Brief report on participation in EU-funded projects on intercomprehension by Richard Rossner

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Brief report on participation in EU-funded projects on intercomprehension

The EVAL-IC project (Erasmus+ September 2016-August 2019)

Brief description (translated & adapted from the website)

The development of plurilingualism is one of the repeatedly reaffirmed priorities of the European Union. Developing plurilingualism was also one of the main objectives of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, the current foundation of language teaching-learning in Europe. Yet this dimension of the Framework is still largely ignored in language policies and practice, as pointed out in the Council of Europe’s Guide for the Development and Implementation of Curricula for Plurilingual and Intercultural Education.

Intercomprehension is one of the pluralistic approaches aimed at developing plurilingual and intercultural competence. Researchers and practitioners have been exploring the didactics of intercomprehension since the 1990s, yet with little impact so far. This is due largely to the absence, on the one hand, of precise descriptors of intercomprehension that correspond to the levels used to describe language skills and, on the other hand, to the lack of internationally validated tools to assess and certify attainment of these skill levels.

EVAL-IC proposes to develop these descriptors (broken down into fine descriptors) as well as a protocol and tools for assessment and attestation of intercomprehension skills for Romance languages*. In preparation for this, it will prepare a review of existing work on intercomprehension skills and their evaluation for use by the language learning-learning community.

(* French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian and Spanish)

The project includes the following outputs:

• Contributions to the epistemology of intercomprehension
• A critical inventory of research into receptive and interactive intercomprehension
• A critical inventory of research into plurilingual interactions and interproduction
• A definition and description of the concept of competence in intercomprehension
• Development of protocols and assessment tools for this level of competence
• Administration of these evaluations
• Analysis of collected data
• Adjustment of evaluation tools.

Following participation as an invited ‘expert’ in a previous meeting of the project group in November 2017, I was invited back to the final meeting held at the University of Aveiro, Portugal in January 2019. My task was to participate in the meeting, provide feedback on the ongoing work and to give a presentation at the one-day dissemination conference.

The focus of the two-day meetings (held in a mixture of languages to reflect the principles of intercomprehension) was the finalisation of the many scales of descriptors to be used as a basis for indicators in the pilot assessment of intercomprehension skills, and to work out the detail of these exercises. As is often the case, some of the work had been delayed putting additional pressure on decision-making and fine-tuning of scales, all of which followed the
CEFR pattern of six levels. This was very ambitious given the difficulty of defining the nature of receptive and interactive intercomprehension skills.

Preparing the protocols for pilot assessment exercises with interested students at the participating universities was equally challenging. The decision was taken to ensure that the main receptive and interactive/productive intercomprehension skills were tested through a series of six contextually interlinked tasks, and that all five Romance languages represented in the project should be available as preferred languages, while the tasks would potentially involve all of them. Apparently, the pilot assessment activities worked out satisfactorily in spite of the logistical and other challenges. So far, the scales and sample protocols are not available on the website, although background documents (in French) can be found under ‘productions’.

The conference on the third day aimed to present the aims and outputs of the project to a general audience. My talk, mainly in French, was on ‘Plurilingual and pluricultural competences: their role in society and education’. The talk and the conference seemed to go well.

Lecturio+ (Erasmus+ project – September 2017-August 2019, now extended to November 2019)

Brief description (adapted/translated from the website)

Achievements

The Lectŭrĭo + project is producing learning resources for very young children who are not yet readers, and for children with special needs. Families, teachers, and other professionals in contact with these children are also target users of the resources. Three types of training in their use and the principles behind them are also available.

The resources take the form of objects to be handled by the children, printed documents and digital materials. They will all be multilingual (in at least two languages), involving all the languages of the geographical areas of the partners*, including the languages of the immigration. Any other language can be added.

Principles

Think globally about the child’s learning and make sure that the whole of society participates in it. Use plurilingualism and reading as a lever for academic success.
(* French, German, Italian, Spanish, Andorran, Corsican, Occitan etc.)

Through contacts also involved in the EVAL-IC project, I was invited to be external assessor of this project. This involved reviewing the materials produced so far, attending the final meeting held at the University of Salento in Lecce, Italy, and preparing a brief report.

Lecturio+ is an interesting project in that it aims to develop a certain level of intercomprehension and plurilingualism among small children in the context of their
learning at pre-school institutions and within the family. The idea is to use the various traditional stories in different languages illustrated with pictures as the main means and to accompany this with active learning such as the use of kamishibai and other methods. A description of the corpus of stories and access to the text some of them is available here.

The advantages of beginning at this young age, whether or not children are exposed to or already using more than one language (for example, in border areas where some of the partners are located, or in families with a migration background), is that they are more open to ‘otherness’ and can thus more readily take on board the differences between languages and cultures, establishing a foundation for better tolerance of linguistic, cultural and social diversity and greater language and cultural awareness.

While the meeting was taking place (also in a mixture of languages including Corsican) a one-week training course in the use of the project resources and the concepts behind them was taking place. Other training resources are available for use online.

As can be seen from the website, Lecturio+ is linked to another previous project, MIRIADI, which produced useful frameworks of descriptors of learner competences (REFIC) and teacher competences (REFDIC) related to plurilingualism and intercomprehension.

Richard Rossner
August 2019

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