Nowadays, multilingualism is more and more promoted. It is no longer only about learning a new language, but also about being able to communicate in another language than your mother tongue with people all around the world. Being able to exchange in the other person’s first tongue might be more personal and even makes a cultural transfer in both directions possible. Otherwise, it will be a conversation in a second language that the two people know, but are not very comfortable with.
Acquiring a new language has never been so easy. One can learn a language at every age. Multiple ways of learning are available: one can choose to follow a course with a teacher, study at home with an interactive language learning program, via an internet course available on various webpages or even with the help of a new concept which allows having courses sent by a language trainer to one’s private cell phone or tablet.
In Luxembourg, a trilingual country, languages are of great importance and the multilingual proficiency creates opportunities for interesting exchanges. As described in Berlitz’s brochure entitled Luxembourg – A unique multilingual place in the world (2009), compared to other multilingual countries, such as Belgium or Switzerland, Luxembourg seems to be the only one which is actually trilingual in each area and not linguistically divided as this is the case for the two other territories mentioned. This creates a particular multilingual and multicultural atmosphere. It involves a different experiencing of languages meaning that it is not only restricted to the verbal exchanges, but allows also ‘intercultural awareness’, as they call it.
Likewise, multilingualism is of great importance also in educational matters. In the Grand Duchy’s public primary schools, children are taught three languages. Already in the first grade, children learn to read and write in German which is also used in secondary subjects. From the second grade on, they also have French language classes. Another tongue in the primary school is Luxembourgish. French will be used for minor classes in secondary school which (as the German in primary school), allows the pupils to experience this language not only in the language class, but also to enlarge their vocabulary and practise it in another context such as history or geography.
In 2007, the Ministry of National Education and of Vocational Training published a brochure called “Ouverture aux langues” (Language awareness) with the aim of ‘adjusting the language education’ in primary school.
The purpose of this concept is not just language learning, but also the practice of knowledge they have already acquired, but which they don’t apply anymore. Pupils should also be more aware of the differences and similarities of languages and of their classmates’ mother tongues. In other countries, as for instance in Switzerland, Belgium, Canada and Spain, where the pupils are also well very early confronted with multilingualism, they also have such approaches. Moreover, this notion can be applied during normal classes such as language classes or even mathematics. What can be done for instance to promote language awareness is to create posters where one particular word will figure in all the languages the pupils are familiar with.
Multilingual Luxembourg is a country which welcomes people from all around the globe and encourages children who have just arrived in the country to be able to benefit from this linguistic opportunity by establishing so called ‘classes d’accueil’ (welcome classes). But, what is a ‘classe d’accueil’? In the law of Luxembourgish education, the Ministry explains in an article of law:
‘Art. 18. Les élèves y reçoivent un enseignement de la ou des langues de l’école tel que décrit aux articles 2 à 9 du présent règlement grand-ducal, ainsi qu’un enseignement dans les domaines de développement et d’apprentissage tel que prévu à l’article 7 de la loi du 6 février 2009 portant organisation de l’enseignement fondamental.’ As the law in the ‘Service national de législation’
In summary, this means that the children learn in these types of classes the language(s) of the school and are also trained in developing themselves and learning how to learn.
Children who have just arrived in Luxembourg on the one hand, follow a few classes (as for example mathematics) in their regular class; On the other hand, at the beginning, they are mostly in the ‘classe d’accueil’ where languages and especially the oral practicing are focused to acquire German and French the fastest possible. The purpose of this special type of class is to provide them with the necessary linguistic knowledge to fully integrate in their ordinary class. In this sense, it is natural that in the same classroom, at least two languages (German and French) will be taught and often there is a special program that the teacher prepares for each child. In order to embrace this multilingual atmosphere, the children’s identity, in the sense of their origins, should be included in the classroom by, for instance, the creation of posters and the promotion of exchanges and comparisons of their mother tongues. The differences should be embraced to fully integrate the pupils and involve them in this special type of language acquiring. Difficulties that might occur concern the organisational skills of the teacher who needs to be able to do multitasking all the time, and also, especially at the beginning, the children might be afraid of talking the new language and expressing themselves in front of the others.
- White Paper Multilingualism
- Law Education “classe d’accueil”
- “Ouverture aux langues” (Language Awareness)
Written by Cathy Ferrari
Trainee at TermCoord