The child’s rights

Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, primary education has a duty to make children aware of their rights. For children who develop this awareness, wide-ranging opportunities open up within their immediate social context. In this context, the basic right to linguistic education becomes the means of access to many further rights. Persons able to read and write, and to do so e.g. in one or more foreign languages as well, will learn to communicate in a more complex way and will develop social competences more easily.

The right to education, specifically the right to learn a foreign language, thus implies the opportunity to penetrate into foreign cultures, to understand the foreign and the Other more readily, to develop both curiosity and tolerance, to pursue paths that but for the knowledge of languages would remain closed, and so to develop one’s personality without constraints.

Young children are unafraid of the unfamiliar, and are open-minded in their approach to language that has strange sounds. But they cannot assert for themselves their right to be given the opportunity to acquire foreign languages in child-friendly ways.

Early foreign language learning should confer on all children the following language-related rights:
  • The right to early and comprehensive linguistic education (aimed at equality of opportunity). This comprises both the development of competence in the mother tongue (or language of origin) and the extension of the child’s linguistic resources through early learning of foreign languages.
  • The right of access to learning material of an intercultural nature and to the opportunity to engage in intercultural communication
  • The right to have the child’s innate potential in all its aspects developed to the maximum by the language programme. That includes learning through the use of all  senses for the purpose of acquiring knowledge.
  • The right to autonomous action and to participation in joint decision-making in the context of the language-learning programme
  • The right to commit linguistic errors unpunished
  • The right to be accepted and equally treated, irrespective of one’s language, religion or culture of origin.
Recommendations

The early foreign languages programme should provide as many practical opportunities as possible, specifically tailored to the age-groups concerned, for children to experience and appreciate children’s rights, and thus for the individual child’s sense of self to be strengthened. This includes listening to children, inviting them to express themselves, permitting questions, and exercising sensitivity and discretion in the correction of errors.

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