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Report - MELT Expert Seminar in Friesland

On 14-16 April an expert seminar has taken place of the MELT project in Fryslân/Friesland. The MELT project (= Multilingual Early Language Transmission) is a partnership between four European regions with a minority language: Breton in Brittany (France), Frisian in Friesland (the Netherlands), Swedish in Finland and Welsh in Wales (UK). The project aims at the awareness raising and strengthening of bringing up children in the early years from birth till primary schooling, either in the minority language or bilingually.

The seminar was very much focussed on the various methods used at the day care centres, by means of talking together, singing, reading aloud and playing games. Up bringing includes always a balancing between the natural growth of the child and the pedagogical and linguistic support by adults. The MELT project is developing a toolkit with guidelines and suggestions for practitioners in the early years. The toolkit is based on the booklet “Language Strategy for Day Care Centres” which was developed in Finland in the last five years. The author of the booklet, Mrs. Lillemor Gammelgard, was invited as an expert to explain the theoretical background of the booklet as well as the practical application of the suggestions which have proved their value in daily practice. Together with a number of practitioners and trainers Mrs. Lillemor Gammelgard has discussed the concrete applications of the toolkit for the practitioners and the children and their parents involved. In addition, some new suggestions which came up during the seminar will focus more on the immersion approach and on the special needs for practitioners working in mixed language groups of youngest children. The toolkit will be evaluated and further developed during a series of visits to day care centres by MELT tutors in each of the four participating regions.

Three other experts on the pre-school age group reported research results and gave their views based on long lasting experiences. Mr. Hywel Jones, director of the Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin in Wales, who is responsible for 500 Welsh medium play groups and day care centres, stressed the importance of the immersion approach for the development of children to balanced bilingual individuals and for the revitalisation of the language. He also paid attention to the co-operation between the provisions and the home setting of the child, including the language transmission activities of grand-parents. Efforts for the improvement of the quality of provisions was a focus of Hywel Jones’ presentation as it was one of the core messages of dr. Sikko de Jong, president of the Foundation for Frisian medium pre-school provisions (SFBO). Dr. De Jong gave an outline of the development of the Frisian medium and bilingual provisions from 1989 onwards. Currently 90 pre-school provisions (out of 300) in the province of Friesland are partner to the SFBO. The success of that Foundation is due to the total package which is offered to the local practitioners. This offer includes a tailor made policy plan, in-service training, thematic materials, assessment of the quality and a financial grant by the provincial authorities for those provisions that have passed the assessment procedure successfully. Mr. Yannig Robin of the Breton pre-school movement Divskouarn focussed his presentation on the natural phases of the child’s development to a mature child which step-by-step will become competent for entering bilingual primary school. In his view, supporting adults shall encourage the children to speak the own language autonomously.

The expert seminar was conducted partly in the town hall in Damwâld / Damwoude of the municipality Dantumadiel where more than 80% of the children have Frisian as their mother-tongue. This municipality has developed a holistic approach for the up bringing of the youngest children from birth till the end of primary school. A special DVD on this language policy of the municipality was presented. The special characteristic of this holistic language transmission approach is the good co-operation of the health care sector and the pedagogical sector including the public library.

The seminar can be considered the first working conference of this MELT project which has gained a two year grant by the European Commission in the Lifelong Learning Program. An evaluation seminar will be organised in Helsingfors/Helsinki by the end of 2010 and a closing conference will take place in Brussels in October 2011.

In the near future all relevant information on the MELT project will be available on the website www.meltproject.eu