Language learning beyond English in Europe: Why it matters. Debating the European perspective (EuroSLA@AAAL)


The European Second Language Association (EuroSLA) was founded over 30 years ago to research second/multiple languages in Europe. Our members’ work addresses socio-political questions as well as linguistic/pedagogical issues, and multiple methodological approaches, demonstrating EuroSLA’s eclectic interdisciplinary and inclusive approach to research and practice. 

Protecting and promoting multilingualism in Europe has been a core principle embedded in European policy as symbolic of personal, cultural, and economic freedom. There is increasing evidence across Europe that learning languages other than English (LOTE) is becoming less central to curricular choices for schools and universities, and creating some risks in maintaining Europe’s rich multilingual heritage. What efforts are being made to reaffirm multilingualism across Europe? What are the implications for our policy makers, teachers, language learners and for multilingual communities? How far do these issues relate to questions found in the US and elsewhere?

For our Association, these questions challenge us to understand the complex linguistic, sociocultural and political issues affecting wider language learning maintenance, and how far we might act to foster greater take-up of languages. The purpose of this session is thus to provide a multidisciplinary discussion of the scale of the challenge from a European perspective, and to highlight future initiatives emerging from current research for finding appropriate solutions. We also aim that the session can explore how global partnerships at research, professional and institutional level may be essential levers for future practice.  

Following a brief introduction to the topic and speakers, each of the four presentations will be allotted 15 minutes, followed by a 15 minute response from the discussant. Through the remaining time of discussion with the audience, we aim to engage scholars from a wide spectrum of linguistic and educational backgrounds to take the debate to a global perspective.

Language learning in the shadow of the giant English: Taking stock of Modern Foreign Language (MFL) policy developments in Anglophone countries

Ursula Lanvers, University of  York

Over the last three decades, language learning in all major Anglophone countries has seen a steady decline, to the extent that we can now describe language learning in these countries as ‘in crisis’. For this reason, this talk will conceptualize the LOTE crisis in Anglophone countries as an international rather than national challenge, and cover a) trends in MFL uptake, b) policy developments, and c) discuss possible ways forward. Citing from the recently published volume Language Learning in Anglophone Countries: Challenges, policies, ways forward (eds: Lanvers, Thompson & East, 2020), I will first report on the current language learning landscape in the four UK nations, and the Republic of Ireland, focusing on school education policies, and uptake trends, and then complete the picture of current MFL uptake in anglophone Europe with an overview of Higher Education policies and Modern Languages programmes--the latter in UK universities in particular. As comparators to the European landscape, I will refer to North America (U.S. and Canada) and Australasia (Australia, New Zealand), where MFL education policies are even more diverse, but downwards trends in the uptake of LOTE at any post-compulsory stage are generally shared. The talk will finish with two discussion points to be offered to the plenum: first the thesis that, to re-incentivise Anglophone learners to learn LOTE, motivational efforts should include awareness-raising of the plight of Anglophone LOTE learners, and secondly the thesis that current policy developments offering extended phases of compulsory MFL school education are unlikely to offer sustainable solutions to the MFL crisis facing Anglophone countries.


Second foreign languages in Scandinavia: Any northern lights in sight?

Jonas Granfeldt, University of Lund, Sweden

Scandinavians are reputed for their high proficiency in English, a language that enjoys wide public support (Eurobarometer, 2012). For young people, a strong focus on English is detrimental to their interest in learning a second foreign language (SFL) (Henry, 2013). In line with European policy (cf. ‘mother tongue + 2’), an important issue in Scandinavian educational language policy should therefore be to promote foreign language learning beyond English. 

Indeed, SFLs like French, German and Spanish, have been the target of several new policy measures over the last decades across Scandinavia. The measures aim to increase the number of pupils studying an SFL, but despite major societal similarities between the countries, Denmark, Norway and Sweden have chosen rather different paths. In Denmark, the learning of an SFL became compulsory in lower secondary school in 2016. In Sweden and Norway, it is obligatory for secondary schools to offer SFLs, but it is not obligatory for pupils to learn them. In Sweden, the government initiated grade point average enhancement credits (GPAEC) for SFLs. The extra credits will raise pupils’ GPAs when entering university. Since the introduction of GPAECs, the proportion of pupils studying an SFL has increased in Sweden, but mainly in large cities where the proportion of young people continuing to university is the highest (Granfeldt et al, under review). This raises the question of how different measures affect pupils from different socio-economic backgrounds. In this presentation, I will review the current situation for SFLs in the Scandinavian educational systems, compare recent policy changes and discuss possible impacts. The focus will be on discussing the types of measures introduced and what this might say about the ideologies behind them. Finally, I will look into the future in order to see if there is any northern light ahead for SFLs.


Looking beyond Europe: The rise of non-Western languages

Clare Wright, University of Leeds 

As Europe increasingly opens up to diverse global language communities, this creates opportunities for increased demand for non-Western language learning, both for heritage and foreign language learners. This talk focuses on L2 Chinese to illustrate such opportunities, and associated challenges. We report on recent research into pedagogic practices in L2 Chinese, to shed light on how Chinese teaching and assessment are adjusting to European expectations of multilingual communicative competence, while considering often complex questions of what kind of Chinese languages and dialects can and should be taught in Western settings. Three main themes will be addressed: 1) evaluating Western learners’ motivation for learning Chinese, including differing needs of heritage and second language learners, in foreign and immersion learning contexts; 2) understanding Chinese teacher beliefs and attitudes, particularly in adjusting to teaching in Western settings; 3) illustrating how online pedagogic innovations such as MOOCs can bridge student and teacher expectations for successful language learning by building specific aspects of L2 learners’ language proficiency, even in short courses at very beginner levels. The talk concludes with a discussion of how greater inclusion of non-Western languages in European learning contexts provide fresh ways of supporting the needs of 21st century language students for communicating multilingually in a globalised world.


Language learning and teaching in Europe: A balancing act of educational policy and implementation

Marije Michel, University of Groningen, Netherlands
Lucilla Lopriore, Universita Roma Tre, Italy

Europe is characterized by high linguistic diversity with most countries having more than one national language and several regional and minority languages and dialects (e.g., Dutch, Frisian, Limburghian in the Netherlands; German, Ladino in Italy). In urban areas, migration from the Middle East and North African areas adds to linguistic superdiversity (Vertovec, 2007). Against this background, English is quickly gaining ground as a lingua franca in European societies, while economic markets in a globalized world call for new languages to be learned (e.g., Chinese). Aware of the multilingual heritage, the European Union (EU) actively promotes individual plurilingualism. Since 2002, every European citizen should learn two other EU languages besides their mother tongue. Despite these guidelines, several differences emerge when comparing educational policy and language teaching implementation in individual EU countries. In this presentation, we will illustrate the variety of European modern foreign languages (MFL) education, with examples from Italy and the Netherlands and reference to neighboring countries. We will describe how foreign language teaching in public education from kindergarten to university is performing a balancing act between national, regional, minority and MFL because of the limited time available. We will discuss how English, with its omnipresence in media and public space, puts pressure on the longstanding tradition of learning other foreign languages. Today, seventy percent of MA programs at Dutch universities are taught in English (EMI). In Italy, the ministry of education has followed a long-standing wish of parents and international businesses offering English-only instruction at primary level and in secondary schools, using a CLIL approach, to ensure the young generation will be able to speak English.

In short, we will highlight both the challenges and opportunities that growing multilingualism, global English, and EU policies present for teachers and teacher educators in Europe