A European project for teaching languages through national stories

Written by: Valentina Angelova Raynova, Varna Medical University, Bulgaria
e-mail: valrayn@yahoo.com

Towards Awareness Raising of Multicultural and Multilingual Europe while Teaching Foreign Languages to Young Learners

The Comenius 2.1. project, subsidized by the European Commission puts into practice the idea that Languages should be bridges not barriers between people in Europe as Mr Orban, commissioner for multilingualism has stated. The project lasted 3 years and a half but it took almost a year for the product to be finalized. The aim of this article is to give a short description of the final outcomes of the project and to try to interpret and analyse some of them in view of their perspective implementation in the everyday pre- and in-service teacher training and teaching of foreign languages in Europe and Bulgaria in the future.

Overall Aims of the Project

The overall aims of the project were as follows:

  1. To raise and develop the multilingual and multicultural awareness of teacher trainers and their trainees who are expected to teach foreign languages at primary school level;
  2. To improve pedagogical skills by allowing project participants to co-operate across borders online and raise their awareness of differences of educational contexts and learners, engaging the latter in the learning process;
  3. To develop and pilot relevant and usable material that would help achieve the aims enumerated above.

Project participants

The main participants in this European project were lecturers and teacher trainers of foreign languages from 9 European countries: the representative of HENaC, Catholic Higher Education College of Namur, Belgium was the coordinator of the project; there were two teacher trainers from Bradford College, Bradford, Great Britain; 3 colleagues from St. Patrick’s College Drumcondra in Dublin, Ireland; 3 representatives of the University of Erfurt, Germany; 2 teams from Spain – 2 colleagues from the University Ramon Llull, Barcelona and 1 from the Institute of Education Edetania, Valencia; 2 educators from Popular Knowledge Society’s Lower Silesian University of Education in Wroclaw, Poland; 2 from Vilmos Apor Catholic College, Budapest, Hungary; 1 from INHOLLAND University Haarlem, Holland and 3 teacher trainers from the In-service Teacher Training Department, Shoumen University, Varna, Bulgaria. That amounts to 22 participants altogether.

Not only did the participants represent different European institutions and cultures as well as languages but some of them also came from a multicultural background, they themselves were plurilingual, e.g. one of the colleagues from Germany was actually French but had a husband from Germany, another colleague had a mother who was German and a Polish father, a third participant lived and worked in Barcelona but originally came from Denmark, yet another one worked in Valencia but originally came from Argentina and so on. Some of the project participants were fluent in more than 2 European languages, they were really multilingual and multicultural themselves.

Expected Project Outcomes

The expected project outcomes comprised:

  • A DVD containing a Methodology Pack for Initial and In-service Teacher Training that would ensure a common methodology based on the storyline approach. All the materials in the pack have been developed in English, French and German
  • A Multilingual Anthology of 12 national Stories with cultural background for each story on the DVD, a long version for teachers and a short version to be used with pupils; e.g. The Miraculous Stag; King Arthur, etc. with text and sound in Dutch, English, French, Gaelic, German and Spanish plus an original version in Bulgarian, Hungarian and Polish respectively.
  • A series of materials to be ready for use at primary schools in Dutch, English, French Gaelic, German and Spanish
  • A website that can be visited by teachers of   Foreign Languages to Young Learners with one story developed fully as an example: The Legend of St Jordi from Barcelona.
  • A CD with some Good Practice materials, e.g. children rehearsing a play based on a story, a puppet theatre video based on St Jordi, etc.
  • A CD with some Interactive Exercises: crosswords for children to do; labyrinths, multiple choice questions for reading comprehension, matching and sequencing games, etc.

The DVD

The DVD is the richest product of the project and it contains a number of important components:

  1. The Methodology Pack for Initial and In-service Teacher Training in English, French and German constitutes 71 pages of theory /the English version/ organized around 3 main parts: Part 1: Learning Languages; Part 2: Language and Culture; and Part 3 focuses on Using stories. Part 1 consists of 7 chapters, each developed by colleagues from different European Institutions, some individually, some in a team. These chapters tackle issues such as: Theories of Foreign Language Acquisition; Theories of Foreign Language Teaching: Methods and Approaches; Learning styles; Young Learners; then there is a chapter on Contextualizing and Using Resources, Developing Listening Skills written by the Bulgarian team of teacher trainers and a separate chapter on Vocabulary Development and Communication Functions. The second part of the Methodology pack concentrates on Language and Culture and deals with Language Awareness and Multicultural Diversity as well as Citizenship and multicultural issues. Part 3 concentrates on the ways of working with stories; using different storytelling techniques as well as Types of Stories.
  2. The Multilingual Anthology of 12 national stories is followed by a Cultural background for each story. This anthology includes the stories told in English, German, French, Spanish, Dutch and Gaelic. Each story is told in its original language, too: e.g. Polish, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Catalan, etc. The stories have been colourfully illustrated by professional artists, teachers or students.
    1. For each story a literary version is available and a text that can be downloaded. One can download the audio of the story in 6 languages plus the original. Trainees and teachers can download pictures that can be printed, laminated and used while telling the given story.
    2. A plethora of materials have been created to be ready for use at primary schools in Dutch, English, French, Gaelic, German and Spanish. The Activities section comprises a description of each activity; resources for activities with visual props, e.g. pictures, flashcards, mazes, collages, recipes, plays, pictograph reading, wordsearches, etc. The number of resources developed in 6 languages for each story ranges from 7 to 42 different resources! that involve a lot of creativity, imagination, enthusiasm and ultimately love for children, languages and teaching languages to children. There are also lists of 10 to 20 key words, phrases or sentences from each story organized in tables written in 10 European languages Catalan inclusive. One can find Audio files with all these key words and phrases recorded in the different languages. There are ready-made activities suggested for trainees and teachers but some can be used as resources for teachers and trainees to develop their own materials. The awareness raising of different languages and sensitizing children to similarities and differences in the way words sound, in their morphology is an extremely valuable trend in teaching foreign languages today for it allows pupils to stay open to other languages and cultures and develops a positive attitude to diversity.

