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News  ¦  21/02/2012  ¦  Netherlands Netherlands

The international Expert Seminar on Early Language Learning took place on 9-10 February 2012 in the charming city of Leeuwarden, the capital of the bilingual province Fryslân, Netherlands.

It was organised by the Mercator European Research Centre on Multilingualism and Language Learning, part of the Fryske Akademy (The Netherlands) and member of the Mercator Network. Participants included experts, researchers, policy-makers, members of the European Commission, Consortium members of the project, and network members of the EU Civil Society Platform on Multilingualism.

The two-day conference was opened by Reinier Salverda, Director of the Fryske Akademy, Uwe Mohr, Chairman of the European Platform of the Civil Society to Promote Multilingualism and Project Director and Cor van der Meer, Mercator European Network of Language Diversity Centres. The opening was followed by Anna Verkade, Mercator European Research Centre on Multilingualism and Language Learning/Fryske Akademy, who presented the preliminary results of the research on Early Language Learning. She also emphasised the need to raise awareness of the benefits and advantages of Early Language Learning (ELL). The next speaker, Bessie Dendrinos, Director of the Research Centre for English Language Teaching, Testing and Assessment at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, addressed the issue of making the shift from monolingual to multilingual ELL teaching and testing. She was followed by Cornelia Nath, Ostfriesische Landschaft - Low German Office, who spoke about lobbying for Early Language Learning and multilingual awareness in East Frisia. Her presentation included a summary of the experiences with bilingual nursery schools and trilingual elementary schools in East Frisia. Mirjam Blumenthal, Koninklijke Kentalis, then gave a talk on bilingualism in children with a disability and proved that a bilingual upbringing is also feasible for children with an auditory/communicative disability. The next speaker was Sabine Pirchio, University of Rome “Sapienza”, who dealt with the issue of becoming bilingual from birth in a monolingual family. She presented the project “The Adventures of Hocus and Lotus” which teaches language using the narrative format approach. Maaike Verrips, De Taalstudio, then talked about the needs of multilingual families. She showed the first results of some studies into parents’ expectations and their multilingual practices at home and presented the multilingual parenting programme developed by De Taalstudio.

After the lunch break, two round tables took place. The first one was facilitated by Seán Ó Riain, European Esperanto Union, and dealt with Early Language Learning Policy. The second one addressed the topic of parents and Early Language Learning and was facilitated by Beate Widlok, Goethe-Institut München. After the round tables, Hristo Kyuchukov, Free University of Berlin, gave a talk on the acquisition of Romani in bilingual context. Observations and research with young Romani speakers from Bulgaria and Slovakia were presented. The day finished with a speech by Joanna McPake, University of Strathclyde, who spoke about Gaelic-medium pre-school education and its challenges in Scotland.

The second day of the expert seminar started with a presentation by Eowyn Crisfield, Crisfield Educational Consulting, who talked about teacher-education for bilingualism and shared her experience of working with the British School of Amsterdam. She was followed by Evdokia Karavas, who presented the Greek EYL project that introduces English in the first grades of primary school. Eibhlín Mhic Aoidh, St Mary’s University College in Belfast, then gave a talk on Irish-medium Early Years Education in the north of Ireland. Her presentation explored successful strategies used by early years educators in promoting Irish language learning as part of the holistic development of young children. The next speaker was Jarmo Lainio, Stockholm University and Mälardalen University Sweden, who spoke about pre-schools and early language learning in the context of the European Charter for regional or Minority languages and who presented several examples of recent development from Nordic countries. Another example from Scandinavia was given by Benthe Kolberg Jansson and Hilde Traavik, Østfold University college/Bergen University College, who presented their research on the topic “Early start with writing both varieties of written Norwegian”. The last speech before lunch was held by Idske Bangma, Mercator European Research Centre on Multilingualism and Language Learning/Fryske Akademy. She addressed the topic of multilingual Early Language Transmission and presented the MELT project and its outcomes.

The second day finished off with two more roundtable discussions. Evdokia Karavas facilitated a round table on teacher competences and training which dealt with the main challenges for the next few years with respect to pre-service and in-service training of ELL teachers. The forth and last round table was on best practice and teaching materials for early Language Learning and was facilitated by Julia Barnas, University of Mondragon, HUEZI.
All round tables were filled with lively and fruitful discussions and resulted in recommendations targeting pre-school practitioners, regional, national and European authorities, and other professionals working in the pre-school sector. These recommendations will be used as input for the final research paper of the project. They will also soon be available on the website. More information can be found on the speakers and presentations, and photos of the seminar are available in the Media Gallery.

The project team is now looking forward a series of exploitation events and to the closing conference, which will be held on 14-16 November 2012 in Parma, Italy. 

Europa Esperanto Unio - EEU Mercator European Network of Language Diversity Centres European Federation of National Institutions for Language
European Council of Artists (ECA) European Forum of Vocational Education and Training CMFE (Community Media Forum Europe)
Club de Madrid European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education (ECSWE)
Culturelink ALTE Association of Commercial Television in Europe (ACT)
EEE-YFU Federal Union of European Nationalities European Association for Terminology
RECIT Eurolang European Theatre Convention
European Publishers Council EUNIC in Brussels FundaciĆ³n Academia Europea de Yuste
Federation of European Publishers EUROCLIO European Council of Literary Translators' Associations
European Federation for Intercultural Learning Literature Across frontiers European Coordination of Independent Producers (CEPI)

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