TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr. März 2010

Sektion 1.2. Der Kaukasus und Europa / Caucasus and Europe
SektionsleiterInnen | Section Chairs: Mzia Galdavadze (Tbilissi), Tornike Potskhishvili (Wien), Vilayet Hajiyev (Universität Baku) und Azat Yeghiazaryan (Jerewan)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Plurilingualism: A Model for Europe and the Caucasus

Maria Yeghiazaryan (Yerevan State Linguistic University after V.Brusov, Armenia) [BIO]



The theme of our conference” Knowledge, Creativity and Transformation of Society” is rather broad and contains a lot of issues, especially when we deal with the Caucasus and Europe, as both regions have rich history, original literature, and different cultural traditions.

Knowledge about other cultures, awareness of the peculiarities of their historical and cultural development, mutual tolerance and respect – that is the goal we are striving to. Yet one must admit that the peoples of the Caucasus know about Europe more than the Europeans about the Caucasus, its peoples and cultures. Europe is so understandable and kin to us not only because we know its history, literature, music but also because each of us gathered here speaks one of the European languages and the language is the best key to the foreign culture. 

Thus language policy and language teaching are very important political instruments, especially for transformation of societies.

In our paper we will try to compare the principles of language educational policy of Council of Europe and the situation with language teaching in one of the Caucasus states - the Republic of Armenia. 

The main point of Language Education Policy in modern Europe is development of plurilingualism and   enrichment of European citizens’ linguistic and cultural repertoire. It is particularly essential for the citizens of multilingual and multicultural Europe. It is a condition for the evolution, transformation of the societies, whatever degree of multilingualism they have.

Under   plurilingualism is usually understood individuals’ ability to use different languages for the purpose of communication and to take part in intercultural interaction.

According to one of the Language Policy Division of Council of Europe documents “plurilingualism in its various guises is characterized by:

The project Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (2) launched in 2001 was of great importance for language teaching in many countries (it is now available in over 30 languages).  It is well known in Armenia as well. Besides Armenia is also involved in the so called Bologna Process and has adopted the goals and principles of Bologna Declaration: such as

The promotion and supporting of mobility of students, teachers, researchers and administrative staff is one of the core aims of the Bologna Process. In the Bologna Declaration (1999) it is stated that obstacles to the effective exercise of free movement should be overcome. Yet it is obvious that mobility can not be established if students or researchers don’t master the language of the country where they want to continue their study or research. It is just one of the obstacles we have to overcome. The accepting the importance of this problem makes the issues of foreign languages learning and teaching in Armenia especially actual.

Armenia is a monoethnic state (general census of the population held in 2001 showed that 97% of the RA citizens are Armenians), the language of instruction in educational institutions: schools and universities of our republic is Armenian. Thus at the first sight one may expect that language policy in the Republic of Armenia has different aims and principles. Yet the latest studies show that in Armenia we have «a unique case of bilingualism, which was spread mostly by no contact way».(4) ( Э.А.Григорян, М.Г.Даниелян 2006:15) Now the great part of the RA citizens’ are bi- or plurilingual, in all schools 2 foreign languages are taught (Russian and one of the European languages, mainly – English).

 At the same time Armenian authorities attach particular importance   to mother tongue learning and teaching. In our opinion that is a very positive factor as the role of native (“mother tongue”, L1) language is utmost important as some general, basic language skills can be easily formed while learning L1 and then transferred to L2, L3, etc. Language Policy Division of Council of Europe also focuses its attention on the languages, used as media of instruction: a special conference devoted to languages of schooling was held in Strasbourg (in October 2006)

Hence we can see a definite coincidence and similar trends in language policies of multilingual and multicultural Europe and monoethnic Armenia.

Analyzing the state of linguistic education in Armenia we must first of all state that population of our republic, especially young people are interested in language learning greatly. They understand the importance of plurilingualism, its role in their life. At our university (Yerevan State Linguistic University after V.Brusov) 16 languages are taught now.

Not long ago there was an opinion that  knowledge of two or more languages may become an obstacle for mental development of a person as the language systems  occupy too much space, and the person can not memorize and acquire other important knowledge. Yet in nowdays this theory is rejected. Modern investigations showed that possibilities of human memory are much wider than we supposed. Besides bilingual persons very often demonstrate so called metalinguistic consciousness, ability to analize and understand linguistic processes in target languages.

At the same time we often come across a situation when a bilingual person can not compare the languages he masters as they exist in his/her mind separately. One can find the root of this phenomenon in the language educational system. Currently, at schools and faculties, where two or more foreign languages are taught simultaneously the programs are not integrated and intercultural competence is not necessarily included in the curriculum.  However, it is obviously of great importance to form the students’ ability to compare the languages and cultures they are learning: to understand a phenomenon in one language or culture by analogy or contrast to another language or culture, etc.

The situation is especially vivid at our faculty – Faculty of the Russian Language, Literature and Foreign Languages – where Russian  is a language of instruction. Traditionally  all the students of this faculty were graduates of Russian schools ( i.e. the schools where Russian was the language of instruction),  their first language was  as a rule Russian too. But after the   political changes and transformation of our society which  took place during the last two decades  the situation has been radically changed : now most of our students are graduates of Armenian schools, their first language is Armenian,  their family language is Armenian too.

