It has been proposed that every primary school child in the European Union (Barcelona 2002) should have the opportunity to learn one, if not two foreign languages. Currently most language teaching methods do not prove effective in giving true communication skills when there is no exposure to the new language for the rest of the week.
New research looks to psycholinguistics to exploit natural abilities in first language learning: there should be frequent, if possible daily, exposure in particular to a native speaker; classroom teaching should appeal to a variety of learning styles and it is valid for young children to have general language awareness fostered through exposure to several languages. In many EU countries the current aim of special education such as the education of deaf signers is to promote their integration into the hearing society.
The Adventures of Hocus and Lotus methodology, funded by Lingua in the 1990s, provides an exciting framework with a psycholinguistic approach that echoes first language learning through. Young children have been shown to be able to manipulate new language, rather than repeat rote learned sequences. This skill is rarely witnessed in the conventional classroom. At the heart of this method is the concept that a language does not have to be a subject that is taught-rather it is an experience to be shared. Although the 'Hocus and Lotus' method is an excellent resource for younger children aged 3 to 8, classroom practice has shown limitations for classes of older primary pupils who cannot stand in circles in their rooms and who require more age appropriate materials. Non-specialist teachers also cannot attend or spend time on the required training to give them adequate language skills.
Previous work using an animated character to provide sign language
UEA Norwich and Viataal are pioneers in the use of animated characters to provide information to deaf people in public environments and on the internet in the ViSiCAST and eSIGN projects.
What needs is this project designed to meet?
The learning of foreign languages across Europe is hampered by a shortage of trained teachers, especially at primary level. This project is designed to meet the needs of non-specialist classroom teachers wishing to teach conversational skills in a foreign language to older children (8-12 year olds) by re-creating a near-natural situation in the classroom. The resource meets the needs of older children for whom the Hocus and Lotus resources are not designed and the combination of a L2 and signing will give additional language learning motivation. The language learning needs of hearing impaired and special needs pupils are met by using age appropriate materials and combining signing and language learning to further integrate deaf and special needs children into a hearing and multi-lingual society This project fulfils the urgent need for age appropriate quality resources for the teaching of minority languages.
A story with two characters, Siggi and Luna, using avatars designed by Testaluna, has been written. The non-speaking animated sequences for the story have been created by Testaluna, and the speech and gesture sequences have been created by UEA using a gesture editor designed by UEA. A video of the combined sequences has been trialled in schools in England, France, and Holland, with positive results. Languages covered are English, French, Dutch and Portuguese. The resource has been extended to four stories, and DVD's can be purchased from the LinguaSign website.
University Of East Anglia, Norwich, UK
Norfolk County Council Children's Services Early Years, Schools and Community, Norwich, UK
Stichting Viataal, Sint-Michielsgestel, NL
TestaLuna SRL, Milano, IT
Academie De Toulouse/Inspection Academique du Tarn et Garrone, Gaillac, Toulouse, FR