Multilingualism and education

New Label of Excellence for Outstanding School-leavers

CertiLingua is intended to give other schools an incentive to set up similar courses and activities.  Photo: Julia Nichols © iStockphotoCertiLingua is intended to give other schools an incentive to set up similar courses and activities.  Photo: Julia Nichols © iStockphotoPupils who show that they have a very good command of two foreign languages, bilingual competence in specialised subjects and an intercultural ability to act may be awarded the CertiLingua Label of Excellence in addition to their university entrance diplomas.

As well as German and English, Felicitas Korsch has a command of Spanish, which she has learned from scratch. Since year five, she has been taught some subjects in Spanish. In year eleven, she spent a year as an exchange student in Costa Rica. And she learned all the rest in a whole range of international school projects such as the “Noche Mexicana”, an annual fund-raising event held at her school to support school building projects in Latin America. In preparing for this evening of music and entertainment, for example, she telephoned a number of performers about the programme and a Spanish restaurant about the culinary accompaniment, and did all that in Spanish. Just before passing her final exams, Felicitas’ school, the Albert Schweitzer Grammar School in Hürth, was made a CertiLingua school by the Ministry of Education for its outstanding activities in the field of bilingual education in German and Spanish. In order to meet the Label’s demands, Felicitas had to write a project report in Spanish. Shortly afterwards, she became one of the first pupils to receive not only her university entrance diploma, but also the CertiLingua Label of Excellence, demonstrating her outstanding plurilingualism and European and international expertise.

Extra certificate without an extra exam

The Label of Excellence has been extended to 126 schools in Europe.  Photo: Dra Schwartz © iStockphoto“Unlike international schools and many private schools, we do not show the general public clearly enough what state schools are achieving in the field of international schooling,” says Henny Rönneper of the Ministry of Schools and Further Education of North-Rhine/Westphalia, explaining what led to the idea of establishing the new Label of Excellence. Yet in many schools, like the Albert Schweitzer Grammar School, high-quality foreign language teaching, advanced bilingual lessons, exchanges, meetings and international projects are already the order of the day.

Thus, North-Rhine/Westphalia and the Netherlands cooperated in initiating the CertiLingua Label of Excellence, internationally standardised and transparent evidence that the school offers such activities, and developed it further with European partner countries. The Albert Schweitzer Grammar School was one of the first schools to take part in the two-year pilot phase. Meanwhile, the Label of Excellence has been extended to 126 schools in Europe.

Good preparation for university and a career

CertiLingua aims to encourage pupils to carry on learning.  Photo: Josef Philipp © iStockphotoIn the long term, the CertiLingua Label of Excellence is intended to give other schools an incentive to set up similar courses and activities. CertiLingua schools are entitled to award pupils who take part in the relevant courses the Label of Excellence together with their university entrance diplomas without them having to take any extra exams. The Label thus encourages pupils attending such schools to make their school career international. Like the Goethe-Institut’s language examinations, the Label is based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, with the focus on plurilingualism rather than on any specific languages.

“Pupils do not automatically achieve B2 level in two foreign languages,” says Henny Rönneper. Currently, many pupils decide to give up French and to learn a new language in the sixth form. Instead, CertiLingua aims to encourage them to carry on learning. And the standard of bilingual lessons is so high that one really can seamlessly continue studying. Rönneper sees that as “really excellent preparation for real life, university and working life.”

As well as a knowledge of foreign languages and bilingual competence, the Label also certifies competence in a third area, the ability to operate within Europe and internationally. This is because although international meeting projects such as the Noche Mexicana organised by Felicitas Korsch and her classmates were often an educational highlight, schools did not regard this area as being an area of achievement of equal status, but rather as just a frill. If it appeared on university entrance diplomas at all, it was put under “comments”.

We do not learn for school, but for life

The Label certifies competence in the ability to operate within Europe and internationally.  Photo: Trista Weibell © iStockphotoThe CertiLingua Label of Excellence is intended to give school-leavers easier access to international courses or job placements. Indeed, well-known companies, universities and other institutions have formed a group that accept the Label and support it by providing traineeships, for example.

When Felicitas Korsch applied to become a trainee logistics and transport services specialist in Madrid, her employers had not yet heard of the certificate. However, the fact that she could demonstrate her plurilingualism by means of an additional certificate made a good impression. Felicitas would recommend everyone to make use of bilingual and international courses at school, and not just to do so for the certificate. Her experience at school was helpful during her training in Spain. Of course, it was a challenge at first to talk to suppliers on the telephone in Spanish. But she was excellently prepared for that when she started her training, not just linguistically.

Janna Degener
works as a freelance journalist in Cologne.

Translation: Eileen Flügel
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
December 2010

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