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Language policy in the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp

Making the most of Multilingualism at RCA

If you step into any performing arts university around the world, you will probably not get very far through the door without hearing different languages. At the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp(or RCA), in the last five years alone, students of over fifty nationalities, speaking almost as many languages, have enrolled on degree programmes in dance, drama, and music.

On any given day in the dining room you might hear Spanish, Icelandic, Greek, French, or Portuguese being spoken alongside Dutch and of course English, as first, second, or even third languages. The Conservatoire, like many theatre, dance, and music schools around the world, increasingly mirrors the professional performance world where multilingualism is the norm in almost every discipline. Arts education has a long way to go regarding other sorts of diversity including socio-economic and ethnic background, especially amongst home students, but the sector’s cultural and linguistic diversity cannot be underestimated.

Having a rich tapestry of languages and cultures can offer numerous advantages and significantly enhances the artistic, professional and social profile of any school especially in the performing arts. Yet navigating multilingualism on this scale is incredibly challenging: it takes agility, a willingness to adapt, listen, learn, make space for mistakes and, sometimes simply “talking with hands and feet”, as the Flemish saying goes.

These skills –and more –are in abundance at the Conservatoire amongst teaching staff, administrative colleagues, students, and researchers, but also the technical and housekeeping teams ... And yet it is not easy, especially as there has been a relatively fast shift from a mostly monolingual to multilingual school culture. Moreover, the school’s main focus is art, not language education, and students and staff here have a very diverse range of aims, needs, profiles, and skills. Getting the most out of a multilingual school requires conscious collective effort, and, above all, a clear policy guiding how this effort should be best directed. No such policy document exists to date at RCA, and so in recognition of the challenges outlined above, the school applied for funding for a ten-month research project entitled ‘Making the most of multilingualism'.

The project brief was to map the current situation regarding language use in school from a variety of angles and develop a policy that best fits this situation. The aim of this policy was to build on existing good practice as well as setting out improvements or solutions to specific challenges in order to maximise the benefits of multilingualism in school.

The project was conducted between March and December 2021, with the main data-collection phase lasting from May-October. Data was collected from internal and external stakeholders, with a mixed methods approach drawing on literature and desk research, alongside interviews, focus groups, lesson observations and a student and staff survey.

You are very welcome to read the full document, written by project owner Joanna Britton.