COBALT – promoting mobility through language learning
The COBALT project’s unique online learning platform makes learning French or Dutch more accessible to residents of the French-Belgian cross-border region.
" FRANEL is very interesting software because it is a comprehensive tool to practise both oral and written skills. For example, you get to hear accents that are different to those of the two professors we have at university. "
Even though the Nord-Pas de Calais region of France and the Walloon and Flemish regions of Belgium share both common borders and a common history – one thing they don’t share is language. And although economics, tourism and even policy tend to cross the borders uninhibited, language often does not.
To remedy this situation and, by doing so, improve cross-border relations, the EU-funded COBALT project aimed to promote the learning of French in West Flanders and Dutch in Wallonia and Nord-Pas de Calais.
Ripe for change
Project coordinators identified a clear need for additional, tailored language teaching that could supplement the curriculum currently being used in regional schools. Furthermore, after extensive research, they also saw a willingness and motivation by local students to improve their command of French or Dutch, with many stating that they saw language ability as a key factor in their future employability. This sentiment was further verified by regional recruitment agencies, with several noting that a lack of language proficiency constituted an obstacle to professional mobility.
The climate was ripe for change, so COBALT set to work.
A platform for interactive learning
To achieve its objective, the project turned to technology. As the aim was to supplement current language curriculum and not interfere with regional educational systems, the project created a free online learning platform for studying Dutch and French as a foreign language. A key goal of the project was to increase the employability of those who use the learning platform, so it focused on learners who already had basic language skills (A2 level) as opposed to beginners.
The result was FRANEL – an innovative learning platform (http://www.franel.eu) specifically developed for French, Flemish and Walloon students wanting to improve their French or Dutch. The platform provides students with interactive learning activities. For example, many lessons are based on television reports and live footage coming from regional news channels, adding a touch of cultural understanding to the language learning process.
FRANEL also combines the use of general French and Dutch and business French and Dutch, and it utilises a combination of voice recognition technology, authentic dialogues, audio-visual materials, listening comprehension activities and written exercises. It also includes a ‘Medi@tic’ database containing an array of themed videos from which teachers can select based on the curriculum needs.
To ensure its use, COBALT also developed tailored versions of FRANEL for use at KU Leuven, University Charles de Gaulle – Lille 3, and the University of Mons, as well as for job-seekers working with such regional placement agencies as VDAB and Forem.
According to project organisers, COBALT has encouraged residents of the three regions to learn the language of their neighbour and, in doing so, boosted mutual understanding along the border region. The fact that FRANEL is freely accessible online has also helped to lower the barriers to language learning. To date, over 40 000 users have registered, with more continuing to join the ranks every day. As a result, the region has enjoyed a renewed sense of mutual understanding and an increased level of economic mobility.
Total investment and EU funding
Total investment for the project “COBALT – Communication et Brassage Culturel à Travers l’Apprentissage des Langues et des Technologies (Communication and cultural mix through language learning and technologies)” is EUR 1 533 409, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 777 992 through the “Belgium – France” Operational Programme for the 2007-2013 programming period. The investment falls under the priority “Promote the economic development of the area through a coherent and integrated cross-border approach”.