eTwinning is very much a multinational and multilingual initiative: having the portal in 24 languages is already a good indication of the importance we give to multilingualism. However, some might say that the lingua franca of eTwinning is nevertheless English, and unless you master this language you may not be able to contribute actively to the variety of opportunities offered by eTwinning.
In order to check the truth of these assumptions, we recently asked eTwinners some questions about the languages they use and learn. The poll ran on the eTwinning Desktop for a couple of weeks, and we received more than 1,600 answers from teachers involved in projects.
- Communication language/s used in projects
The results (see Graph 1) confirm that English is indeed the most used language (60%), followed by French (9%), German (8%), Spanish (5%) and Italian (4%). It is important to notice that 40% of projects do not use English as communication language, and that virtually all European languages are represented.
Graph 1 – Communication languages in projects
Looking at the data by country, we found that although English is the strongest communication language in Turkey and Poland, French is more likely to be used in Italy and Spain.
- Languages learnt in projects focused on language
The results (see Graph 2) show that learning English is a priority for 51% of such projects, followed by German (11%), French (9%) and Spanish (8%).
These results show that languages other than English are even more likely to be used in the case of language projects (only 51% learning English, as against 60% communicating in English). This is all the more striking if we take into account that the first foreign language taught is English in over 90% of the countries involved. If teachers indicate that other languages than English are learnt in such a high number, this suggests that teachers of these languages draw on the support of eTwinning much more often than their colleagues teaching English!
Graph 2 – Target languages in projects
- Overall, what are the communication languages in eTwinning?
Let us now compare the poll results with the data registered for all projects in eTwinning.
First of all, the data related to the languages used in projects roughly confirm the data of the poll (English in 55% of projects, French in 12%, German in 8% and Spanish in 6%).
When proposing a project, teachers are asked to select the most relevant communication language or languages. Here English has a striking dominance: 82% of all users indicate English, followed by French with 22%, German with 16% and Spanish with 13% (see Graph 3). When searching for a partner, users show a clear preference for English as a communication language in order to receive the most possible responses.
Graph 3: eTwinners’ communication languages
- In terms of tools offered, all languages have equal attention in eTwinning
The eTwinning Desktop offers an interactive space on various subjects in the so-called Teachers’ Rooms. Out of the nearly 400 Rooms created during this school year, the main communication language remains English (see Graph 4) with almost 70%. But all languages are represented, showing that quite a few Rooms aim at specific language groups (also in this case, several languages can be chosen when creating a Room). Examples of Rooms in other languages: the German-speaking “Deutsch & Co. Neue Technologien im DaF Unterricht”; the French speaking “Les langues romanes”, or the Italian speaking “Italiano come lingua straniera”.
Graph 4: Teachers' Rooms languages
Together, the data from the poll and the data from the database show a very dynamic linguistic situation. English clearly remains the first language for communication in projects. However, one project in two which aims at language learning focuses on a language other than English. This suggests that teachers rely heavily on eTwinning for practising a language which is either the second language learnt at school or one that is only used in the context of the eTwinning project. A usage that can only be encouraged even more!
- "My first language is Maltese and eTwinning gives me the opportunity to speak and communicate in English. To tell the truth if I didn’t speak this language I would have felt at a disadvantage in the etwinning community. Most partners I have collaborated with used this language to communicate and those who did not tried their best to learn. I also tried my best to try and learn other languages. My preschool pupils can only speak their native language but communicating in English gives them the incentive to start learning this language." Miriam Schembri, Ambassador in Malta.
- "Lack of skills in a foreign language is one of the main drawbacks teachers perceive to register in eTwinning. There is no doubt that English is the most widely spread second language in Europe. However, it is not the only one. The results of this survey show a significant use of others. In the case of Spanish, it is used as a communication language in 5% of projects in general, and in a 8% of language projects. These figures, together with a really multilingual platform, make eTwinning a place for all languages." Diego Rojas Ruiz, Spanish National Support Service
- "It is important to develop a plurilinguism which takes into serious account language heterogeneity allowing a real European competence and ultimately suggesting a reform of language teaching through the “e-Twinning” methodology which overcomes the main obstacles to plurilanguage competence: the assumption and the fear of the effort required in the learning process and the widespread opinion according to which plurilinguism is an exception and not the norm. Through the eTwinning action, pupils and teachers are motivated by the need to communicate and the emotional factors connected with communication, thus discovering that no foreign language is virgin territory!The results (see Chart 2) show that, even though learning English is a priority for 51% of these projects, all the languages are represented and often the main purpose of the projects is not language learning but using the language to communicate." Marina Marino, Ambassador in Italy
- “In Italy, the range of languages used by teachers in eTwinning projects is quite similar to the European level, with some slight differences. After the four main languages (English, French, German and Spanish), there is a quite different situation compared to the European level: Polish, Romanian and Greek, used respectively in 3,7, 3,3 and 2,3% of the total number of eTwinning projects, due to the fact that Poland, Romania and Greece are three of the preferred countries where Italian teachers look for partners. In short, as we could expect, there is a good preference for romance languages, but only after the widespread diffusion of English.” Massimiliano D'Innocenzo, Italian National Support Service
- "The results of the survey about using languages in eTwinning projects are notable; mainly those about significant involvement of teachers learning other languages than English.In our country, there are similar results in the area of communication language used in eTwinning projects. 62 % of all active projects use English, 19 % Czech language (because of geographical and linguistic proximity) and 11 % use German. Other 5 % of projects represent projects with communication language - Slovak, Polish, French, Spanish or Hungarian. Also according the results of our survey, eTwinning Desktop tools are mainly used by teachers with knowledge of English, German and Russian language. So, English remains the first language for communication in eTwinning projects and we hope that also use of other languages will increase." Ing. Alena Chrenková, PhD. University of Zilina Slovakia
- - eTwinning is a tremendous tool for linking primary and secondary school pupils across Europe
- eTwinning is a tremendous tool for developing multilingualism through education in Europe, especially given that the eTwinning portal is available in 24 languages, which is in itself a great stimulus for multilingualism. It is important to stress how much eTwinning can do to foster it. The fact that a high proportion of the exchanges takes place in English is neither surprising nor shocking. It is reassuring to see that almost 40% of the exchanges are conducted in other languages of Europe, and that this percentage seems to be rising. This survey sheds an interesting light on the use of languages in a Europe-wide project and shows that European programmes can make a tangible contribution to multilingualism.
I should also like to make two main recommendations:
1 I am convinced that once exchanges have been set up between schools with the initial contacts having been made in English, there should be a desire – or rather an interest – in pursuing the exchange while teaching the language of the partner. Perhaps there should an incentive for this at European or national level.
2 I am also convinced that intercomprehension could be developed in interesting ways through e-Twinning. Indeed I am sure that training in eTwinning intercomprehension could be set up. There are qualified people who might be interested in taking up this challenge.
3 Next year will be the European Year for Active Aging and Solidarity between Generations. There too eTwinning could play a role as a stimulus for language learning. Michel Lefranc, French Ministry of National Education, Youth and Voluntary Organisations