Latest research on language learning in Europe provides important lessons for building a multilingual society, according to expert speakers at a seminar in Brussels.
Fifth annual event celebrating European Day of Languages – Cambridge ESOL and ALTE highlight importance of multilingualism.
Language assessment experts from Cambridge and from around Europe ran a week of events in the European Parliament (EP) celebrating Europe’s commitment to multilingualism.
MEP Miguel Angel Martínez, Vice-President of the European Parliament responsible for Multilingualism and MEP Hannu Takkula, Committee on Culture and Education hosted this annual event. Experts from the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations (Cambridge ESOL) and the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) addressed the theme ‘Is English enough?’
As Martin Nuttall from the ALTE explains:
“Of course, when we asked this question we already knew that the answer would be ‘No, of course not’. What we’re trying to do is encourage discussion of the importance of teaching languages and using a wide range of languages at a time when English is becoming more and more widely used.”
Cambridge ESOL’s Dr Neil Jones, Director of the European Commission's first European Survey on Language Competences, presented the findings of this major study on language learning in schools, which involved 14 countries and 54,000 pupils in 1,200 schools. Speakers from Croatia, Poland, Germany and the Netherlands discussed the value of the survey in their countries. According to Dr Jones:
“The survey is encouraging discussion around effective language learning across Europe and today’s seminar has shown us how the results are being used in different countries. Overall we can say that current levels of achievement need improvement. Personally, I interpret the survey findings as demonstrating the importance of adopting a pedagogy which sees all languages, and not just English, as valuable tools for communication.”
Two seminars were held as part of the week-long event. The seminar entitled ‘Multilingual Europe: lessons from the European Survey on Language Competences’ included an opening address from MEP Miguel Angel Martínez as well as contributions from experts from across Europe including Pierre Mairesse, Director, ‘Lifelong learning: horizontal policy issues and 2020 strategy’, Directorate-General for Education and Culture, European Commission and representatives of the Goethe – Institute, National Centre for External Evaluation of Education of Croatia, University of Warsaw, and Vrije Universiteit Brussel of Brussels.
The event’s seminar entitled ‘Putting language skills of healthcare professionals under the spotlight” looked at the challenges and issues surrounding the assessment of the language skills of healthcare professionals and offered presentations by experts and stakeholder representatives from Europe.
On the best ways of assessing language skills for the healthcare sector, Juliet Wilson from Cambridge ESOL said:
“Language skills for the healthcare sector is an important issue – in fact it is hard to think of any area where language skills matter more. Our experience and research shows that you need to use an explicit testing model which is secure and made of pre-tested items backed by rigorous quality standards.”
MEP Bernadette Vergnaud the European Parliament’s Rapporteur on the Professional Qualifications Directive recognized the importance of linguistic competence as a prerequisite to the right to practice the profession. She underlined the challenge of assigning the responsibility for language testing to a competent body, be it national authorities or external bodies, without creating undue administrative or cost burden. One solution, she said, could be to develop a standard test, adapted to each group of medical professionals.
The event also included an exhibition on multilingualism where hundreds of delegates took part in a survey to help to identify some of the hardest words in English – participants also had the opportunity to tell researchers what is special about their language.
Dr Neil Jones commented:
“By talking to people in the European Parliament we were able to build a clearer picture on what multilingualism means to individuals which will be a great help in our future research.
“It is extremely encouraging to see the very active support for languages in European Parliament. MEP Martínez and MEP Takkula have been working with us for several years now, and they have both put in a tremendous effort to encourage discussion of this issue which is vital to Europe’s economic, cultural and democratic objectives.”