Alison thomas looks at how UK schools join those across Europe to promote language learning and celebrate cultural diversity
"Pack an extra language in your luggage Metti una lingua in piu nella valigia." This is the motto of the European Day of Languages 2004, held on September 26, which is organised by the Council of Europe and co-ordinated in the UK by CILT, the National Centre for Languages.
Each year hundreds of events take place in schools and colleges, village halls and city squares across the continent. Some are modest affairs, others involve whole communities. All have the same aim - to celebrate cultural diversity and promote the importance of learning languages.
The message has become particularly pertinent in English secondary schools with the removal of modern languages from the core curriculum at key stage 4. For this reason Oldfield School in Bath focused last year on Year 9.
Proceedings kicked off at morning assembly when students and staff from bilingual backgrounds read a poem or text of their choice. "We had everything from French, German and Spanish to Swedish, Russian, Arabic and Macedonian," says head of modern languages, Marie-France Perkins.
As the morning progressed, teachers in all subject areas registered classes in a foreign language and some brave individuals even used French for their teaching. The modern languages department organised a variety of workshops.
With the help of a school tour company students learned what goes into producing a travel brochure and compiled a small one of their own. With a French magician they practised numbers and colours through card games and tricks. There were taster lessons in Spanish and Russian and one teacher described her experiences when she worked as a journalist in Russia. The theme of careers was picked up again in a workshop where students undertook some guided internet research.
"It opened their eyes to the wide range of jobs that require languages.
They also learned that the skills they acquire through language learning are valuable in themselves, even if they don't use languages in their job," says Marie-France Perkins.
At Eggbuckland Community College in Plymouth the publicity machine swung into action at the start of term with notices in the bulletin and newsletter, and posters placed around the school. "Even in the run-up there was quite a buzz and on the day itself the atmosphere was terrific," says French and Spanish teacher Louise Blondell.
The languages department and the main hall were decked out in flags and conventional language work gave way to quizzes, treasure hunts and games.
Throughout the school, classroom instructions were issued in a variety of languages ranging from Icelandic to Zulu. "We printed out key phrases from the internet and teachers chose the one they fancied. The idea was to have a bit of fun and make sure that wherever pupils went, they were aware of the day," she explains.
They certainly could not miss it at lunchtime. German sausages, Greek salad and tarte au citron were some of the dishes on the continental menu.
Activities included flamenco dancing, a boules tournament and taster lessons in German and Cantonese. One venue that drew the crowds was the hair-spraying studio. For a small fee, donated to UNICEF, students allowed a team of Year 11 artists to give them a new-look coiffure in the vivid hues of their chosen national flag.
The day was such a success that the school is planning an international week for this year. So what tips would Louise Blondell offer to others? "Promote it really well beforehand and get everyone in the department involved by encouraging them to follow up their own interests. It also makes a big difference if the whole school takes part. The message that languages matter has more impact when everyone supports it," she says.
l CILT, the National Centre for Languages, will mark the day with a special event incorporating the winners ceremony for the European Award for Languages (www.cilt.org.ukeuroaward) and the launch of materials from Languages Work (www.cilt.org.ukcareers). CILT will again be producing resources to support celebrations at school.
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