To apply for the language assistant exchange programme is to take part in a scheme created more than 100 years ago between Germany, Great Britain and France. Now boasting 60 partner countries, every year the programme sends 6,500 young people abroad during the academic year to assist a language teacher and share their culture with students.
The oldest student mobility programme
Established at the beginning of the twentieth century, language assistant exchanges were made official in 1905 when the bilateral treaties were signed between the French Ministry of Public Instruction, Fine Arts and Worship and the English Board of Education on the one part, and the Prussian Ministry of Worship, Public Instruction and Medical Affairs on the other.
As it was progressively opened up to other English and German-speaking countries, the programme was introduced to Spain, Italy and Russia in the middle of the century. By 1953, 6 exchange languages were involved (German, English, Arabic, Spanish, Italian and Russian) compared to the 15 in existence today.
While during the 1990s the programme was more focused on young people intending to become a foreign language teacher, it has since expanded to include other profiles and is now open to all students searching for their first professional experience abroad.
The official creation of language assistant posts in France occurred against the backdrop of the secondary education reform of 1902, which abandoned the grammar-translation method in favour of the direct method in foreign language teaching. The need for foreign language students to have a greater exposure also lends its legitimacy to language assistants.
It is interesting to note that, from the middle of the twentieth century, the outline of language assistant duties were already accurately shaped, and these are still relevant today:
- The presence of the language assistant provides an active approach to foreign languages. Through the use of various mediums, it gives both the students and the teacher an authentic and attractive vision of the country of origin;
- As a support to the teacher, it encourages students to orally express themselves and urges them to show off their country by imparting their knowledge of its culture and civilisation;
- The language assistant also benefits from their stay abroad by immersing themselves in their host country's society. When they return home, they in turn become an ambassador;
- Their presence encourages students and teachers to travel; it contributes to opening up the mindset of the whole education community and, by extension, to an understanding between nations.
France's involvement in the programme's expansion
In France, language assistant exchanges were successively managed by different institutions: from 1905 to 1928, by the Office d’informations et d’études du Musée pédagogique (the educational museum's office of information and studies) then, from 1928 to 1980, by the Office national des universités et écoles françaises (national office for French universities and schools). From 1980, the ministry responsible for national education ensured its management for 18 years, before being transferred to the CIEP in 1998, as part of a public service delegation.
In the 2000s, the CIEP guided the programme's expansion, which was opened to a number of countries representing 15 linguistic areas split over 5 continents. A dedicated team works daily with the authorities and universities in France, and abroad with the ministries of education and French diplomatic representatives.
- Convention entre la France et la Prusse, 1905
- Convention entre la France et la Grande-Bretagne, 1905
- Emile Audra, Les assistants étrangers et l’enseignement des langues vivantes, 1953
- L’assistant étranger dans les établissements français d’enseignement, Instruction du 24 janvier 1953
- William Lopez Palacios, L’évolution des conditions d’accueil et d’insertion des assistants de langues vivantes étrangères en France : L’application de la démarche qualité dans l’académie d’Aix-Marseille, mémoire professionnel de master 2, 2012
- Sébastien Rival, L’échange des assistants de langue vivante entre la France et l’Allemagne avant la Seconde Guerre mondiale : les « directeurs de conversations et la « langue de l’ennemi », Thèse de doctorat, Université de Lorraine, 2012