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Sociolingüística internacional

Latvian language acquisition – a fight with myths, stereotypes and prejudeces, by Aija Priedite


5. The National Programme for Latvian Language Training (NPLLT)

In 1994, Latvia was fortunate in having a Government rational enough to understand that the language situation is more than a linguistic problem. The Government realized that something had to be undertaken immediately and that Latvia was not able to solve the problem alone. In this situation, the Latvian Government approached the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Latvia and asked for assistance in elaborating and implementing a National Programme for Latvian Language Training in Latvia.

In 1995, UNDP organized a national-international working group to design a National Programme for Latvian Language Training (NPLLT). The group drew up a ten-year National Programme addressing both the national education system and the adults. For the implementation of the NPLLT, a five-person institution was created, the Latvian Language Programme Unit (LLPU). The implementation of the Programme started in late 1996 and covers 5 main fields:

  1. Teacher training;

  2. Development of new teaching materials;

  3. LSL (Latvian as a second language) courses for adults;

  4. Integration activities;

  5. Development of the programme management.

How did the Programme tackle this very complex problem? What was the Programme philosophy? What has the Programme achieved during these six years?

6. The Philosophy and Strategy of the National Programme for Latvian Language Training

The first step was and still is to eliminate all the myths, stereotypes and prejudeces among the trainers as well as among the trainees. For this purpose a campaign was started to introduce a completely new subject – Latvian as a second language (LSL).

The first task of the Programme was to introduce LSL and to train the Latvian language teacher corps in new methodologies and teaching approaches as soon as possible. For this purpose the NPLLT used the so -called multiplicator effect. A core group of teachers is trained to train their colleagues. This approach has shown that it is possible to implement far-reaching reforms within a short time. The NPLLT has trained three such multiplicator groups over these six years. These trainer groups are addressing their colleagues from different angles and at different levels. The NPLLT multiplicators, meanwhile, are addressing all minority school teachers. Demand of their training is today also being requested by Latvian school teachers. The following table shows the multiplicator effect in work:

Table 2. Table showing the multiplicator effect of the NPLLT


1996-97 1997-98 1998-99 1999-00 2000-01 2001-02 Total

Training of LSL methodology multiplicators

40 40

LSL multiplicator training of their colleagues

220 300 468 151 219 1358

Training of LSL primary school multiplicators


(30 active


LSL primary school multiplicator training of their colleagues

247 293 335 875

Training of multiplicators of bilingual teaching methodologies


(40 new 20 from the start LSL meth. Trainer group)


Bilingual teaching methodology multiplicator training of their colleagues

986 727 1713

Number of teachers who have finalized a NPLLT teacher training course since 1996

40 220 300 755 1490 1281 4086

Which are the results of this teacher training? What has changed? The third table shows a list of criteria which today are used as everyday teaching instruments, but which the trainers were not even aware of just a few years ago. 

Table 3

The trainers understand that different target groups and different language learning needs exist; e.g.

  • Different ages need different content and approaches;

  • Students have different gifts and skills for learning languages;

  • Special content and approach is needed for mentally handicapped students;

  • Students want interesting and exciting classes which can compete with the media;

  • Adults have very different needs compared to children;

  • The needs of individual adults are very different;

  • The previous experience of adult may be very different but important in the language learning process;

  • Even adults can learn a language;

  • An adult is not a fool because he/she does not know Latvian;

  • Also adults need a progressive language learning approach;

  • Adults are also making mistakes when they learn a language;

The fact is that the LSL and other trained teacher groups have become more self-confident, open and smiling, creative and keen to learn new methods. That such teachers are much better pedagogues hardly needs to be explained. The beneficiaries of the NPLLT teacher training are meanwhile not only the teachers themselves but all primary school children from grade 1 to 9 and a large number of adults.

What has happened to the teaching materials? The fact is that the multiplicator effect is even more far reaching. The trainers and trainees are also involved in the development and implementation of new materials. Here, too, the philosophy of the Programme has been to address different target groups and to find out their needs. The LLPU was the first organisation in Latvia to present teaching material packages (textbook, work book, audio materials and teacher guide). Now this method is seen and used everyday, other publishing houses have decided to follow suite.

Table 4

A. LSL within the school system:

  • LLPU has developed and published teaching material packages for grade 1 to 9:

    — text book;
    — exercise book;
    — audio materials
    — teachers guide;

  • work books on communicative grammar for grades 1 to 9;

B. visual teaching aids for bilingual education programmes:

  • poster pads (20 pads for each subject) are developed for the subjects biology, geography, history for grades 5 and 6;

  • overhead transparencies (100 transparencies for each subject) are developed for the subjects biology, geography, history for grades 7 and 8;

C. teaching materials for specific adult groups.

  • LSL teaching materials targeted to the following professions:

  • New recruits;

  • Ministry of Interior employees (police, border guards, prison and court personel);

  • Firemen;

  • Minority school subject teachers;

  • Kindergarten teachers;

  • Latvian railway employees;

  • Medical staff (doctors and nurses);

D. Latvian for everyone:

  • Language learning film (a soap opera broadcast on TV and video);

  • Text books and exercise books;

  • Audio materials (available on radio and casettes);

  • CD and Internet programmes;

E. Methodological aids for teachers;

  • Methodology handbooks;

  • handbooks on video use;

  • handbooks on audio use;

  • handbooks on how to use press reports, museums etc. in language acquisition;

Also the teaching materials show that the LLPU philosophy is to direct attention and to motivate the individual and not the masses. According to the decision of the NPLLT Steering committee, the funding available for LSL courses is divided as follows. 70% of the money is earmarked for teachers who need to teach their subjects in Latvian and 30% for professions where a certain language level is necessary to hold down the job. A certain amount of every funding is also used for language courses for handicapped persons and young unemployed.


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