Multilingual education in the European countries: analysis, experience, problems

The article considers the experience of implementing multilingual education in the countries of Europe, which is of great interest to Kazakhstan, introducing into national education the experience of modernizing the system of learning foreign languages in the countries of the European Union and other highly developed countries of the world. The study of the experience of foreign language education and the experience of multilingual education plays an important role for Kazakhstan. The paper highlights the role of multilingual learning effectiveness in achieving goals and the need for targeted lingual policies in education to overcome the fragmentation of the European educational space. The authors gave a brief overview of the linguistic situation of the European states such as Switzerland, Belgium, Norway. The article discusses the concepts of the construction of foreign language education in Austria, various language programs and basic approaches to the organization of the educational process, as well as ways to modernize the teacher training system.


It is known that the European countries have made significant progress in the implementation of multilingual education, so we believe that this experience requires careful study, adequate transfer and dissemination. Consider the experience of implementing multilingualism in some European countries.

Multilingualism in Switzerland is enshrined in the article of the Federal Constitution, according to which the official languages are German, French, Italian and Rheto-Romance [1]. German, French and Italian are used as state languages, which have the same official status. The Rheto-Romance language is used as the official language of communication with persons speaking the language. The most part of population in Switzerland is fluent in several languages. Beside national languages, many Swiss speak English. The education system plays a key role in maintaining multilingualism in the country, where teaching of the second national language is compulsory, starting from primary school.

There is also a strong emphasis on early learning in English, with the proportion of English in language training constantly increasing and often exceeding the second national language. School in Switzerland is an important but not the only factor contributing to multilingualism of the speaker being the norm. Postsecondary education, daily multilingual contacts, work activities, personal interests, etc. cause the inclusion of more languages in their individual language repertoire to become a continuous process that can continue into great age.

In Norway, bilingualism was established through the struggle for national independence and selfdetermination. Norway attempted to create its own language, which led to the formation of two languages, Danish-Norwegian (Bokmal, literally: book language) and Nynorsk (Nynorsk). Scandinavian languages — Danish, Norwegian and Swedish share a common Nordic root, which explains the similarity of these languages and the relative ease of communication of Scandinavians who understand each other without translation. The political dominance of Denmark played a crucial role in the development of the Scandinavian languages. Norway remained a member of the union until 1814. Throughout this period, the national language of Norway was Danish. Nationalist sentiment in Europe following the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars led to self-determination movement. Norway gained independence, but many Norwegian wanted the Norwegian people to have their own language with their literature. The development of the Norwegian language, however, went two ways: by ‘norwegiation' of literary Danish by incorporating Norwegian elements from spoken language and by a more radical way — by creating a new literary language based on conservative Norwegian dialects. The year of birth of Nynorsk can be considered 1853, when Norwegian linguist IvarAasen published a collection of speech samples and texts of the language, which he called Landsmal [2]. I. Aasen used the new language to write poetry works and plays. The new language found support among the political movement that opposed the ruling party. After the opposition came to power in 1884, Nynorsk was granted the status of official language alongside Danish-Norwegian. At present, bilingualism in Norway is enshrined in the Constitution [3] Both languages enjoy the same rights, the school curriculum requires two national languages. School boards are given the right to choose one of these languages as the primary means of instruction.

The division of Belgium into geographical areas and linguistic communities is explained by the fact that the boundaries of geographical and cultural division may not coincide. The metropolitan area (Brussels), which is in the geographical part of Flanders, is officially considered bilingual (French and Dutch), but as a result of a long language policyof frenchification has become actually French-speaking enclave with more than 80 % of the French-speaking population. The German language community is part of the Walloon geographical area. The 1993 Constitution summed up the division of the country into geographical areas and cultural and linguistic communities. The Constitution has been issued in three official languages of the country, with each text indicating that it is consistent with the other two languages. Article 1 states that «Belgium is a federal State composed of associations and regions.» The Constitution devotes considerable attention to linguistic and cultural issues, including the composition of government according to regions and communities. Article 30 emphasizes the right of Belgian citizens to use the language of their choice, and Articles 67 and 72 provide the composition of the Houses of Parliament and the distribution of seats according to the region and language community. Article 24 of the Constitution legitimized the decentralization of education by granting the right to administer education to the three linguistic communities [4].

