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TESSLA (Teacher Education for the Support of Second Language Acquisition)

 was a European Comenius 2.1 project funded by the Socrates programme between 2004-2007.

The following information was initially published on the TESSLA website homepage which was removed from the web at the end of the project.

Project description

The subject matter of TESSLA is teacher education in pre-school and primary education in the domain of language development. The project benefits from the expertise of researchers who have been working in this field independently throughout Europe. It brings them together in order to propose curricula for initial teacher education and in-service training based on holistic and multidisciplinary approaches. The main objective is to develop materials for teachers to understand why and how they should support bi/multilingual children. Experts from different fields (pre-school education, primary education, special needs education, sociolinguistics and language theory) have come together in this project partnership. Our innovative approach is to provide a holistic approach to language development in pre-school and primary education, which is not confined to linguistic programmes and to traditional classroom based learning, but destined to provide student teachers and teachers with knowledge about psychological, social and linguistic dimensions of language acquisition and language support. The curricula which are elaborated on these grounds are meant to be totally or partly realisable at universities or teacher training institutes in our partner countries and in other European countries. For the visitor of the homepage we have summarised the subject areas we consider most important for teacher education in the field of language development for multilingual children.

Problem based learning is the main didactic model we use in conjunction with theoretical readings. During the first year (Oct 2004 - Sept 2005) course materials for a problem based approach have been produced and collected. Curriculum modules have been developed and course materials have been evaluated. Their didactic quality is evaluated by an external expert as well as during pilot courses. Parallel to these activities the second year (Oct 2005 - Sept 2006) is dedicated to the formulation, publication and dissemination of proposed curricula. The main components of the proposed curricula will be formulated and illustrated in a handbook. The target groups for TESSLA are universities, teacher training institutes, European institutions of education and national ministries of education, whereas the direct beneficiaries will be pre-school and primary school teachers. Gathered course material will appear in the 6 languages of the partner countries on CD-ROMs. The handbook will be written in English ( ).

Multilingual Education in European countries

The findings of the PISA study 2000 have shown again that the decisive barrier in the educational career of children from immigrant families is a lack of competence in the language of schooling. In Germany, children who do not speak German at home represent a relatively high proportion of pupils with learning difficulties. Surveys in the UK and in Sweden equally show interdependence between school failure and language skills of bilingual children. A closer inspection of the results of PISA shows that it is not the language skills of multilingual children which lie at the heart of this phenomenon but rather the underprivileged status of many migrant families and the predominantly monolingual national education systems. Most European education systems tend to favour the teaching of dominant European languages, mainly taught as foreign languages, and have not yet taken full measure of the many children of ethnic minorities. With the exception of several local projects such as the Foyer project in Brussels ( ).

However, it is clear from present research in Europe that the needs of a number of bilingual children are not addressed sufficiently by education systems whose habitus (Pierre Bordieu) remains on the whole monolingual. In the academic discourse on school education it has been argued for a long time now that monolingual education systems rarely adapt to the needs of bilingual children. Furthermore, we believe that all pupils could benefit from what bilingual children bring to school, and we know how important it is for bilingual children to achieve highly that bi- and multilingual identities be developed and supported at schools.

Measures have been taken in most countries to support second language (L2) acquisition and, at best, forms of bilingual education, in some cases on the basis of national policies, as in Sweden and Estonia, in other cases by local authorities, as in Scotland. Quite often L2 support lies hidden within measures such as early intervention programmes to enhance literacy standards. This is true for Turkey, Scotland and France. Whereas in some states of Germany a special intervention programme before schooling has just been introduced for children who fail a German language test. The bilingual or multilingual reality of nursery and primary schools in many European countries is slow to be recognized in educational practice.

There are, however, some examples of different practice in education. In  Estonia an immersion programme has been established at kindergartens and schools, where Russian is introduced as the second language of instruction besides Estonian in the second year of primary school. The use of Russian is steadily increased until it makes up nearly half of the classroom instruction. In Scotland immersion programmes are restricted to support the indigenous minority languages Gaelic or Scottish but not community languages. Community languages are supported, e.g. in special classes, with parental involvement and bilingual literacy development programmes. In Germany, where in some parts entire schools and kindergartens are almost exclusively attended by Turkish-speaking children, there are only a couple of pilot projects with immersion teaching but no constant policy. In France bilingual education is in place from kindergarten for indigenous minority languages which are part of France's heritage (regional languages such as Breton, Corsican, Catalan, Creole, Basque, etc.) but community languages are only taught extensively (2 to 3 hours per week) and often not integrated in the regular time table.

The monolingual habitus of multilingual schools leads to a rejection of an important part of the identity of children whose family languages remain ignored at school. For those children a differentiation of verbal functions of their L1 is normally disrupted, whereas high cognitive demands are placed on them in an undeveloped L2. Literacy in an L1 is normally acquired on the basis of five to six years of language development. Two to three years of contact with the L2 suffice for the requirements of everyday verbal and context-bound communication, but not for the more abstract language used at school. The widely spread policy of no or insufficient L2 support before schooling in nursery schools and no or little support for family languages (L1) at school usually results in an erosion of the L1 and a development of the L2 which often does not meet average school standards.

It is not surprising that many bilingual children do not meet school standards even if they have attended two or three years of kindergarten or nursery school where the language of tuition (L2) is used. Bilingual children need special support in the L2 and their L1 over a period of approximately six years, following an intercultural approach to learning and teaching, where family languages and backgrounds are recognized, valued and shared. This is particularly true for the transition stage between kindergarten and school. In educational practice, teachers who are confronted with children who do not know the language of schooling very often use self-devised methods of language teaching, as in Turkey and usually in Germany as well.

Most teachers still think, as in France and in Germany, that the community language constitutes a handicap or a problem for the acquisition of the school language, in particular when the community languages are languages of migrated groups from underprivileged, mostly non-European, countries. The L1 is often regarded as a factor which hinders the learning of the L2 and many teachers tend to overvalue the school language at the expense of the home language. Despite the findings in empirical educational and linguistic research neither intercultural education nor multilingual language support have become regular and well-established modules in initial teacher education and in-service training and where they do exist, they are often restricted in scope and content.

The TESSLA project is meant to encourage universities and teacher education institutes to work towards a more inclusive educational approach, which takes into account the language needs of all children, monolingual, bilingual and multilingual alike. For the languages that immigrated communities have brought into Europe must be recognised as a wealth to be shared among us all and as an integral part of a multilingual Europe.

The publication can be accessed on Google books here:

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Mis à jour le 13.06.2017