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Advantage of familiarity

Specialist staff aren't necessarily best for primary languages, reports Sarah Cassidy.

CHILDREN leave primary school with more positive attitudes about foreign languages if they are taught by their class teacher rather than a visiting specialist, new research suggests.

Language lessons should not be simply bolted on to the existing curriculum and they should make pupils aware of cultural differences.

These findings have emerged from a study of primary language teaching in more than 20 schools in two local education authorities.

One had timetabled French lessons taught by peripatetic specialists while the other asked class teachers to integrate French into their daily curriculum.

The first scheme covered more topics, vocabulary and grammar, but as the visiting specialists knew little about their pupils' general attainment and background, it was difficult for them to develop relationships with the children.

However, Patricia Driscoll of Canterbury Christ hurch University College, Kent, also found that the specialist teachers were able to draw on their knowledge of France and present cultural aspects in the form of stories and personal anecdotes.

The language taught in the generalists' classrooms made only superficial use of grammar structures. They did not teach French culture in the language lessons although it was sometimes highlighted elsewhere in the curriculum.

But generalist teachers had a distinct advantage because of the good relationships they had with their students. They consequently experienced less disruptive behaviour than the specialist teachers.

"Given the reality of the available teacher expertise, it would seem to be a major folly to narrowly pursue the aims of linguistic performance," Patricia Driscoll concludes.

"Rather, there is a need to...cultivate the broader educational dimensions of MFL such as language and cultural awareness, and a sense of citizenship," the researcher says.

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