The capital Belgium Brussels is the only official bilingual region in the country with three official languages. The status of Brussels as the capital of Flanders, Belgium, the European Union and the centre of many international and interregional organizations contributes to its transformation into the European centre of multilingualism. Language situation researchers in Brussels, Laurence Mettewie and Rudi Janssens, note the uniqueness of the language situation in this language region, which is characterized as «public bilingual- ism/multilingualism combined with individual multilingualism.» The authors are of the view that linguistic reality in Belgium follows «the political approaches: the principle of regionality and the absence of a concept relating to the» supranational «characteristic of modern models of bilingual education» [5]. The authors write that political approaches to language education explain that until recently bilingual instruction in the two official languages in Belgium was banned, and even now in French schools Dutch is taught by a Frenchspeaking teacher as a subject in the same way as in schools with Dutch, French is taught as a medium of Dutch. The division of the country according to language principle into monolingual regions and communities creates difficulties of communication, as in the context of monolingual education policy there is a constant shortage of bilingual specialists in the work of State and public bodies. Researchers from the University of Antwerp (Belgium) report that the requirements of bilingualism of candidates for many vacancies in bodies working with the population are often impossible due to the lack of sufficient number of people in the labor market who speak both languages sufficiently. In the private sector, English acts as a means of interlanguage communication [6].

Thus, the multilingual situation in Belgium is characterized by the division of the country into monolingual regions by the number of official languages recognized by the Constitution. Monolingual policies in Flanders and Wallonia prevent inter-ethnic communication in a multilingual society, where individual multilingualism is often limited to a superficial knowledge of another official language, leading to none of official languages is able to serve as a means of universal communication throughout the country.

The language policies of Belgian regions and communities exclude any support for language varieties of official languages and the use of bilingual education for immigrant children, leading to the assimilation of the immigrant population, the displacement of dialect forms and the reduction of linguistic and cultural diversity in the country.

The three official languages of Belgium — Dutch, French and German are used in the functions of the languages of public administration, education, courts, medical care and communication within their regions and linguistic communities. Communication between regions and communities is achieved through bilingualism at the federal government level, especially in the only official bilingual region of Belgium that is Brussels. The role of the language of universal communication is played by English, whose growing influence is increased by the lack of inter-linguistic and intercultural dialogue in the country and by the general world trends towards globalization and standardization.

Individual multilingualism in Belgium includes the native language, as a means of ethnocultural identification, one of the official languages, depending on the region and language community, the second official language of the country, which degree of proficiencyvaries and in the context of multilingual society with three official languages is limited, and English, used in the private sector of the economy to ensure inter- linguistic communication.

As the analysis showed, the experience of multilingual education of the European countries is quite interesting and worthy of careful study. As part of our study, we discussed the experience of school multilingual education in Austria in more detail.

In Austria, the reform of multilingual education has been very intensive at the present time. Thus, today teachers are developing new concepts of building foreign language education, new curricula and programs on foreign languages, modernizing the system of teacher training for language education in different age groups.

Literature review

Of a great interest in the framework of our study the works on multilingualism in the educational environment and bilingual education as a model of transcultural learning in German-speaking countries [7, 8, 9].

Many foreign scholars in their works have considered the issues relating to bilingual, multilingual, multicultural education from different angles and perspectives. The conceptual basis of multilingual education is sufficiently developed by D. Coyle [10]. Our justification of the problems in the field of multilingual education was also earned on the scientific works of foreign researchers, defining the foundations of bilingualism, multilingualism and translanguaging in the 21st century, strategies of bilingual education, revealing the concepts of language and cultural awareness [11,12,13,14].

The theoretical and methodological basis of the organization of multilingual education in Austria is the works of main scientists of the West, such as Sarah Phillips, J. Girard, H. Komorowska, R. Wenzel, Lars, SE Holmstrand and others.

Elisabeth Janstcherand Isabel Landsiedler [15], professors at the Graz University, are working on the problems of multilingual school education in Austria. They are active in the European Centre for Modern Languages and participate in the development of programs for teaching foreign languages in different types of schools, the assessment of the problem of language competence of schoolchildren, as well as the analysis of the effectiveness of different approaches in teaching foreign languages, in particular at early school age.

