EUROPEAN Language Portfolio for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Hamburg, April 2008 – Equal opportunities for the Blind and Visually Impaired is the main idea of the new project the ICC is taking part in with five other organisations.
The main objective is to develop a multilingual European Language Portfolio in order to facilitate opportunities for the Blind and Visually Impaired to learn foreign languages. CHECK.point eLearning talked to Christel Schneider,
Director of the ICC The European Language Network.
ICC The European Language Network has just started a new project. What is it about and what are the aims?
Christel Schneider: The main objective is to enhance the prospects for the Blind and Visually Impaired to learn foreign languages. The project focuses especially on the specific needs of the blind and visually impaired learners in order to establish equal opportunities to learn foreign languages.
Another important objective is to enhance the motivation of the Blind and Visually Impaired to learn languages. It is therefore crucial that teachers, course book authors, material and curriculum developers as well as course designers provide a clear and transparent language learning process incorporating the specific characteristics of the blind and visually impaired learner.
Who is the European Language Portfolio for the Blind and Visually Impaired addressed to?
Christel Schneider: The main beneficiaries of the project will be blind and visually impaired adults and youth from the age of 16 onwards.
Apart from that the Portfolio is also a useful tool for language teachers in order to understand the needs of the blind and visually impaired learners’ better, to
monitor the teaching process and to assess the success of their pedagogical measures.
The Portfolio offers a fundamental basis for curriculum and test designers for the development of curricula and tests. It offers information about the language descriptors relevant for this specific group of learners.
Last but not least the European Language Portfolio for the Blind and Visually Impaired provides a tool for educational establishments and employers to assess the language competence of the Blind and Visually Impaired, regardless whether they register for a course, apply for a job or wish to take part in an international event.
What are the first steps in your project planning and what does this practically imply?
Christel Schneider: Firstly the characteristics and limitations of learning languages for the blind and visually impaired have to be elicited and then the descriptors for the different language levels will be developed accordingly.
Our project partners who are either blind themselves or are in direct contact with blind and visually impaired people, have given useful advice for situations that have a special impact for the blind and visually impaired.
With regard to listening skills it is relevant for a blind person to understand the spoken language with the help of screen readers or synthesizers. Technical innovations like speaking phones, speaking barometers, speaking clocks etc. become more and more important in the every day life of a blind and visually impaired person. For a blind person it is more difficult to follow a conversation in which a few people are involved than for a person with full sight, especially if different accents are involved.
This demonstrates which specific skills need to be considered when developing the descriptors.
When will the project end?
Christel Schneider: The project results will be presented at the great final closing conference in Graz in September 2009, in cooperation with the ECML (European Centre for Modern Languages).
What are the greatest advantages in your view?
Christel Schneider: The innovative characteristics of the European Language Portfolio for the Blind and Visually Impaired is the implementation of the Common European Framework of Reference CEFR in a specific context.
The main elements are non- visual learning methods, the impact of reading/writing skills in brail, the approach to activate a variety of learning styles in order to establish language skills, specific perceptions as well as the application of collaborative media as well as specific formats of the learning and teaching material.
It is a great advantage of the European Language Portfolio for the Blind and Visually Impaired, that it incorporates all languages, including the less widespread ones.
We are developing national versions so that it can be used in the classroom for any language.
The Portfolio has been written in a comprehensible way for the specific target group and along with the electronic version it will also be produced in brail. Via screen reading and the transformation from text into spoken language as well as print versions in brail, it is possible to access the portfolio in different versions.
The self assessment grid and the specific descriptors developed in this project provide a good basis for the development of further portfolios, tests and materials for specific groups of learners and can therefore be seen as a model for specific Language Portfolios that can be used by other age groups, various occupational groups as well as expert groups and in other fields of work.
Who are the project parterns?
Christel Schneider: All project partners of the European Language Portfolio
for the Blind and Visually Impaired have already gained profound experiences
in numerous other EU-projects they have been involved in.
The project partners are Euroinform Ltd. and the National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs (NABE) from Bulgaria, Helios School for the Blind from Greece, the ICC European Language Network from Germany, Language Training London (LTL) from Great Britain and the Berufsförderungsinstitut bfi Steiermark from Austria..
The project is co-ordinated by the Bulgarian organisation Euroinform Ltd., that has only recently been awarded with the Silver Award of the European Commission for the development of language learning materials for the blind and visually impaired in the context of a Socrates Lingua Project ‚Listen and Touch’.