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European Day of Languages ideas for primary schools

The European Day of Languages was first established by the European Council in 2001. The decision to launch the initiative formed part of the European Year of Languages, a campaign designed to promote linguistic awareness and encourage language acquisition across Europe. The event now occurs each year on September 26th and is a celebration of language learning and cultural diversity. Schools across Europe mark the date by organising special activities, projects and workshops. In 2021, as September 26th falls on a Sunday, many schools will be celebrating the European Day of Languages on Monday 27th September. If you’re looking for European Day of Languages ideas for primary schools the read on! 

Exposing pupils to a wide range of cultures provides an excellent platform on which to embrace diversity, both within school and in the wider community. Activities that explore and celebrate cultural differences provide crucial opportunities to promote respect, empathy and inclusivity from a young age. Exposing children to other cultures and ways of life that are different from their own increases their breadth of life, experience of and understanding of the world.

In addition, the European Day of Languages can also be used to enrich the wider curriculum and provide cultural capital, giving children opportunities to make connections within their learning. Activities can be designed to link language learning to other subjects, such as geography, history, art, and P.E, providing vital cross-curricular experiences for pupils.

Finally, taking part in this celebration can enthuse and empower even the most reluctant of language learners! Within Modern Foreign Language learning, confidence and a ‘have a go’ attitude are important components of success. With this in mind, encouraging children to have fun with languages can do wonders for boosting enthusiasm and engagement in this area of the curriculum.

While the benefits of celebrating the European Day of Languages can be vast, it is important that careful consideration is given to activities to ensure that they are meaningful and have maximum impact. Avoiding stereotypes, such as asking children to come to school dressed in berets and stripy t-shirts, is vital in ensuring that the celebration allows for authentic and respectful exploration of culture. 

Similarly, language-learning expectations should be realistic, with consideration given to the key words and phrases that will be utilised by the children on the day. Overloading children with new language will weaken the impact of an activity and may even have a negative effect on confidence. It is useful to begin by asking the question, ‘What do we want our children to gain from the day?’, and to plan activities around outcomes as opposed to tasks. 

Considering your school’s curriculum drivers when planning can also help to ensure that your day is a success. For example, if one of your drivers is ‘aspiration’, you may wish to explore how languages are used in different careers in the United Kingdom and beyond. 

Investment and enthusiasm from colleagues are also crucial to a successful European Day of Languages event. Involving other members of staff in the planning and delivery of activities is an effective way to raise the profile of language learning within your school.

  • Get to know your school community. Display a large map in a central area of school. Invite children, staff and parents to pinpoint a country or area of the world that is significant to them. The map could be added to throughout the year and used as a stimulus for lessons and/or assemblies. Our French weather and water cycle lesson would be ideal for discussing maps, compass points and weather forecasts for different parts of the world.
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  • Introduce a new greeting. This can be used by all staff and children throughout the day. As a school, you may consider introducing further greetings throughout the year. You can also try our French greeting with puppets lesson to help.
  • Read a story in your target language. Encourage children to repeat key words/phrases and to create actions and/or role plays to accompany the text. This could be done in classes or even as a whole-school assembly. Or Year 4 portrait lesson might also be suitable to help with this.
  • Teach children to play some traditional playground games from another culture. Our year 3 unit on French playground games – numbers and age has some great ideas for traditional French playground activities.
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  • Learn a song or a traditional piece of music from a different country. Each class within your school could learn the same piece or different pieces. These could be performed for other classes and/or parents at the end of the day. In our year 4 Eurovision lesson, children learn ‘Sur le Pont d’Avignon’ which would be fun to learn as a whole school.
  • Conduct a cooking lesson in your school’s target language. With teacher guidance and adult supervision, children could follow a simple recipe to cook a dish from a different country. You could use this Year 5 shopping in France lesson where children learn to make ratatouille following a recipe in French.
  • Create a pebble garden. Ask every child to decorate a pebble using symbols or images from another country that is significant to them, or simply somewhere that they would like to visit. These could be used to create a reflection area somewhere on your school premises.
  • Teach children to play a traditional sport from a European country. You could even teach some key words for movements or body parts as part of your warm-up for this lesson.
  • For further guidance on this, one of our year 6 lessons teaches children How to play the French game pétanque. 
  • Present children with an issue that is common to a town or city of another country – e.g litter on the streets of Paris. Can children design an invention to help combat this problem? This activity would also make a great homework task. You could use our Visiting a town in France lesson as an introduction to this.
  • Ask children to research an aspect of culture in a different country (e.g school). Their findings could be presented as a poster, factfile or even a news report. This activity generates excellent discussion and topics can be tailored to your desired outcomes for the day. Our French unit French Speaking World explores different Francophone countries in more detail.
  • Teach an art lesson in your school’s target language. Children could follow instructions to create their own piece of art from an artist from a different country. For further support with this, our year 3 French unit includes a lesson on Creating art in the style of Henri Matisse.
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  • Set up a café in your school’s target language. The children will enjoy visiting the café and using key words and phrases to order their food. You can help children learn all about French food with our Miam Miam unit.
  • Ask pupils to find out about a famous historical figure who speaks your school’s target language. What did this person achieve? Did they come across any challenges along the way? How did they overcome these?
  • Explore the world through poetry. Give children titles such as ‘Europe’, ‘Culture’ or ‘Diversity’. Either as a class or as individuals, create poems that explore these ideas in more depth. This again allows for in-depth discussion and is an effective way of addressing particular topics.

Delivering a whole-school or key stage assembly can be a great way to bring children together to celebrate the European Day of Languages. The assembly could be held in the morning to kick-start your day, or may be planned for the end of your celebrations to allow classes to share their experiences. Ideas for an assembly could include: 

  • learning about significant people who have used languages to achieve great things.
  • listening to a traditional story with a moral from your school’s target country. 
  • or exploring values such as inclusivity or respect. 

You may even wish to invite bilingual parents or staff members to speak to pupils about their experiences of language learning.

In conclusion, remember that the day is all about the children (and staff) enjoying themselves, learning about other cultures and trying things they wouldn’t normally do. Talk to the children and staff about what they’d like to do to ensure you get buy-in first before planning anything to make the day the success it deserves to be!

Download our handy European Day of Languages guide today!

Emily Birch image
Written by:
Emily Birch

Emily is a primary school teacher with over 7 years of classroom experience. She has taught across all year groups and is driven by a desire to raise the profile of primary languages within UK schools. In 2013, Emily graduated from university with a first-class honours degree in French Studies and went on to complete a Primary PGCE with MFL specialism. Since then, she has worked as MFL subject leader in a number of schools, as well as supporting teachers and senior leaders to improve their MFL provision.