The works of B. Kettemann, M. Kerschbaumer [16], which analyze the national characteristics of the multilingual education of Austria, deserve special attention.


It is in Austria where the European Centre for Modern Foreign Languages (Graz) is located, whose representatives have been developing and adapting foreign language programs for various types of schools since 1994. This centre also implements many language projects concerning language education from several foreign languages at different stages and in different age groups

In modern Austria, bilingual schools are available in two languages, German is compulsory as the national language of Austria and the second language of choice, for example English, French, in some cases Spanish and so on. In an ordinary secondary school there are lessons of foreign language too, judging by freefluency of English among Austrians, lessons take place at the proper level, nevertheless in bilingual schools the second language is characterized by profound usage in all subjects and in extra-day time.

Bilingual schools are for children whose families use two languages constantly. Children acquire skills in the natural language environment, that results in the correct development of communication skills in two languages. Since the first day, pupils dive into the language environment so the results are obvious 3–4 months later.

Primary school starts at the age of 6. Children study Mathematics, Foreign languages, Literature, Art, Sports. The schooling at primary stage lasts 4 years, afterwards it is necessary to choose the further direction of development.

Secondary school in Austria presupposes a child to know what he wants to do next: it gives wide opportunities to plan for the future. The child will be able to determine the vector of development independently.

Secondary education establishments can be divided into two types — comprehensive and academic schools.

Comprehensive schools include educational institutions providing standard training for specialized specialty. Usually their graduates do not think about further admission to the university.

There are academic-level secondary schools. They help to teach subjects in more detail concerning further specialties, as well as provide an opportunity to learn further. Academic schools are grammar schools real gymnasiums. Grammar schools offer children to choose a list of subjects on their own, which will be useful to them for the future specialty. Real gymnasiums focus on the training of future scientists, paying special attention to the profound study of fundamental disciplines.

Graduates of secondary schools at the end of their ninth year also face the choice of continuing their studies in a polytechnic school or in one of the various types of schools, which focus on the study of classical or modern languages, natural sciences, home economics, technical and professional skills.

An analysis of the current state of multilingual education in the Austrian schools requires preliminary consideration of the language policy of that country.

Austria has three official languages: German, Croatian, Slovenian. The Austrian version of the German language dominates and it is considered to be native to 93 % of the population. Croatian and Slovenian are used for administrative, legislative and professional purposes in regions where the respective ethnic groups live, in the south (Corinthia) and in the east (Bungerland). As Slovenian and Croatian are regional variants in Austria, they are predominantly used for oral communication. Languages of other ethnic groups do not have official status (Hungarian, Czech, Slovak, Gypsy). Other languages, such as Bosnian, Polish, Romanian, Serbian or Turkish are spoken only by emigrants.

As shown in Table 1, according to Internet sources, the population of Austria most often uses the following languages: the number of speakers is 8689000, in Serbian — 158000, in Turkish — 120000, in Croatian — 19000, in English — 5100000, in Hungarian — 40000, in Slovenian — 24000, in Polish — 25000, in Czech — 18000, in Romanian — 17000 [17].

Table 1

German Serbian Turkish Croatian English Hungarian Slovenian Polish Czech Romanian

In lingual education, German is a compulsory subject in all schools and at all levels. In Austria, children begin to learn a foreign language in primary classes, and one foreign language is compulsory. In high school, students learn at least two languages. The number of foreign languages students learn in secondary school depends on the type of school as well as the individual goals of the students.

English is taught at all levels: 97 % of children begin to learn English at school. Other languages as French, Italian, Spanish are less popular.

Recently, Austria has a tendency to learn less-spread languages (e.g. Croatian, Russian, Slovenian). Another important trend in multilingual education is the growing interest in bilingual education (study ofGerman and English at schools is predominantly).

In Austria since 1991–1992 academic year there has been the model of Graz International Bilingualism School, comprehensive school working according to the Austrian plan with teaching in English. At the beginning of the school year, the intensive phase of learning foreign language was determined, when pupils must study it as an essential source of culture, followed by a special focus on teaching other subjects in that foreign language. At the same time, the transition to the predominant use of English should be gradual. A similar model was tested in one of the schools in Admont and in the gymnasium in Menz. In September 1992, Vienna launched another initiative that is Vienna Bilingual School: starting with a bilingual group of kindergartens and schools, the program was created with German and English as languages of teaching, including senior classes [18].

