Europe‘s challenge in creating a cultural and political community: languages
Political and intercultural dialogue in Europe is faced with a linguistic barrier: only a minority of Europeans has a sufficiently extensive knowledge of a foreign language to engage in a complex debate (level C1 in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). Language learning is therefore legitimately considered a priority for the Union: every European should be able to speak a language of international communication and a second European language of his choice, besides his native (Maalouf report). The goal is very ambitious, considering the average time needed to reach level C1: devoting several hours a week to the language, it will take around ten years (the investment required varies however according to the proximity of the learner’s native language and the target language: it will be smaller between Dutch and English than between Spanish and English). It is therefore essential to prepare young people to learn foreign languages from primary school.
One of the key factors in language learning is the learner’s motivation. Learning a foreign language is much easier when three factors coincide: (1) one should be confronted with people who do not speak one’s language; (2) such people should be worth getting to know, because they convey an interesting message for the learner and; (3) language learning should be rewarding: progress should be rapid and tangible.
Learning natural languages: reproducing social inequality
Preparation for learning foreign languages is nowadays the responsibility of schoolteachers in primary schools. Teachers are under pressure coming from two different sources: social pressure from the parents, aware of the importance of mastering at least one foreign language; and pressure from their hierarchy and ministerial programmes. Teachers often do not have sufficient knowledge of a foreign language to face these new needs. Trying to catch up under significant time pressure, they can only reach a mediocre result, dissatisfying for their pupils as well as for themselves. The teachers’ mediocre knowledge of foreign languages is due to the fact that effective language learning is a long and difficult process.
The children of more affluent families are therefore sent to the UK or Ireland for immersion language programmes. This strong demand makes the formula of free exchanges practically inaccessible, since the supply is much lower. In fact, English-language students are much less encouraged to learn foreign languages. As a consequence, this situation forces families to pay for language programmes abroad which creates a real market for them. The – sometimes exorbitant -costs of courses, combined with travel costs, make access to such programmes particularly difficult for the less wealthy. The concentration of demand for language programmes in Anglophone countries (UK, Ireland) becomes a factor of social inequality regarding the access to language education.
Esperanto: the right and effective method to prepare and motivate to language learning
Esperanto, in the context of cross-border primary school classes, presents a unique way of teaching languages. Due to its completely logical structure, to its compliance with the natural way to learn a language, and to the fact that it employs some morphological roots among the most widespread in European languages, it can be learnt quickly by Europeans – 5-8 times quicker than any other ‘natural’ language. Thus, the level allowing a first meaningful dialogue (B1) can be reached within about one year. The speed at which concrete results can be attained is a considerable source of gratification for primary school pupils participating in cross-border class partnerships; it also allows teachers to be quickly and effectively trained.
The mobilisation of an international network of primary schools also contributes to raising students’ motivation to learn. Through direct experimentation, pupils will understand that foreign languages give access to people it would otherwise be impossible to interact with.
As Esperanto is not a national or regional language, the class partnership network will be balanced. It would be the opposite of the current situation, where the language of international communication is one natively spoken in two EU member states (UK and Ireland). That is why these two countries attract today an impressive majority of partnership requests.
Communications tools based on the internet (instant messaging, e-mail, blogging or VoIP technologies as used by Skype) are quick, effective and cheap, and independent from distance. They are therefore open and accessible for all social and economic groups. They activate both written and oral expression, and can be used to practise all forms of linguistic expression.
We propose to organise a European primary school partnership network employing electronic communications tools on the internet (instant messaging, e-mail, blogging or VoIP technologies as used by Skype) for which the common language should be Esperanto. Such exchanges prepare and encourage foreign language learning and stimulate discovery of other lives and cultures. Pupils who have experienced such exchanges in primary school are better prepared to learn foreign languages and to engage in intercultural dialogue. Having been exposed to a simple learning method, they will have a greater desire to learn thanks to the positive and gratifying experience. They will also have made the direct acquaintance of other Europeans, thereby developing a greater desire to live together.Author : Challenge for Europe