The European Award for Languages (also known as the Language Label) recognises creativity and innovation in improving the quality of language learning and teaching. Through the 'Service Learning in Italian' module, primary schools gain access supported language classes without requiring them to find extra funding or resources. Meanwhile, third-level students have an opportunity to practice their language and teaching skills, supporting wider links between the university and the community.
Service learning is a relatively new phenomenon at third-level in Ireland, but has been well established in the US for many years. Rather than traditional lectures or university classes, the learning process happens through working with the wider community on a project or issue that links to the students' degree subject area. NUI Galway, with the support of its Community Knowledge Initiative, now has over a dozen courses with this specific civic dimension. Service learning is neither volunteering nor work-placement, but is a distinct approach to teaching and learning that is designed to be academically robust whilst also linked to community needs.
The teaching method was first piloted at NUI Galway three years ago with Nursing students who worked in an AIDS hospice in Zambia and a hospital in Belize; and with Bio-medical and Mechanical Engineering students who developed a range of innovative tools and resources for disabled, elderly and others facing particular challenges in daily life. A range of service-learning modules are now available across faculties at the University.
Dr. Anne O'Connor of the Italian Department at NUI Galway, who coordinated the 'Service Learning in Italian' pilot programme, commented, "We are thrilled to receive a European Award for Languages 2007. Our new module aims to foster positive attitudes towards language learning for all involved, both primary and third-level students. The module also develops links with the community, giving students the opportunity to exercise social responsibility. Primary school children who participate, range from ages six to ten and are taught in an interactive and enjoyable way."
The European Award for Languages is coordinated by the European Commission and managed on a decentralised basis by each member state. The award is managed in Ireland by Léargas. The award will be presented at a special ceremony in Dublin on 26 September European Day of Languages.