The modern concept of school language education in the country is based on a communicative approach in the language training of schoolchildren. The Federal Ministry of Education and Art of Austria coordinates curricula and programs on the basis of the School Education Law, which provides for various directions: general goals, objectives, principles of building the educational process for health reasons, life safety, didactic principles, curricula on various subjects (German language, Mathematics, Modern Foreign language, etc.). Programs on foreign languages contain the purposes of education, content of speech activity in each class. However, Austrian curricula serve more as recommendations that enable the teacher to select teaching material, methods, forms and means of teaching [19].

Let us consider the phasing of the formation of the system of foreign language education in primary school. Thus, education was started in schools of Vienna and spread throughout the country. An important step in the development of the foreign language education system was the introduction of compulsory foreign language instruction in the third grade (the age of eight) in 1983.

In the 1990s there were attempts to learn a foreign language even earlier — from the age of 6–7.The teaching of English is a growing focus of many nation states as English is considered to be a key competence in the information society. Consequently, many nation states focus on teaching English to children at the early stages of schooling, a strategy that may create both competent citizens and competitive nation states [20].

Since 1998, all primary schools have introduced foreign language education from the first grade, and in the 2003–2004 school year Austrian children have adopted compulsory language education from the age of six [19].

The Austrian Federal Ministry of Education and the Arts has developed instructions for teaching foreign languages for all classes and different types of schools. The main objectives of foreign language instruction in primary school are:

  •  formation of motivation for the study of languages throughout life;
  •  preparation of the basis for communication in a foreign language;
  •  education of positive attitude of children towards other peoples;
  •  respect for other languages and cultures.

In the national program the teacher is offered a detailed list of topics, methods, technologies, and it's up to him to correctly adapt them to practical work with schoolchildren.

In the aspect of language skills, it is worth noting that the teacher's special attention should be focused on the formation of speaking, auditing, reading and writing skills.

Most Austrian schools work according to the National Language Program, which requires one foreign language (mainly English), which takes on average once or twice a week. Foreign language instruction starts at the age of six years (integrated approach) or eight years (traditional model). Lessons with the integrated approach take ten minutes each day and according to the traditional model thirty minutes twice a week. Additional language learning is offered in schools individually according to the requirements of time and society.

However, individual Austrian schools offer their own programs, which differ from the generally accepted, they are approved by the Board of local educational institutions. They require intensive study of one foreign language, as well as programs to teach additional languages.

Let us take a look at the various language programs and basic approaches to organizing the learning process.

Traditional foreign language teaching has been practiced for over twenty years, and it is popular among teachers working with junior school children. According to the named model, a foreign language is introduced in the third-fourth grade twice a week. It is generally taught by teachers who are primary education specialists. The purpose of the program is to provide knowledge of the foreign language and to study ways to basic communication skills in that foreign language.

The integrated approach is quite new, founded in the 1990s, was positively appreciated among both parents and linguists. This approach is characterized by scientists as «embedded» in the primary school curriculum. According to this approach, language teaching begins at the age of six. First language is studied at the elementary level of everyday communication, and later integrated into the study of such subjects as mathematics, social disciplines, physical education. The intensity of learning a foreign language in this case depends on the language and methodological abilities of the teacher. An important condition for the success of this approach to foreign language learning is the high professionalism of the teacher, teaching both primary cycle subjects and foreign language. Therefore, the main task of organizing the educational process is to train such a teacher, who is able to use new methodological technologies of teaching, as well as mastering excellent skills of foreign language communication.

In order to ensure a gradual transition from the traditional model of foreign language education to integrated learning, the Austrian Ministry of Education approved a transitional period (1998–2003), during which the regional management of education was to organize retraining programs for primary teachers to improve their speech, language and methodological competence in foreign languages.

