At the initiative of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg, the European Day of Languages has been celebrated every year since 2001 on 26 September.
“There are over 6000 languages spoken in the world. And behind each and every one of them lies a rich and diverse culture. That’s what the European Day of Languages (EDL) aims to celebrate – by showing people across Europe how important languages are, and what fun can be had learning them.” (CILT, 2011)
What better time than now to celebrate the range of languages represented in our schools across London and across the country? In some of our London schools they have as many as 82% of pupils on role whose native language is not English.
These young children negotiate the classroom and the playground, devising ways to make themselves understood and to understand. They have acquired an armoury of language learning skills already during this process. It must not be forgotten that they enter the Primary Languages classroom armed with these skills- and shouldn’t they feel that have an advantage in our languages lessons because of this? Isn’t that one of our jobs as languages teachers? Let’s boost the morale and highlight the achievements of our EAL pupils, especially on a day like today!
Many schools choose to make European Day of Languages a day of multi-lingual celebration, they cook, they sing, they hold assemblies – to highlight cultural and linguistic diversity within their own communities. The child who came to school feeling self-conscious of his different language or background has a chance to shine, to feel included, to demonstrate his skills.
Language learning is a complex process, there is still so much we don’t know about language acquisition, but one thing is for sure – young children are brilliant at it! I love my job and one of the reasons is that it is such a privilege to work with young, agile minds and share their steps towards the discovery of a new language.
One little English speaking boy in year 1 came up to me after a language lesson, and, wanting to impress me, said, randomly as young children do: “I think I know how to say the word “drink” in Spanish.”
I encouraged him to demonstrate and he took a deep breath said “drrrrrrrrink” – rolling his “r” as he repeated the English word. I resisted the temptation to smile but I have smiled many times to myself since as I listen to the recording on my phone and marvel at his ability, at all of 6 years old, to employ a strategy that he had distilled from that language, despite it not quite resulting in a real Spanish word!
Have a good European Day of Languages everyone!