Box C1 12 May J Sheils

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Box C1 12 May J Sheils

Languages in Education

     Languages for Education

     Language Policy Division

Regional, minority and migration languages

    Language Policy Division

Ad-hoc coordination group for the platform :

    Laila AASE, Jean-Claude BEACCO, Michael BYRAM, Marisa CAVALLI, Daniel COSTE, Alexandru

    CRI┼×AN, Michael FLEMING, Olivier MARADAN, Sigmund ONGSTAD, Irene PIEPER, Florentina SAMIHAIAN, Helmut VOLLMER and Piet-Hein VAN DE VEN

Editorial board:

    Jean-Claude BEACCO, Michael BYRAM, Daniel COSTE and Michael FLEMING

Regional, minority and migration languages

    This text provides a brief introduction to the part of the Platform that deals with the

    languages of minorities and of migrants in education systems. The term regional or minority

    languages is used to refer to indigenous languages traditionally used by a minority group

    over a long period within a country, to non-territorial languages (e.g. Romani) and sign

    languages. Migrant languages is used to refer to the mother tongues of migrant children, in which they may have varying degrees of proficiency depending on the extent of use and

    support for these languages.

    1. Minority languages

    Education authorities have to deal with competing goals of language policy. The complex

    interaction among the goals of economic competiveness, social inclusion and integration, and

    human rights has to be addressed in making decisions about language education policy,

    including those affecting the relationship between national languages and minority languages.

    This is a sensitive issue because of the particular role of state languages in ensuring national

    cohesion and integration and the strongly symbolic significance of languages as a marker of

    identity and membership of a community. The role of national and international languages

    tends to be emphasised where the demands of the market dominate decision-making, which

    may impact on the human rights dimension and the learning and teaching of minority

    languages. This can be seen in a tendency in some contexts to accord more significance to

    learning a widely used foreign/international language, or a high status neighbouring language,

    than the indigenous minority or regional languages.

While the necessity to develop proficiency in the state language is based on social and

    political concerns, it cannot be assumed that children whose home language is different to

    that of the school will quickly catch up in the academic subjects with their peers who speak

    the majority language as their first language. There is ample evidence that equal access to the

    full curriculum and the development of the specific kinds of ‘academic’ competences needed to learn successfully in different subjects or domains requires time and forms of explicit

    support, in particular (but not only) for those for whom the language of schooling is a second

    language. At the same time there is a risk that the learner’s progress in school may suffer if

    competences in the first language are not adequately developed in the first instance, resulting

    in a ‘subtractive’ approach to plurilingual education.

The challenge for education policy deciders is to find a context appropriate form of

    plurilingual and intercultural education based on supporting and developing the learner’s

    plurilingual repertoire. This could include good quality bilingual education which ensures an

    ‘additive’ (as opposed to ‘subtractive’) approach to bilingualism, which in turn provides the

    learner with transferable skills and positive attitudes for the successful further development of

    his or her plurilingual profile in the manner to which he or she is entitled. For further

    reflection on learners entitlements, see the text on Plurilingual and intercultural education as

    a right.

There is no unique model. The choice of languages on offer and the balance struck between

    teaching in/of the mother tongue of minorities and the official/national language(s) will vary

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according to the situation of the languages concerned, the socio-political setting and the

    individual school context. Account needs to be taken also of factors such as the supply of

    well qualified teachers and suitable textbooks, and in certain contexts issues relating to

    codification and standardising the corpus may also arise. Many of these issues are dealt with

    in. Bilingual education: some policy issues.

The Council of Europe, in keeping with the fundamental values guiding its actions, adopts a

    rights-based approach to the teaching and learning of the mother tongue of minorities.

    Language rights are an integral part of human rights and specific measures may be required

    to ensure full and effective equality without discrimination in that respect. The Council has

    therefore developed specific legally binding conventions dealing both with the rights of

    national minorities and with the protection and promotion of minority and regional languages.

    These are complemented by numerous non-binding Recommendations and Resolutions

    dealing with a range of issues related to linguistic and cultural diversity.

The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities adopts a non-

    discrimination approach and recognises the right of every person belonging to a national

    minority to learn his or her minority language. States that have ratified this instrument are

    obliged to endeavour to provide instruction in or of minority languages as far as possible and

    where there is sufficient demand from persons belonging to the relevant national minorities.

    Provision may take the form of ’opportunities for being taught the minority language or for

    receiving instruction in this language’ (Article 14, paragraph 2).

