A shift from theory to practice is intended to strengthen Bulgarian school pupils’ command of foreign languages, while Education Minister Sergei Ignatov said that the shortage of English-language teachers was being addressed.
Plans for Bulgaria to reform school foreign language curricula come against a background of a European Commission report that children in Europe are learning foreign languages at increasingly younger ages.
Bulgaria frequently claims labour market competitiveness on the grounds of its young people’s mastery of foreign languages.
The reforms to be put to Parliament are intended to improve pupils’ ability to speak foreign languages colloquially, rather than emphasise theoretical rules of grammar.
Ignatov said that an important trend was to lessen theory in favour of practice “so that students, at the end of seventh grade, can communicate successfully in the foreign language”. This meant pupils being able to express themselves properly in a foreign language, including in writing.
If the changes are approved by Parliament, in the 2014/15 academic year, there will be new textbooks and curricula for English, Spanish, Italian, German, Russian and French. The new textbooks will provide for more conversational exercises and practical tasks.
He said that the shortage of English teachers was being overcome because demand among Bulgarian school pupils to learn the language was high.
On September 20 2012, the European Commission said that children are starting to learn foreign languages at an increasingly early age in Europe, with most pupils beginning when they are six to nine years old.
Most countries or regions have lowered the starting age for compulsory language learning in the past 15 years and some even offer it in pre-school – the German speaking community in Belgium, for instance, provides foreign language learning for children as young as three.
The Key Data on Teaching Languages at School in Europe 2012 report confirms that English is by far the most taught foreign language in nearly all European countries, with French, Spanish, German and Russian following far behind.
“Linguistic and cultural diversity is one of the European Union’s major assets,” Androulla Vassiliou, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, said.
“Language learning facilitates communication between peoples and countries, as well as encouraging cross-border mobility and the integration of migrants. I am happy to see that even our youngest citizens are being exposed to the joys of discovering foreign languages. I also encourage people to look beyond the most widely-used languages so they can appreciate Europe’s incredible linguistic diversity.”
The report highlights that an increasing number of pupils now learn two languages for at least one year during compulsory education.
On average, in 2009/10, 60.8 per cent of lower secondary education students were learning two or more foreign languages – an increase of 14.1 per cent compared to 2004/05. During the same period, the proportion of primary education pupils not learning a foreign language fell from 32.5 per cent to 21.8 per cent.
English is the most taught foreign language in nearly all of the 32 countries covered in the survey (27 Eu member states, Croatia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Turkey) – a trend that has significantly increased since 2004/05. In lower secondary and general upper secondary education, the percentage of students learning English exceeds 90 per cent.Only a very small percentage of pupils (0-5 per cent, according to the country) learn languages other than English, French, Spanish, German and Russian.
The report also confirms a rather surprising finding – few countries require their trainee language teachers to spend an immersion period abroad. Indeed, only 53.8 per cent of foreign language teachers who took part in the recently published European Survey on Language Competences said that they had spent more than a month studying in a country where the language they teach is spoken.
But this average masks a wide variation of approaches: 79.7 per cent of Spanish teachers have spent more than one month studying their chosen language in a country where it is spoken, while this applies to only 11 per cent of Estonian teachers .
These findings raise the question of whether exposing future teachers to on-the-ground experience of using the language should be considered as a quality criterion in teacher training, the European Commission said.
(Photo: Simon Cataudo/sxc.hu)