Austria also has special programs on foreign languages, which provide for the teaching of foreign languages besides the school curriculum. Such programs must be approved by the Ministry of Education and meet special conditions: they must be implemented by highly professional teachers; Programs should provide a close link between the primary and secondary levels of education, as well as additional funding. Another interesting type of program of foreign language education is the Intensive Foreign Language Study Program. The intensive foreign language learning is a learning process of five foreign language lessons per week, as well as a gradual transition to bilingual learning, where more than 50 % of school subjects are taught in foreign language. General principles of intensive training organization are:

  •  involvement of experienced teachers and language teachers;
  •  teaching mainly English;
  •  classes of pupils consist of German-speaking children;
  •  several subjects of the main program are taught in a foreign language;
  •  team training or close cooperation between teachers.

At the present stage, another type of foreign language program in Austria, which provides for basic teaching of two foreign languages, deserves attention. As a rule, such programs regulate both English and French, English and Italian, etc. These programs combine traditional and integrated learning models. Such programs focus primarily on primary positive contacts of students with foreign languages, starting with the first foreign language in the first grade and the second language in the third grade.

On the basis of the analysis of the different types of foreign language programs for junior pupils, the general requirements for the construction of multilingual education in Austria can be distinguished, namely, that foreign language education should be based on the principles of universal primary education and on the basic principles of foreign language education.

The recommendations of the Ministry of Education state that the teacher should mainly use the original language but motivate the children to communicate only in foreign language. Regarding the assessment of student achievement, formal testing and formal evaluation are not provided in the younger school age. Teachers apply individual assessment forms.

Despite these «success conditions,» there are several unsolved problems in the practice of foreign language in Austrian schools, the main ones are:

  •  teacher training for integrated learning;
  •  differences between primary and secondary education;
  •  perspective of development and real achievements [16].

One of the most important problems and tasks of modern multilingual education is the training of teachers in terms of expanding methodological strategies, as well as improving the level of foreign language proficiency. Mainly all primary school teachers in Austria are trained to work according to general primary education programs as well as to teach a foreign language in primary classes. However, the introduction of integrated education at a younger school age requires a teacher not only to be fluent in languages, but also to be able to apply modern language education technologies and strategies. Despite the fact that integrated foreign language education programs are being developed by regional educational structures, there is a need to approve qualification criteria to be met by a teacher working with children of certain age groups, from primary school to secondary and senior school.

The problem of differences in the primary and secondary foreign language education of modern school has been the subject of discussion by many scholars. The main reasons for such disagreement are: the lack of awareness or poor communication between primary and secondary school teachers; different approaches to foreign language teaching.

The exchange of information between teachers working in both types of schools should be not only informal (school meetings, exchanges of methodological materials), but also formal, for example, the development of language portfolios, which will help to make a smooth transition from the initial stage of lingual education to further successful learning in secondary school. The idea of creating common, open language portfolios for all levels (primary, secondary, higher school) is supported by the European Project Group.

A significant contribution to the realization of parental expectations is the development of a language portfolio for different age groups, which will allow the teacher and pupils to focus more on foreign language material in a certain class [16].

The multilingual education in Austria has undergone significant changes in the past decade. The study and analysis of Austria experience in multilingual education has led us to draw the following conclusions:

 not always the early learning of foreign languages is more effective than the late. A good result is (from the experience of Austria) a systematic introduction to the study of foreign languages: at the initial stage — fragmented, at the subsequent stage — intensive;

 availability of teacher staff with high linguistic and methodological competence is the key to effective multilingual education;

 logically structured curriculum and effective lesson schedule for both the teacher and the student results in a properly organized structure of the foreign language learning process;

 close interrelationship of holistic language education, ranging from primary, secondary and senior education, and the use of methods to ensure the quality of education at all stages [15].


As a result of the study of the school multilingual education system in Austria, it can be confirmed that the use of experience in the organization of foreign language education in that country will be useful in the process of reforming school multilingual education in Kazakhstan. The position of Autria on the issue of learning only one foreign language at an early school age deserves special attention.


In addition, the experience of Austria in the implementation of multilingual education based on initial traditional education, integrated approach, intensive teaching of one foreign language, elementary learning of two or more foreign languages, and bilingual learning requires careful study and analysis. The logical and balanced introduction of multilingual schooling results in a real multilingual society that effectively realizes its linguistic potential in all spheres of life.



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Year: 2020
City: Karaganda
Category: Pedagogy