Due to learning, communication or social difficulties, some students have “special education needs” (SEN). Such students must have equal rights and access to foreign language education and, to ensure this, the European Commission supports the adaptation and promotion of specific teaching methods and materials.
However, the term “special education needs” is understood in different ways across Europe and the reported number of SEN students differs widely from country to country (from 0.9% in Greece to 17.8% in Finland in 2003, for example). Therefore, the EU has introduced a classification system to unify definitions and properly co-ordinate the policies of Member States.
A common misconception is that SEN students should not learn a foreign language because the time and resources would be better spent on the first language or other subjects.
However, foreign language learning has been shown to help SEN students reach more advanced levels of communication and to assist with their personal and educational development.
The EU supports activities in the following areas in order to provide greater access to foreign language education for SEN students:
- making Information and Communication Technology (ICT) more accessible and applicable
- establishing and extending European professional network platforms
- further developing adapted teaching methods and materials
- providing greater in-service training and ensuring that new foreign language teachers are trained in SEN requirements
An EU-funded study was published in 2005 on “Special Educational Needs in Europe: The Teaching and Learning of Languages - Insights and Innovation“. See also the Executive Summary.