Centre for Language Education Research
Queen’s University Belfast
‘Listening to the learner’s voice: the experience of an Irish primary school’
Speaker: Dr Déirdre Kirwan
Facilitator: Dr Sultan Turkan
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Reflecting the recent recommendations of the Council of Europe (R 2022 1) on plurilingual and intercultural education, this presentation describes the integrated, plurilingual approach to language learning developed in a primary school in Dublin. Listening to learners, encouraging children to show who they are and what they can do in linguistically diverse classrooms, can provide an enriched educational environment for all learners. Including the knowledge and experience that EAL pupils bring with them, helps them to gain maximum benefit from their primary schooling. An essential feature of this approach is the inclusion of EAL learners’ home languages in classroom communication. This has benefits for all pupils, including those whose home language is a variety of the language of schooling. Typical outcomes are an unusual degree of language awareness, a readiness to undertake ambitious language learning activities on their own initiative, and the development of high levels of age-appropriate literacy in English, Irish, and French (in the last two years of primary school). Immigrant pupils’ home languages are also included without instruction in school but with parental support at home. This approach also fosters pupils’ wellbeing and promotes inclusion and social cohesion.
Dr Kirwan's research has explored, with teachers, parents and pupils, the benefits of an integrated approach to language teaching and learning where the use of pupils’ home languages is encouraged and supported in school. Dr Kirwan was Principal of Scoil Bhríde (Cailíní) for over 20 years and in 2008, she was awarded European Ambassador for Languages (Léargas) for her active promotion of cultural and linguistic diversity within school contexts. Dr Kirwan has worked with the European Centre for Modern Languages on the topic of early language learning and has led the development of the publication: Intercultural Guidelines for Primary Education (PPLI).