European Day of Languages

Ideas for celebrating cultural and linguistic diversity

European Day of Languages, celebrated every 26th September since 2001, was originally created by the Council of Europe to celebrate the diversity of languages and cultures within the Council’s forty-seven member states, and promote intercultural understanding. At my multilingual, multicultural inner-city primary school, it is a chance to celebrate the many languages spoken by the pupils and staff that make up our school community and an opportunity for children to share their heritages with their classmates. Every year we dedicate a whole day of learning to the celebration of European Day of Languages, starting with an assembly to introduce the day and its importance in our school calendar. There is always such a great energy in the school and it is wonderful to see children so proudly sharing their languages and cultural backgrounds with the school community. Here are a few ideas for activities to mark the occasion.

European Day of Languages is an opportunity to celebrate languages and cultures, within Europe and beyond.

Languages “Taster Sessions”:

Whilst many children learn French, Spanish, or perhaps German, at primary school, European Day of Languages can be a fantastic opportunity to introduce a much broader range of languages to pupils through short “taster sessions”. This could take many forms, from older pupils teaching their community languages to younger classes, to staff members who are able to speak another language introducing it to pupils. In the past, I have also invited parents into school to teach language sessions and read stories in their home language (sadly, not so this year, due to the continued presence of Covid). Over the years we have had teachers and parents lead sessions in a variety of languages, from Hungarian to Filipino, and including Gujarati, Arabic, Greek and Mandarin, which have given children the chance to explore new scripts along with the sounds of the spoken language.

Exploring maps:

In a school where lots of different community languages are spoken, it can be a very powerful activity to have children use atlases to plot their country of origin on a map. This makes a wonderful classroom, or even whole-school display which, with the addition of pictures and flags, gives a fantastic visual representation of the diversity of the school community. It is also the perfect opportunity for children to use atlases, maps and the internet to explore different locations or carry out research on particular countries or regions. I’ve seen this presented beautifully in upper Key Stage 2 as whole-class project books, scrapbooks or folders that are kept in the classroom reading corner as a resource for children to access and discover more about the home countries of the pupils who make up the class.

Data collection and maths links:

Schools which have a large population of EAL pupils may find that European Day of Languages lends itself really well to a little bit of data collection. Whether its finding out which countries children in the class come from, or the languages that they speak, pupils can gather and present data in a variety of ways, from tally charts in Key Stage 1, to bar charts a little further up the school and more complex pie charts by Year 6. These make fantastic displays and are also a great way to get pupils talking to each other about their backgrounds. For schools with more homogenous populations, planning a holiday to a French, Spanish or German-speaking country (depending on the language taught in school), including costing up flights, hotels, transport and meals can make for a great maths session and gets pupils engaging with the culture of their target country in a meaningful way.

Analysing idioms:

Idioms add colour to every language and give language-learners a great insight into specific cultural phenomena and beliefs, but often they are very difficult to translate directly. This means there is lots of fun to be had when comparing and contrasting idioms in different languages. A simple activity which I have done very successfully with upper Key Stage 2 in the past, gives children the opportunity to see a range of idioms, both in their original language and in translation. Pupils then try to match the meaning to the correct idiom, justifying their reasoning to the class. In multilingual classrooms, children who speak the languages represented in the idioms may be able to read them aloud to their peers and make the translation. Pupils might also know other idioms in their home languages and be able to present them, along with their meanings to the class. It’s a wonderful opportunity to dive deeper into the world of idiom in English too, as even monolingual English speakers may not be aware of many idioms themselves and it can lead to lots of rich linguistic discussion.

Borrowed words:

It is really fascinating for pupils to discover how English has “borrowed” words from other languages and explore the reasons behind this. In some instances, for example words like shampoo, pyjamas and bungalow, this can be an excellent opportunity to make children aware of the way in which Britain’s colonial expansion brought new words into the English language. For pupils studying Spanish in class, it is interesting to compare the linguistic similarities to Arabic and explore the impact of the Moorish conquest of Southern Spain. Some years ago, Carla Peach shared an excellent resource for a borrowed words treasure hunt on the Languages in Primary Schools Facebook Group (just search for ‘European Day of Languages borrowed words’), which could easily be set up in the school hall or playground. I have used it several times in the past and it always leads to some really interesting discussions and often comparisons with borrowed words in other languages.

Familiar songs, different languages:

This fabulous video popped up on my Facebook feed a couple of years ago and I knew straight away that I needed to use it on European Day of Languages. I always play the song through, without letting the children see the video, asking them to see how many languages they can identify and jot down. Many of the children are thrilled to find that their language is represented within the song and often know the words. We then watch the video and tick off all the languages we correctly identified. There is a usually a little prize for the person who correctly spotted the most.

I’ve also successfully adapted a suggestion by Marian Devons, again on the Languages in Primary Schools Facebook group, to create a quiz in which children listen to Disney songs in the language of the country the story is set in – ‘A Whole New World’ in Arabic, for example – and try to guess the language. It is a another great conversation-starter in terms of getting children thinking about the languages that the character would communicate in, if they were using their own language. It’s also a good link into exploring stories from other cultures. All credit must go to Marian for sourcing the eight clips in the various different languages.

Tooth fairy traditions:

Did you know that if a child loses a tooth in Bulgaria, instead of putting it under their pillow, they throw it onto the roof of their house for the raven to take away? I certainly didn’t, until I found this great little website that explains all about the different traditions that surround the loss of a child’s milk teeth. The interactive map shows you very clearly which countries subscribe to the myth of the tooth fairy and which have other traditions (for example, in France, it is a mouse who takes the tooth away). Children can talk about their own traditions as well as researching those of other parts of Europe, using the proforma below to record their findings, and the resulting work always makes an interesting display.

Exploring language links:

This year, I have been inspired by Nathalie Paris‘s wonderful blog post on European Day of Languages to have a go at using this clever interactive map to give children the opportunity to explore the links between different words in English and other European languages. I plan to get the pupils to come up with a variety of words to put into the search box and then spend some time comparing the results as a nice settling activity after lunch.

And finally

A little clip I’m sure the children will love! I’m planning on using it to end my European Day of Languages assembly this year. Have a good one, however you choose to celebrate it!

2 thoughts on “European Day of Languages

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