We suppose that similar problems with language of schooling or language of instruction can also occur in European countries where very often the language of education is not the mother tongue of the students. (See the Report Language of Schooling: towards a framework of reference for Europe  intergovernmental Conference, Strasbourg, 16-18 October 2006)(5)

Thus we can notify that language education policy both in Europe and in the Republic of Armenia comes across the same problems, aims at similar goals and has alike principles as Armenia is among the countries  involved in Bologna Process. 

Defining the modern language situation in the Republic of Armenia  we must state some new features which concern the social function of the foreign  languages used by population.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Status The Status of Russian in Armenia can be defined as a foreign language. It is taught at all schools, but the time granted for that subject has been reduced, the program and textbooks have changed. At the same time more attention is paid to other foreign languages teaching – English, German, French. In some schools pupils can in addition take Spanish or Italian, Greek or Persian.  Thus we can state that in 21 century the language repertoire of our citizens has widened but the knowledge of Russian decreased, though Russian remains a Lingua franca on the territory of former Soviet Union.

As we have said above the language of instruction at our faculty is Russian, while at all other faculties of the university – Armenian. But the latest trends in the language situation made inevitable changes in the approaches, curricula and the whole system of teaching at our faculty. So in 2007 we launched a new project which aims at shaping plurilingual and pluricultural person. Facing the challenges of plurilingualism and pluriculturalism we realize the importance of forming the linguistic and intercultural communication competences of our students. In order to achieve  that, we intend   to develop, pilot and implement new incorporate curricula of target languages (L1, L2, etc).

The project aims at working out a strategy of integrate plurilingual education  and  at the development of  special modules and piloted teaching materials for use in class.

First of all it is necessary  to identify social functions of the first year students’ native and foreign languages and define the type of their bilingualism. Then we will outline the aim of study i.e. characterize language level and hierarchical set of competences students must master leaving the university. After that we will focus on the drawing-up the framework of integrated plurilingual training:  define structure of incorporate training modules, elaborate new language curricula and teaching materials.

So in September 2007 we organized  an inquest in order to define the social functions of the languages our first year student's master. They had to fill in  the questionnaire and answer such questions as «What language do you usually use

The student also had to mark what language is their first language, and what language  they concider to be their native language; and to point out the language of instruction at kindergarten and at school.

We also were interested  in the information about their place of residence. (The question was «Have you ever lived outside Armenia? If yes, how long?» Variants of answers – never, less than 2months, less than 6 months, less than 1 year, 1year, 2 years, more than 2 years.)

All the 150 first year-students of our faculty have filled in  the questionnaire. An Analyses of the rezults gives us right to state that our first year-students are already plurilingual  and use different language systems in different spheres and situations of communications.

The picture changes when we deal with the receptive forms of communication – listening and reading:

We  also aimed to define the native tongue and the first language of the responders. We attach a paticular attention to that point because the whole system of integrated language teaching we intend  to work out and implement at the faculty would be based on basic language skills the student have obtained while learning Language1.

The term «mother tongue» or «native language» is not so widely used in scientific discourse as the term «first language» is. Sometimes these terms are used as synonymes. But we think it is not correct and rather back the schollars who see the difference between these terms. In fact the term «mother tongue»  «is not synonymous with 'first language' because it includes emotional associations of ideas with 'family' and 'origins' which 'first language' excludes.» (6). That is why during the sociological inquests in many cases responders point out their ethnic language to underline their national identity, though their first language, i.e. the language they first learnt in early childhood and through which they first developed as children is another one.

Taking into consideration all these aspects we include into the questionnaire several questions such as: What is your mother tongue? What language have you learnt first? What language was the language of your breeding and schooling in early childhood?

Thus we see that the language policy in the Republic of Armenia due to the challenges of the 21 century and the course taken by the government aims at forming plurilingualism, the model which has been already adopted in Europe.        



1 Beacco Jean-Claud, Byram Michael Guide for Development of Language Education Policies in Europe From Linguistic Diversity to Plurilingual Education  Spt.2002. Language Policy Division ,Council of Europe, p 46.
2 Common European Framework of Reference for Languages :Learning, Teaching, Assessment. Modern Languages Division, Council of Europe, Strasbourg, 2001
3 Glossary on the Bologna Process English-German-Russian
Editors Dr. Annett Jubara, Gunhild Kaschlun, Oliver Kiessler, Rudolf Smolarchuk., Bonn 2006
4 Э.А.Григорян, М.Г. Даниелян Русский язык в республике  Армения Общественные функции Москва 2006.       
5 Language of Schooling: towards a framework of reference for Europe Intergovernmental Conference, Strasbourg, 16-18 October 2006  Report Council of Europe, Language Policy Division 2007
6 Beacco Jean-Claud, Byram Michael Guide for Development of Language Education Policies in Europe From Linguistic Diversity to Plurilingual Education  Spt.2002. Language Policy Division ,Council of Europe, p 36.

1.2. Der Kaukasus und Europa / Caucasus and Europe

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