In the workshop we got to know about language diversity at primary level in France by getting to know about a school project ('The Didenheim project') in Alsace.
Here are some links that I found about the research project.
and a report as a pdf-document:
In short: The project was a language awareness and intercultural project in a small primary school. The project was launched because of the increase of racist incidents in the school.
What was done, was to have session led by the parents of the children (many immigrants), the sessions were of each languages, kind of 'a taste of language'. The objectives of the project were " To bring the children into contact with other languages and to sensitise them to te use of languages, to familiarize the children with other cultures through the presentation of festivals, traditions, costumes, geography…, and last but not least to promote the acceptance of differences, to learn about others and to attempt to break down stereotypical misconceptions."
In the workshop we watched one of two films made on the project: A professional documentary directed by Mariette Feltin (2008). There are two versions of it: Raconte-moi ta language and Tell me how you talk, which comes with English subtitles. The film is the directors view on the project and not 'a research report' as such.
As a research, this was an ethnographic study where participant observation, interviews, questionnaires and ministerial directives and documents were the main sources of data. Analysis had 2 dimensions: cognitive and social.
The film showed many striking impacts the project had to the school and the whole village: Through parents participation the families got very dedicated to the project, and parents' ethnic minorities were empowered. The collaboration between the teachers and the parents got better. Children were motivated to participate, and we got to see many comments of these 'budding linguists' analysing the languages they got to explore. For example, a comment from a pupil after a few classes of parent-guided lessons "Is French also a language then?" shows, in my own opinion, a very profound 'a light-bulb flashing' moment.
For me, it was really interesting to hear that French sign language was one of the languages involved in the project (among 17 spoken languages). I wonder, what extra did a visuo-spatial language add in? Doesn't it hit some other nerve than what any spoken language do since it uses a different medium than spoken languages? We, the hearing people, are so used to the idea that language IS spoken and oral, that getting in contact with signed language makes us seriously think *what* is language. At least that is what happened to me when I first got in contact with Finnish sign language. I wonder, how did the children react to the modality of French sign language and what links did they discover between this particular sign language and the other 17 languages they got a taste of.