How successful is the 'immersion' of children whose 'mother tongue' is not English into the English language section of one European School?
The European School system, which is funded by the European Union and its member states, has one of the most comprehensive multi-lingual educational programmes in existence: all students learn not only their own language but also a first and second `foreign' language. Its organisation into different language `sections' is problematic as these do not always correspond with the students in the schools, many of whom speak a different first language from that of the section to which they belong. This study examined the experience of a small group of these students. Adopting a qualitative approach, and using a case study approach, it focuses on issues to do with language and `culture'. The methodology involved both interviews and observation. These included both individual interviews with students and parents, as well as one group interview. The students were also observed in lessons and about the school. Although factors affecting individual students were found to be important, the study strongly suggests that the status of the languages concerned within the school and local society, as well the nature of the educational systems from which the students, or their parents, came, had a considerable effect on how well the students were able to make a successful adjustment to the multi-lingual environment of a European School. The study concludes that the diversity present in the language section of the European School studied necessitates a re-evaluation of the effectiveness of the European School system for it would seem that the presence of many `native' speakers in `foreign languages' courses means that the level of the class is often too challenging for the other students. Additionally, while some students are having their languages supported, others find themselves being `immersed' into language sections and experiencing loss of competence in their own language.