New Citizens, Valuing All Languages in Europe

Over decades, the increase in migration movements has led to a rise in linguistic diversity in Europe and its countries.  Schools and teachers are implementing ways and strategies for acquiring and teaching different languages to students, which can improve cultural and linguistic awareness. On the other hand, teachers are facing an increased workload as they have to teach the school language to children who speak a different mother tongue. Carla Bagna, Professor at the University for Foreigners in Siena, has developed language training and teaching activities with other professional researchers to support immigrant children, as well as teachers and parents to enhance their language capabilities and to foster language learning and language teaching. The aim is to inform children, teachers, and parents about the richness of languages and to research the increase of immigrant languages in Italy.

Centre of Excellence for Immigrant Languages

Carla Bagna is an expert in Educational Linguistics and an Associate Professor and Researcher at the University for Foreigners of Siena. Furthermore, she is also the Director of the Language Centre and Delegate for International Relations at UNISTRAS. At the Centre of Excellence of Immigrant Languages, Prof. Bagna worked for over 20 years on the rise and significance of immigrant languages in Italy, primarily in Siena. The Centre of Excellence focuses on different topics concerning languages, for instance, the use of Italian languages in countries such as Canada, the US, Australia, and many other countries including those within Europe. Moreover, Prof. Bagna and her team researched the impact of different languages in Italy through conducting surveys, questionnaires, as well as by travelling to neighbouring countries and analysing how people of diverse backgrounds and languages reside together and how the territory and its people change based on the increase of diversity.

Despite the richness of its dialects, Italy is still considered a predominantly homogenous country with strong roots in its culture and language. Hence, there is still a lack of open-mindedness towards other languages. Consequently, Prof. Bagna and her research team investigated the presence of immigrant languages in Siena and offer opportunities to families, children, and teachers to build a relationship between languages and foster language learning and diversity. For that reason, Prof. Bagna became the host of “Bilingualism Matters”, which focuses on spreading awareness of languages and increasing the value of the diversity of languages.

Rise of Immigrant Languages in Italy

The presence of different languages can change and impact the society within a country and city considerably. Siena is a small tourism city known for its international students. However, it is also a territory, where the use of many European languages is increasing. 25 years ago, people immigrated to a small city in hope of better work opportunities. As a result, 60% of the immigrant languages spoken within the city are Albanian, Romanian, African, and other European languages. Due to the increase of foreigners, cities adapted to this change and implemented signs in Chinese, Arabic, and some European languages until 2008. Furthermore, the Centre of Excellence also noted that many documents are recorded in Swahili, Turkish, and other languages. Prof. Bagna aims to promote these languages in schools to children, parents, and teachers. Unfortunately, this objective encounters some barriers for the professor and her team.

Altroparlante

Europe is investing lots of money to promote and foster the official 24 languages, and there seems to be no space or funds for other and new languages, especially non-European languages. Therefore, Altroparlante has been invented to promote language diversity in schools and for the community. This project organizes weekly discussions about the importance of languages with the teachers, linguistic and intercultural mediators, parents as well as children. Additionally, the research team developed once per week trans language activities where all languages are welcome for the children. As a result, children of diverse backgrounds and those who shared a different language other than Italian expressed the feeling of being valued and recognized.

Conveying the message that personal background and language is important can improve the children’s attitude towards languages. Moreover, through other activities, the team was able to analyse how the children associate certain languages with colours. Based on the colours, Prof. Bagna discovered what perceptions or attitudes children and parents correlate with different languages and countries. The project also recorded an interesting exchange and attention of children towards sign language and students with special needs. With Altroparlante, Prof. Bagna aims to promote the value of languages in schools as well as within the territory and to eliminate the stigmatization of diverse languages and dialects.

Attitudes and Perceptions Towards Languages

Generally, languages taught in Italian schools are limited to English, French, German, and Spanish. Over the past years, Russian, Chinese, as well as Arabic, were integrated. In response to this increase, 50% of teachers expressed that the number of languages is excessive and not needed, whereas the second half stated that improving the number of languages is important, however, a lack of time raises a barrier to teaching. Additionally, language teachers are labelled “Insegnante di sostegno” or “Special Needs teachers” which creates dissatisfaction. Moreover, the learning process of the Italian language is negatively impacted due to a lack of time for newcomer children. Hence, this demonstrates a challenge for assessing the competence of the children in the Italian language. Overall, the attitudes and reactions to the Altroparlante project are positive from both the teachers and the parents.

Plurilingualism

According to Prof. Bagna, the definition behind plurilingualism is the ability to speak multiple languages regardless of how well or fluent one speaks each language. Only 25% of European citizens speak two languages well besides their mother tongue. Prof. Bagna further implies that Plurilingualism or being a polyglot means having written communication in various languages as well.

Conclusion

It is fascinating to witness how the presence of languages can change society and people. Moreover, it is significant to teach and educate our children about the value and benefits of languages to our community, to increase the awareness of multilingualism. The more we learn and recognize the diversity of languages, the further we increase our cultural awareness and decrease our fears and misconceptions about language learning. Frank Smith once stated “Language is not a genetic gift, it is a social gift. Learning a new language is becoming a member of the club – the community of speakers of that language.”

Final words: SIETAR Austria and The Multilingual Garden would like to express their appreciation and gratitude to Prof. Carla Bagna for participating in this journey of spreading awareness of the importance of languages, and for providing valuable insights and expertise on how language diversity can impact people and our society.

You can find further information about Prof. Carla Bagna at: https://online.unistrasi.it/docenti/Persona.asp?ID=251

Furthermore, we are grateful to Dr Karin Martin for leading The Multilingual Garden and continually acknowledging the value of multilingualism for our societies.


References and Sources:

YouTube Link to Expert Talk with Prof. Carla Bagna:

Information about The Multilingual Garden: https://www.linkedin.com/company/the-multilingual-garden/?trk=ppro_cprof&originalSubdomain=at

The University for Foreigners of Siena: https://en.unisi.it/

Picture of Prof. Carla Bagna: https://0.academia-photos.com/1262221/917539/19711083/s200_carla.bagna.jpg

Zalina Alieva

Zalina Alieva

My diverse background, passion for unique cultures, and languages inspired me to become an international manager. Throughout my studies and work experience, I have obtained expertise in leading, collaborating and communicating across borders with intercultural and monocultural teams in various projects in person as well as within the virtual and blended environment.

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