Linguistically qualified pre-primary staff and language teachers
The key role in early foreign language learning is that of early years practitioners and primary education teachers. Next to the parents, they are the most important contact persons in the child’s life; and they have crucial influence both on the prevalent atmosphere in the learning environment and on the detailed character of the child’s daily circumstances. The better qualified the practitioner or teacher in terms of the many and varied – and highly specific – professional requirements, the more successful the child’s learning will be.
Every language programme thus requires specific specialist competences (knowledge of language and culture, methodological and pedagogic competences). Certain transferable knowledge- and experience-based qualifications are also important. These include :
- natural enjoyment of communication
- capacity and desire for intercultural communication
- capacity for analytical, problem-oriented thought
- competence in identifying, mediating and implementing learning strategies
- endorsement of lifelong learning as a principle for oneself and all learners
- ability to inspire openness to new ways of thinking and learning
- ability to cooperate as harmoniously and productively with colleagues as with children
- constant upgrading of own media competence
- self-confident and intelligently purposive approach in fulfilment of own professional role and responsibilities together with maintenance of critical perspective
- unfailing readiness to cooperate with all involved in upbringing of children and in education.
The teacher has the responsibility of introducing the children not merely to the new language, but also, and with due circumspection, to the new culture that it represents. This role of cultural mediator demands an appropriate level of intercultural competence, combined with a broadly based cultural knowledge of the target country (e.g. familiarity with its juvenile literature). Here the practitioner’s or teacher’s musical and dramatic competences are of great importance for the age-appropriate delivery of the foreign language syllabus.
A special role in early foreign language learning is fulfilled by the teacher’s interpersonal skills, i,e. his or her ability to ensure a partner-like, mutually respectful working relationship in the learning environment, and to create an unafraid, trusting mindset among the learners. Aptitude for teamwork and a gift for taking or inspiring initiatives in group-work are beneficial in the interaction of adults (including teacher-parent relationships) and children during and outside school hours.
Cooperation among teachers primarily involves exchanges and the joint planning, negotiation and execution of teaching duties and cross-disciplinary projects. Such exchanges should be inter-institutional as well as internal, involving both early years practitioners and teachers, e.g. at the transition from nursery education to primary. This would contribute to establishing a logical progression in the teaching materials and to minimising the amount of repetition.
Nursery education staff asked to teach a foreign language programme now often use further education programmes to obtain a qualification as a specialist teacher of languages. The training provided should first and foremost ensure that the general principles of education at the nursery education and primary education levels are sufficiently thoroughly implanted to be reflected in due course in the planning and implementation of educative processes.
This entails a good understanding of child development and of the age-appropriate delivery of learning content. During the learning processes, the activities of the children, and their spontaneous initiatives and natural appetite for learning, have an important role to play, as does their acquisition of information in the social context or from the teachers and other adults with whom they come into contact .
The studies should ideally cover all material central to the intended professional field – and, of course, always with an eye to how the material is to be taught in the foreign language.
- Practitioners and teachers who are to be involved in early foreign language learning should be trained in courses of study specifically geared to child-appropriate language teaching.
- The study courses should be competence-oriented and as comprehensive as possible both in imparting the underlying theoretical principles and in developing and fostering practical competences.
- For early foreign language learning at nursery education and primary education levels, the practitioners and teachers should have a command of the language rated at level B2 to C1 of the European Reference Framework, so that the language model delivered may be as error-free and authentic as possible.
- During the course of study the foreign language should be the working language and be used as often as possible.
- The syllabus content should have an intercultural emphasis: that is to say, the two languages and cultures – the source language and culture and the target language and culture – should both receive attention, and their relationship to each other should be explored.
- Ideally, courses should prepare students to put the didactics of multilingualism into practice – i.e. prepare them to take cognisance of, and turn to good use, all the languages that might potentially be spoken within a learning group, along with the children’s past experiences of language learning.
- During the period of training there should be the opportunity to try out pedagogical principles and methods in practice and to review them critically in group discussion.
- As part of the training course, students should also be provided with the linguistic resources needed for child-relevant topics and situations, and with the lexical material they will need for directing the learning process.
- Students should be given the opportunity to acquaint themselves with relevant developments in languages policy, and to discuss such developments amongst themselves, not least with reference to their own professional situation.
- The training course should feature a period of residence abroad, either as an option or as an integral part of the syllabus.
Continuing professional development delivers skills and knowledge that are practice- and experience-oriented, but it must have a valid scientific basis. Continuing professional development and extended education have succeeded only if newly acquired knowledge and skills are fed into everyday working practice. It follows that CPD content must be practice-relevant and action-oriented.
Useful contributions to CPD and extended education can be provided by sequentially arranged, well designed units, based on real practice and affording scope for discussion and exchange.
Where preparation for service as a specialist teacher in early foreign language programmes involves retraining and the undertaking of further qualifications, existing professional experience and interests should be turned to advantage, and language proficiency should be further developed. Methodology training tailored to the new specific target group should have realistic practical application and should lead to an experience of success in practice.
- Continuing professional development and extended education should be kept up as continuously as possible throughout the professional careers of practitioners and teachers, at their own initiative where necessary.
- Continuing professional development activities should encourage practitioners and teachers to extend their existing competences; they should help them to identify areas of inadequacy and provide guidance on how to continue with self-directed, successive further professional qualification.
 Cf. also BIG (2007)
 Cf. ‘Erläuterungen zum Ansatz der Ko-Konstruktion’ (Notes on the Co-Construction Approach), Fthenakis (2009) Vol.5, p. 24