 3 instead of at 6. It is the second year extra-curricular classes are taking place in pre-primary education, so there’s no evidence yet that proves those children starting earlier would achieve higher competences in English. What researchers conclude about this early introduction is that older learners obtain significantly higher results than younger learners, being faster and more efficient when learning a foreign language, due to cognitive maturity. therefore, there’s no clear need to change the school language approach in pre-primary stage, leaving more space for L1 to be properly acquired. Nevertheless, attending to these extracurricular English classes would have no negative effects on children, then there’s no need to worry about it, but there’s no need to promote more hours on English teaching either.
As shown in the following graphics, the school language results at the end of Primary Education, 12 years old, are above-average Catalonia students during the last courses.
Even though the results are optimistic, the nowadays School Project has the aim to achieve better language results in the following years by promoting oral communication to improve students Catalan and Spanish oral skills, as well as fluency, in all school stages by fostering reading through some more attractive projects and get families involved too and creating more spaces where to use English as a foreign language.
Although apparently the school takes a Foreign Language Teaching approach, which the overall goal is to learn an additional language (English) and become familiar with an additional culture, being taught as a subject in a form-based pedagogical emphasis, the school is trying to direct language education into a bilingual heteroglossic ideology, by promoting integrated projects and participation in some European projects too, such as Comenius, to improve the knowledge of English language, educate bilingually, using language as a media of instruction and getting students into real context situations where to use English.
Comenius is an European program to promote cooperation within schools, intercultural encounters, diversity, strengthen students skills and quality education. Some years ago the school participated in this Comenius program, focused on the effects of water on Human Beings. Due to that project, students had the opportunity to come across different languages, religion and cultures they hadn’t known so far, so they could strengthen their tolerance and respect. Content was taught in a third language which, apart to enrich students English knowledge, social and earth respect was also taught.
Up to 6 schools participated in that big project, dividing and distributing tasks and sharing them afterwards to enrich themselves with the others research and hard work, enabling students to learn facts about water in an attractive way. Thanks to this International school project, students results that year were much better than previous years, therefore the aim of the project was accomplished: students were motivated to learn and use English and, as it was within a real purpose, students learnt more significant English language and established connections that help them develop a more proficient level.
Unfortunately, this year the school is not participating in any international project because they couldn’t find any suitable project for them. Despite that, English teachers have organized small projects to work English competence at all levels, such as storytelling, language corners and speaking classes. Far from what Comenius project brought to this school, this small linguistic projects are going to motivate students and enable them to have more exposure of English language, even though they are not following an integrated approach.
What would I do to improve language learning in this context?
Analyzing this school situation and the few resources they’ve got to promote language learning, I strongly believe having an European Language Portfolio would be a helpful and cheap resource for students to report on what they’ve learnt so far, check their language and content progress and become aware of the importance of learning a language, as well as promote plurilingualism and intercultural awareness and competence. As a consequence, students confidence and motivation would also increase.
Based on my experience in language teaching, a good School Language Plan that promotes cross-communication through all school levels and takes into account students interests and needs, would be enough to foster language learning among students and achieve high levels of competence. When I am talking about activities based on students needs and interests, I am referring to child-friendly activities such as debates on actual topics (e.g. mobiles and social networks), activities based on children’s favourite movies (click here to discover an awesome website where to find movie-based sessions and worksheets), peer-training as in reading child-sponsorship where older students help the young ones on reading skills, or other games and activities that enable students have fun and become encouraged to take active part in their learning experience, developing creativity and curiosity. Learning is a lifelong process, is a self-motivated pursuit of knowledge, that is passionate and open-ended. Learning is not restricted to any place or age period, we can learn by our own interest and everyday life experiences. This is why, we should promote and enable our students to engage in the learning process.