ALLEGRO is a large and ambitious project which involves partners in six European countries and has reached over 600 learners, varying in age from 3 to 85. We have taught or organized events in Spanish, French, German, Italian, English, Dutch, Swedish and Polish. Partners have organized over 100 sub-projects, in the process of which they have worked with 36 agencies and organizations outside the field of language teaching. Many have been outreach projects, held in venues as diverse as prisons, nurseries and residential accommodation for senior citizens.
The conclusions to be drawn are therefore complex.
We are aware that everything we have done must be viewed in the light of the cultural differences between the partner countries, which have been one of the most interesting aspects of the project. These have influenced the approach of everyone involved, partners, outside organisations, teachers and learners.
Some national differences are:
different interpretations of the concept of disability
For example, in some countries, pupils with learning and physical disabilities are included as far as possible in mainstream education, whereas in others they are usually taught as a separate group and therefore have had a different prior experience of learning a language, or indeed none.
different teaching approaches
In some countries learners have experienced a traditional approach, involving the teaching of grammar and much emphasis on reading and writing, rather than speaking and listening. They therefore have very different expectations to those who have been taught using more communicative methods.
different attitudes to learning a language
In some countries the ability to speak foreign languages well is regarded as the prerogative of the well-educated, while in others most people have easy access to language learning and only a small minority are excluded. The attitude of citizens of countries whose languages are widely spoken throughout the world, especially English, is different from those who come from countries where learning foreign languages is a necessity, in order to have access to popular culture and to many jobs.
It is, however, possible to draw some general conclusions about what we have learned from ALLEGRO.
- The majority of the organisations providing for disadvantaged groups have welcomed our offer of language teaching, although some have had to be persuaded of its value to their clients. This is doubtless in part due to the fact that classes were free-of-charge, but they were also often already aware of other advantages.
- Working with these agencies has often been a complicated and time-consuming process, requiring patience and determination on both sides.
- Pre-existing personal contacts and support from an agency’s senior management were key factors in the success of many sub-projects.
- Partners wished to teach as wide a range of European languages as possible, including some of those less widely spoken and taught. Here we encountered a barrier, in that learners and their providers wanted to us to teach almost exclusively English [outside the UK] and Spanish in England. There is an equality issue involved in this choice. People who are excluded in other ways from the rest of society often see learning English, in particular, as one route to being included in it. We have, however, taken every opportunity to teach other languages, where this was feasible.
- New groups of learners have meant new approaches to teaching, in many cases. Although some sub-projects have been fairly ‘traditional’ courses, lasting a number of weeks, we have used a wide variety of other methods of delivery, including short ‘tasters’, activities which have combined languages with other activities [cookery, singing, dance] and groups in which the role of the teacher has been developed in new ways [study circles, team teaching, where one of the team is herself a learner, training nursery nurse to deliver languages.]
- The great majority of the groups we have worked with have been very enthusiastic about what we have offered and have wanted our activities with them to continue. We are limited in this by the aims and budget of the project and there are clearly often financial difficulties for the organizations themselves in funding further development. But there have been some innovative moves in this direction, which may give others the impetus to drive forward similar initiatives.
- The impact on all involved in ALLEGRO has been unexpectedly marked. Learners have gained in confidence and gained a wider view of the outside world. Teachers have found inspiration in teaching new groups in new ways. Most importantly perhaps, the message of the value of language learning has been spread widely among organisations in the field of social provision and into the community at large.