The European

In 2004 the Dutch Ministry of Education asked schools to come up with innovatory educational projects that might qualify for governmental funding. The Pallas Athene College, together with the Horizon College, developed “The European”, which was judged to be among the ten best entries.

This ministerial acknowledgement and the consequent financial award enabled us to start on the project in March 2005 and as things stand, it will be rounded off in July 2007.

Description

Because of the steady unification and expansion of the European Union and the growing possibilities for people to work and study in the other member states, it will be increasingly necessary for young people to become proficient in foreign languages and to be aware of different customs and values elsewhere in Europe. In short integration in Europe should be an essential item on every school’s curriculum and that is where our project comes in.
At the base of the integration process is, of course, learning the language of the country in question. Once having mastered the vocabulary needed to make yourself understandable, the next step will be to acquire basic knowledge of the country’s culture in a wider sense.
So far our project has primarily been focused on German, French and English. The emphasis is not only on linguistic skills such as fluency and listening, but also on the country’s history, economy, geography and daily life.
Besides assignments (linguistic exercises, searching the internet etc. for information about country and language) creative play is also interwoven, both as motivator and testing method.
The development of “The European” is based on the Common European Framework of languages, which means that the various levels are clearly recognizable. The use of the Common European Framework as point of reference as far as the levels are concerned has great advantages. On the one hand does it provide a firm footing for the development of the quiz, on the other hand does it make it easier for the foreign language teachers to compare and evaluate each other’s products.
The levels for our project have been A1/A2 for beginners and A2/B1 for advanced students.
The results of our efforts so far can be seen at www.europeaan.net . Although the instructions are in Dutch, it is not very difficult to get an idea of what possibilities the website offers.

We have developed 3 products in the project so far:
1. An internet quiz, where the individual student can match him/herself against other students as far as their knowledge and skills are concerned. It is also possible for classes to compete.
The “engine” for the quiz is in operation and in the meantime over a thousand questions for each language have been made so that, as I speak, students (and anyone who might be interested) can take part in the quiz if they feel like it.

The categories from which you may choose questions are:
1. Shopping and going out
2. Taking an outing with your parents
3. Country and history
4. Words and expressions
5. Food and drinks
6. Sports and games
7. In and around the house
8. Education and work
9. Literature and music

It is unlikely that three or more players have chosen to play the quiz at exactly the same time. That is the reason why the computer will provide two imaginary opponents to play against when you log in on the quiz.
This technical tour de force makes it possible to play the quiz at any time you wish, even in the middle of the night or at four o’clock in the morning.
When you start playing and register yourself as a regular player your name will be put on the score table so that your scores can be compared to those of other players.

The idea is to eventually expand the competition to classes and schools all over Europe and this can simply be achieved by adding the name of the school/class to the students name when he/she registers.

2. Apart from the internet quiz, the European also offers modules intended to increase relevant knowledge and skills. There are exercises based on short films made by students of the Pallas Athene College. Real life situations are shown and acted by native speakers. Some 20 short films have been produced so far, shot and edited by Pallas Athene College students.

3. A digital exercise book with possibilities to revise and adapt all sorts of assignments (outdoor instructions) to the needs of every individual student.

Experiences

Our project “The European” is an opportunity for schools to train and test language skills without being dependant on a particular teaching method or system.
The possibility to play against yourself, a fellow student or as a class against another class even from another school and country, in let’s say Bulgaria, is enormously stimulating.
“The European” opens new roads to improving foreign language teaching.

In the development of so-called competency based education we distinguish two teaching approaches: the thematic and the cursory approach.
The cursory approach is based on the development of reading and writing skills. Vocabulary and grammar are the main focus. The cursory approach provides linguistic support and is usually dependant on a particular teaching method, that is used generally in the country or at a particular school.
The thematic approach runs parallel at the cursory approach and emphasizes speaking and listening skills. As far as foreign languages go: the thematic approach means putting into practice what you have learned through submersion.
“The European” is basically thematic in its approach. In other words speaking and listening skills are its primary concern. This doesn’t mean, however, that vocabulary and grammar are neglected.

Future prospects

When the Dutch project is finished in July 2006, schools anywhere in the European Union will have access to the material that has been developed, for instance by taking part in the quiz competition.
We have opted for a scheme that will allow and perhaps even invite other schools to participate by improving ad adding to the various elements of the project.
In that sense it may remind you of Wikipedia.
The project can be expanded and added to in various directions. A rough outline of what would ideally be the final result of a fully worked out program could be:

- In every EU-country a site will be operational which is essentially the same as “The European”. It will give access to all fields as developed within the framework of the project.
- These sites will altogether comprehend all official languages spoken within the European Union.
- The basic structure of “The European” is a division into categories and subcategories which will also explicitly include knowledge of countries, their histories and inherited cultural identity and of course have a European dimension.
- Competition between schools and classes will be possible, both in a national as well as in an international framework.
- In every language two levels will be distinguished.

Organization of the extended “The European”

Our project has so far been limited to the three foreign languages that are taught in every Dutch school. However, within the framework of the European Union, it is only logical that all languages should be represented in the program.
To achieve this each country will have its own team that will work out a local variety that will fill in the formats designed by the Dutch project leaders. Wherever possible: local youngster (natives) will provide short films supporting the modules and quiz questions. As mentioned before: every country has its own small team of which the coordinator will be the pivot. He or she will attend meetings that will take place on a regular basis.
The coordinator is a person who is familiar with education, project development and implementation. He or she will be the one who is, in the end, responsible for the “output” of his or her language and country website. In principle the idea is for participating countries to work out their own local variety within a time span of two and a half years.

A few languages are used in more than one country. For instance the German language is the official language of Austria too. And the same goes for Dutch, German and French in Belgium.
It is important for these countries to have a website of their own as well, so as to be able to present themselves as having their own characteristic approach.

The extended project “The European” is a very ambitious program, but it has a lot of potential. It might contribute to the teaching and learning of the various foreign languages (including the less obvious ones as Polish or Swedish) in schools and families in the European Union. Besides it would link up schools all over Europe, introducing students to other languages and countries, making them aware of a common European heritage and future. “The European” is easy accessible, playful, instructive and attractive to in particular young people.

click on the website itself www.europeaan.net  to try out its possibilities.

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Last edit: 21-12-2010

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.


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