Orban launches Arsenal languages scheme

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EU Multilingualism Commissioner was in London today (2 April) for the launch of an innovative project combining foreign-language learning and football training run by Arsenal football club.

This year’s edition of the English Premiership club’s ‘Double Club’ initiative, which the EU executive described as an “innovative project aimed at schoolchildren, combining language learning with football training,” sees youngsters from London and the surrounding area attend language courses of six to eight weeks, followed by football sessions. 

Languages available under the scheme, which runs in local schools, include French, German and Spanish. The initiative also sees participants take part in football tournaments between pupils of the 80-plus schools involved. 

Weekly after-school sessions comprise 45 minutes of football and 45 minutes of language teaching. Lessons are inspired by football and Arsenal-related themes, and are supported by contributions from the club’s French, Spanish and German-speaking players in their native languages. 

At the end of each course, youngsters have the opportunity to tour Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium home, visit the club’s museum, and receive commemorative footballs, T-shirts and certificates. 

Commissioner Orban, who was joined by Gunners manager Arsène Wenger, UK Schools Minister Jim Night and UK National Director for Languages Dr. Lid King, was due to present certificates and footballs to some of the 2,000-plus primary school pupils to have taken part in Double Club activities so far. 

The commissioner was also due to visit local pilot schools to hear pupils sing football songs in French, German and Spanish, followed by a brief question-and-answer session in the languages covered by the initiative. 

Orban expressed particular satisfaction that the scheme targets children who may not otherwise be exposed to learning foreign languages, a priority of the Commission’s new multilingualism policy launched last September (EURACTIV 15/09/08). 

The success of Arsenal’s Double Club’ project has already seen several other Premiership clubs adopt similar schemes. 

Visiting Arsenal's Emirates Stadium last year to formally endorse the project, EU Multilingualism Commissioner Orban said he was "particularly happy to see this innovative initiative promoting language learning among school children having been born in the UK". 

"I am delighted to confirm my […] formal patronage of this initiative that can serve to inspire for innovative language learning targeted for children throughout the European Union," he added. 

Julie Stoker, a languages teacher involved with the scheme, told Arsenal.com that "my work [...] will ensure the scheme is rolled out nationwide and accessible to those schools and organisations who want to try a different approach to French, Spanish and German learning". 

"The Arsenal Double Club will also continue to aim to raise the profile and attraction of languages in secondary schools - motivating and encouraging those on the programme to take a language at GCSE," Stoker added. 

"With modern foreign language teaching becoming compulsory for [UK] primary schoolchildren in 2010, Arsenal, working in partnership with the government, the local authority and other credible partners has shown real commitment to developing this area of their work in education," she continued. 

Double Club Coordinator Scott Cohen told the website of the European Commission's representation in the UK that the programme was developed because "teachers grew desperate to find ways to motivate their pupils in subjects that were becoming increasingly irrelevant". 

"As we were using Arsenal to help kids with their English and Maths, the obvious next step with all these foreign players was French, German and Spanish," Cohen said. 

Hailing the scheme, Arsenal's Spanish goalkeeper Manuel Almunia said the participating children "are so young that they have a lot of time to learn the language, which is key." "Learning a language at such a young age is very valuable," he added.

English Premiership club Arsenal first launched its 'Double Club' initiative in 1998. Since then, it has helped over 2,000 students from 80 schools in London and south-east England to learn German, French and Spanish. 

The European Commission became a formal partner in the project in October 2007 and it was officially endorsed by Multilingualism Commissioner Leonard Orban at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium home in February 2008. 

A recent Commission-backed study carried out by the Eurydice network found that less than 10% of total teaching time is devoted to learning foreign languages in European primary schools (EURACTIV 24/11/08). 

Indeed, the EU executive is particularly keen to boost language-learning in the UK amid fears that the European institutions will likely face an acute shortage of English interpreters by 2015. 

Faced with a "succession crisis" in its languages department, the Commission unveiled an awareness-raising campaign on 19 February aimed at encouraging young people to consider a career in languages and "making English a less rare language" (EURACTIV 18/02/09). 

  • 2010: Arsenal to make its Double Club resources available to all local schools.

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