Spreading the news: How a language project is helping children to become global citizens

Florentina Popescu
30th August 2019 at 09:00

Language learning

When I look back over all the years that I have been teaching in school (16 and counting…), I often wonder what my pupils will remember about me and about the subject I teach. Will they remember that I was a fun teacher with a good sense of humour or that the nouns have masculine and feminine form? Will they remember that we used to eat croissants during French after-school club, or that the "-ent" ending in the third person, plural, present tense, is always silent? Will they remember that we learnt some Russian, Spanish, Italian and Romanian? The list of questions could go on and on, but the point I'm trying to make is that I hope my pupils will remember that we made the most of our lessons. I hope they will remember that their French lessons were more than just learning about grammar rules, pronunciation and tenses. Through our French classes we have connected with many other languages, cultures and other subjects, and we have discussed the similarities and patterns that some Latin languages follow.

We have also made links with people and schools from across the world, and one of the most recent experiences we had turned out to be one of the best: a Spanish exchange with a bilingual school in Malaga, Spain. A Spanish teacher, Marina Pozo, worked in the school for two weeks in November last year.

The exchange aims to: improve the knowledge about both countries’ educational systems; increase teachers and students’ awareness of each other’s cultures; exchange good language learning practice; and strengthen relationships between participating education communities. But Marina’s time at the school accomplished far more than that. The whole experience made a great impact on our pupils, staff and school community. For two weeks, I taught alongside Marina; the first parts of the lessons were in French and the second parts were in Spanish. We taught the same topics so the pupils could make connections between the languages in real time to help them identify the similarities, differences and even the same patterns. 

Language teachers

Enthusiastic pupils often greeted Marina in Spanish. The children relished the chance to practise their language skills and they were keen to make Marina feel more welcome by talking to her in her native language. It wasn't just the pupils who tested their linguistic skills – some of the parents got in on the act and spoke to Marina in Spanish. Other parents contacted the school to let us know how much their children enjoyed the bilingual lessons.

Teaching in a global society is a challenge

However, the best part of the exchange experience was Garcia del Olmo News. The award-winning international and multilingual school project, named after the Spanish school Garcia del Olmo, gives children the opportunity to create a news programme. Pupils from different countries, including America, Canada, Malaysia and Singapore, work together to present news reports about their school activities, such as storytelling, producing a newspaper and international projects, and there's even time for weather forecasts. The project allows children to showcase their linguistic skills by recording the news programme in three different languages: French, Spanish and English. Garcia del Olmo News is an engaging and novel way to encourage children to collaborate, share their ideas, connect with other schools, exchange their experiences and practise their language skills in a creative and practical task.

Multilingual news project

Marina, who helped to create the news programme, believes that Garcia del Olmo News is a vital way to teach children about the global community and their role as global citizens by highlighting the pupils' shared experiences in schools from around the world while improving their communication skills.

She said: "I´ve been teaching for the last 17 years and education has changed over that time. As our world becomes more interconnected, we had to transform our teaching methods and provide students with more opportunities to learn about global developments that affect the world and their lives. Teaching in a global society is a challenge. It requires teaching values, knowledge and skills. In addition, multiculturalism and multilingualism are present in many parts of the world today.

"Considering this, in 2010 I decided to move to the US through a grant given to me by my government to conduct research about cultural diversity in schools, as well as bilingual and dual-language programmes. One of the most gratifying experiences of my life as a teacher was when I started teaching Spanish as a second language at a French-American school called Ecole Claire Fontaine in Los Angeles, California.

"The school is based on pedagogical principles of Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner, who placed the child at the centre of the universe and gave special importance to learning through the senses in a caring environment and with natural materials. They developed a system of multicultural and multilingual immersion in French, English, and Spanish using the OPOL Method (One Person, One Language), a popular method adopted by multilingual families which attempt to raise bilingual children. This term was first introduced by the French linguist Maurice Grammont in 1902. He theorised that by separating the languages from the beginning, parents (each speaking in their native language) could prevent confusion and code-mixing in their bilingual children. 

"Following my time in Los Angeles, I moved to Florida for three years to work as a Spanish teacher at Berkshire Elementary School for a dual-language programme. Dual language is a form of bilingual education in which students are taught literacy and content in two languages. Dual-language programmes use the partner language for at least half of the instructional day in the elementary years.

"Now I´m back in Spain, where fortunately I´m developing new multicultural and bilingual projects and I teach Spanish to students from all over the world at García del Olmo School in La Cala de Mijas, Málaga. I am also responsible for the linguistic and cultural diversity of the children beyond teaching them the Spanish language. Developing intercultural competence and growing a number of overseas exchange opportunities for my students are my main goals.

"Regarding this, my headteacher, Manuel Álvarez, and I decided to start a global education programme last year. We developed a project called 'The challenge of teaching in a global society: Interconnected by an international and multilingual news program'. This idea has to foster the ability to cope in multicultural environments by establishing international cooperation with schools around the world to share experiences, projects and concerns. We use a school TV format where children become reporters of a news programme, producing reports using visual effects and post-production techniques with a green screen.

"It was this idea that started our partnership with Send Primary School in the United Kingdom. As a way to enrich this exchange, I was awarded a professional stay by the Ministry of Education of Spain to visit the school for two weeks last year. Before visiting the school, we did some Skype sessions with the students and the French teacher, Mrs Popescu.

"The school participated in my news project about global education, connecting with other schools around the world by creating a space for linguistic and cultural exchange and good practices."

"After my visit, my school has been distinguished with three awards for this project and its pedagogical initiatives in the promotion of bilingualism and new technologies by the Ministry of Education of Spain and the Ministry of Education of Andalusia.

"García del Olmo School has been awarded the first national prize for Good Practices in Schools in the category of Use of Technologies Applied to Education by the Ministry of Education of Spain. As well as the first prize 'Antonio Domínguez Ortiz' in the 30th edition of the Competition for the Development of Research and Educational Innovation of the Ministry of Education of Andalusia. Likewise, the school has also obtained, in the framework of its teachings in different languages, the third prize for Good Practices in bilingual teaching from the Andalusian government.

"The informative programmes are produced in collaboration with other schools in North America, Canada, Asia and Europe. Send Primary School is one of them. The programme is edited by the students along with a newspaper coordinated by the teacher Juan Gambero.

"I modestly hope that this account of my experience will help other teachers to understand the importance of global education and the essence of multilingualism and the multiple benefits on cognitive and emotional development of a child. The world needs more global citizens."

Pupils' news reports created as part of the Garcia del Olmo News scheme can be viewed here.

Florentina Popescu is a French teacher at Send Primary School in Woking, Surrey. She tweets @FlorentinaPope7. Marina Doña tweets @MarinaDoaPozo