During the most difficult hours of the first long Covid-19 lock down, a teacher wondered how to get her students to work from home, using the resources they had at their disposal, in particular the languages they practiced or knew. She felt the interest and surprise of her students and the emergence of a relationship of trust that continues to this day.
The global societies of the 21st century are more and more characterized by heterogeneity, plurilingualism, and multiculturalism. As a consequence, an increasing number of people speak different languages and are affected by diverse cultural traditions. It is therefore crucial that we all possess linguistic and cultural sensitivity. With the help of the Slovenian Ministry of Education, Science, and Sport, the Listiac project partners from the University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Education have reached out to various cultural institutions and event-organizers in order to join forces in achieving this goal.
The relentless pandemic situation has urged us to be creative in finding ways to witness examples of plurilingual approaches and linguistically sensitive teaching (LST) in school practices. Exploiting the richness and versatility of various virtual spaces has opened new possibilities. A group of student teachers of Vytautas Magnus University undertook a project to examine how schools make use of their media presence, such as their webpages or social media, to communicate and expose their activities oriented towards plurilingualism, cultural awareness, linguistic inclusion, and overall endorsement of tolerance. In what follows in this blog, we share the reflections of what student teachers have learnt from carrying out their projects and discussing them with their colleagues in class.
By bringing native speakers of a given target language into the classroom, students have the opportunity to experience a myriad of positive language and cultural benefits, such as precise phonetic instruction, cultural input, and the sociolinguistic insight that comes with interacting with one’s mother tongue from a young age. Despite these positive elements, one problem often arises when the language teacher is not yet proficient in the language of the country in which they are teaching. How can they help to bridge the understanding gap when the students may be at a beginner level, or when certain language explanations are needed?
In Finland, the degree of qualified teachers is equivalent of a second cycle degree in the European higher education area (300 ECTS). The Finnish initial teacher education has a long tradition of developing a research-based professional orientation for the future students. This includes critical scientific literacy and the ability to use research methods to identify, analyse and find evidence-based solutions on the profession related questions they may face in their future work. Meeting linguistic and cultural diversity is one of such issues.
During the time of our project, we have met with many of students, teachers and teacher educators. When we tell them about our project, we always start with explaining that we want teachers in Europe to be more linguistically sensitive in their teaching. Then we explain why it is important, that it’s a matter of the students’ wellbeing and achievements in school. And somewhere around here we often get the same question.