The Good Practice CD

This component demonstrates a variety of interesting achievements based on the work done while teaching foreign languages through the stories included in the project. For example, one can see the plan for The Miraculous Stag /a Hungarian story/, designed by students in Namur. The Legend of St Nicholas is being told by a Belgian student who took part in the International Week for students and teachers, which has become a tradition each March. You may enjoy the performance of the legend of St Martin by Bulgarian pupils from the fourth grade from Dobri Chintulov School, Varna. Another amusing material is the puppet show based on St Jordi from Barcelona. You may encounter a great deal of resources for telling a story: pictures, posters, hand-made books from all partner countries as well as some precious ideas for storing a didactic unit and organizing the story-telling sessions from Valencia. Here is an example of a poster and a caption that goes with it designed by Spanish trainee teachers doing a specialisation in English to be able to teach English in Primary Schools. They were students at the Universidad Católica de Valencia School year 2005- 06 attending the subject of Spanish Language with teacher Norma González Peralta, specialised in English and Spanish Philology. They were expected to read different national European stories and had the creative writing task to draw a poster and a caption that would go with it.

The Interactive Exercises CD

The CD contains interactive exercises designed on the basis of 5 of the stories. No internet access is necessary for using these activities. The first one is The Dwarves. They include anagrams on the topic ‘food’; multiple choice activities, listen and find the way, sequence a story, do a crossword and so on. All that children have to do is click on the language chosen /out of 6 languages/ The next story with interactive activities is Saint Nicholas and consists of sequencing the story activity, a True / False exercise as well as a vocabulary focused task. The Legend of Saint Jordi also offers a number of interactive activities such as a multiple choice test that checks reading comprehension; The Wheaten Loaf offers two ‘drag and drop’ matching games: one focused on sequencing the story for developing speaking skills and the other concentrating on matching pictures to written words that describe the process of making bread. The richest in interactive activities is the story of The Wawel Dragon. It is a whole interactive set. It has to be installed and is again available in 6 different languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Dutch and Gaelic which you can access by clicking on the appropriate national flag. There are 7 interactive activities altogether: 1. storytelling (audio and pictures); 2. sequencing the story; 3. a memory card game based on matching pictures to words; 4. a grammar focused task with reading and gap-filling based on prepositions; 5. a vocabulary game based on matching written words in English and the mother tongue /Polish/; 6. read and match the sentence to the picture from the story, and 7. last but not least an activity to listen, drag and drop ‘the reel’ on the corresponding  picture.

The websites

The following websites can be used in case one needs to learn more about the project products:

Conclusion

The project lasted three years and a half but the materials developed are so multifarious and inspiring that they would be used by language teachers, trainees and children for many years to come. The outputs tackle a plethora of multilingual and multicultural aspects of language teaching and learning and the project definitely was very exciting to participate in. The activities for developing listening skills, the interactive activities with lots of visual props will really be very useful for language teachers and trainees of young learners. The awareness raising activities of multilingual and multicultural European issues and values are precious, innovative and most certainly constitute a cutting edge breakthrough in the methodology of teaching languages to young learners. This would help teachers allow children to stay open to the wonderful diversity of languages and cultures in Europe today. Enjoy the stories and the activities!

References:

  1. Education and Culture, Early Language Learning, Meeting Multicultural and Multilingual Europe through National Stories, Comenius 2.1 a Project funded by the European Commission, DVD
  2. Education and Culture, Early Language Learning, Meeting Multicultural and Multilingual Europe through National Stories, Comenius 2.1 a Project funded by the European Commission, Good practice
  3. Education and Culture, Early Language Learning, Meeting Multicultural and Multilingual Europe through National Stories, Comenius 2.1 a Project funded by the European Commission, Interactive exercises
  4. Raynova, V. (2004), A European Project on Early Language Learning through National Stories, Университетско издателство “Епископ Константин Преславски”, гр. Шумен
  5. Raynova, V. (2006), Приказен проект,  Университетско издателство “Епископ Константин Преславски”, гр. Шумен
  6. Райнова, В.А.(2007), Европейски Проект за развиване на интеркултурна комуникативна компетентност, Scripta Scientifica Medica, volume 39(4) pp. 3-01-424, Medical University, Prof. Dr. Paraskev Stoyanov, Varna, Bulgaria
  7. NEWSLETTER, The newsletter of  the office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2 / 2007

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