The European Charter for Regional or Minority languages adopts a pro-active approach to the

    protection and promotion of these languages as an essential part of the shared cultural wealth

    of Europe, affirming the principle that the place accorded to regional or minority languages in

    education systems can play a crucial role in their maintenance and vitality. The language

    charter requires that these languages be present ‘at all appropriate stages’ of education

    (Article 7, paragraph 1.f). The convention is designed to accommodate in a flexible manner

    the significant differences that exist in the situation of regional or minority languages in

    Europe. Consequently, each state can choose between the different commitments possible so

    as to match the charter as closely as possible to the particular context of each language and

    with regard to each of the different levels of education: pre-school, primary, secondary,

    technical and vocational, university and adult education (Article 8).

Both conventions aim to promote the Council of Europe values of plurilingual and

    intercultural education, and stipulate that the learning of minority languages is without

    prejudice to the teaching and learning of the official language of the state. This important

    principle is recalled also by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in

    its Recommendation on the place of the mother tongue in school education (Recommendation 1740 (2006)). The Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation defines bilingualism or

    plurilingualism as an asset rather than a burden on pupils, and advocates bilingual education models based on the mother tongue (not only as a transition to mastery of the

    second language) as the basis for long-term success.

    2. Migrant languages

    The diversity of languages spoken by migrants, which is one aspect of the rich multilingual

    and multicultural nature of contemporary European societies, also presents a challenge to

    education systems in relation to teaching the official language and maintaining their mother

    tongues. Unlike indigenous minority languages, the languages of migrants, with some notable

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exceptions, tend to be diverse and less concentrated in specific locations. Educational

    provision for maintaining these languages can vary considerably according to the

    geographical location, concentration and numbers of speakers of a language and the length of

    time that a language has been present in a country.

Policy developments have been a response in particular to mobility and the integration of

    migrant workers and their children, and consequently have tended to focus primarily on the

    acquisition of the language of the host country for integration, social inclusion and citizenship

    or nationality purposes. The Council of Europe has developed policy guidelines and tools to

    assist states in finding inclusive solutions to the language problems faced by adult migrants,

    who are an extremely heterogeneous group. Language training for migrants, as for all

    learners, forms part of a plurilingual and intercultural education, which includes education for

    intercultural dialogue and linguistic goodwill. In that spirit courses for adult migrants could

    be expected to encourage the transmission of languages between generations.

Schools may be motivated to support language maintenance for functional or humanistic

    reasons. The former include preparation for an eventual return home, providing a basis for

    improving the learning of the language of the host country, or retaining a potential economic

    trade asset. Humanistic reasons relate to identity and confidence building which in turn may

    be linked to school success, helping to bridge the gap between school and home, and

    enhancing intercultural understanding and dialogue. The languages of migrants have been

    described as ‘additional’ languages that are a valuable resource for Europe and an often

    unrecognised asset bringing cultural, intellectual, economic, and intercultural benefits. The

    ECML project entitled Valuing all languages in Europe offers further reflection on these


Education systems have tended to concentrate on ensuring that children of migrant

    background can master the language of schooling for integration and social inclusion

    purposes, and the issues arising are well documented, e.g. in PISA related studies. At the

    same time, even as the language of the majority increases in importance for migrant

    communities over time, and while intergenerational language loss does occur, there is evidence of the increasing vitality of migrant languages, reinforced by ‘transmigration’ as a

    growing number of migrants tend to keep up their links to their country of origin, while

    actively integrating into their new community. Schools have a vital role to play in actively

    developing the plurilingual and pluricultural competences of migrant children, and it is

    argued by some researchers that the longer that children receive good quality instruction in

    their mother tongue, including the development of bi-literacy, the better they are likely to

    become in the majority language. This argument is developed in the following document:

    Linguistic diversity and new minorities in Europe.

     Support for maintaining migrant languages is found in a number of Council of Europe

    instruments. For example, states that have ratified the European Social Charter (revised)

    undertake not only to make provision for the teaching of the national language of the

    receiving state but also to promote and facilitate, as far as practicable, the teaching of the

    mother tongue to the children of the migrant worker (Article 19, paragraph 12). It is seen as

    important for the children to maintain their cultural and linguistic heritage, inter alia, in order

    to provide them with a possibility of reintegration if and when the migrant worker returns


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    A 2008 Recommendation on strengthening the integration of children of migrants and of immigrant background draws attention to the value of allowing migrant children to be able to

    undertake part of their studies in their mother tongue during the early stages of their school

    career as this will assist the children in developing the cognitive and academic skill necessary

    to successfully pursue their studies in the language of instruction.

The Green Paper Migration & mobility: challenges and opportunities for EU education

    systems’ of the European Commission (2008) describes efforts to promote learning of the heritage language, sometimes within the framework of bilateral agreements with other

    Member States. It shows how scope for such learning is increased by new opportunities for

    mobility, media and internet contact with the country of origin and e-twinning between

    schools of host and sending countries.

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