Multilingual education in Europe What can preschools contribute?

Most countries in Europe face a serious educational problem in view of the idea that the present-day linguistic and cultural diversity is to be maintained, and that, as a consequence, children are to learn at least three languages at a functionally appropriate level. One problem is that, with the exception of, perhaps, Luxemburg, hardly any of the national education systems throughout Europe are up to the task. This paper draws attention to the contribution by pre-schools. The following scheme is proposed: The first language is picked up at home. The second one comes in around age three via bilingual pre-schools and it is continued via immersion till the end of primary. The third language is introduced at the beginning of secondary I, i.e. around age ten. Additional languages can be added after secondary I. The scheme is exemplified on the basis of majority-language children. It is suggested that, with some modifications, it is also applicable to various kinds of minority-language situations. The suggestions are based on ongoing pilot research from Northern Germany. The key issue in this paper is what kind of second language competence to expect at the end of pre-school and how it may develop during the first grade in primary school. To know about this is essential for primary grade teachers to prepare for such students with respect to the curriculum, teaching materials, etc.

S.Björklund (ed.) Language as a Tool - Immersion Research and Practices. University of Vaasa: Proceddings of the University of Vaasa, Reports, 424-446.