"Creating Opportunities" was the theme of Language World, the annual conference of the Association for Language Learning, held during the summer at the University of Kent in Canterbury. The exhibition gave teachers the chance to catch up on the latest offerings from publishers, large and small. However, it was the exceptionally wide-ranging programme of talks that marked this year's conference out.
Some had a practical focus, such as how to teach grammar, develop listening skills or enable students to assess their own work. Others looked at creativity, eg writing poetry or making videos in the target language.
ICT featured prominently, including a fascinating contribution from Joe Dale of Nodehill Middle School on the Isle of Wight, who drew gasps of wonder from his audience when he illustrated how easy it is to design your own interactive materials - and all for free.
The first day was devoted to motivation, more important than ever before, now that teachers have to woo customers at key stage 4. The resulting slump in language study hogs the headlines, but the new regime has its advantages too, as teachers are no longer bound by the constraints of GCSE for all.
Henrietta Harnisch of the Black Country 14-19 Pathfinder Networks for Excellence, and Eva Lamb of King Edward VII School in Sheffield, demonstrated how two different models of vocational language learning have inspired demotivated learners.
Collaboration between schools and universities and teaching other subjects through the medium of a foreign language provided further examples of exciting new developments.
At the other end of the spectrum, primary language learning is coming on in leaps and bounds. Lid King, national director for languages at the DfES, highlighted important milestones, such as the Languages Ladder, the Asset Languages assessment scheme and the KS2 framework, and identified building capacity as the next target.
It is not the only challenge and the thorny issue of transition to KS3 generated considerable debate. Should we build on the language acquired at primary school and risk limiting provision to French alone? Or should we focus on transferable skills, which will stand pupils in good stead whatever language they study?
The platform tended to favour the latter, but not all delegates were convinced. Some also expressed concern about funding, which remains patchy and does not adequately cater for liaison between sectors.
Language World 2006 will return to its usual Easter slot when it opens at the University of Manchester on April 7-8. "Working Together" will be the theme, ranging from pupil collaboration on creative projects to links across departments, between schools and with wider partners, such as businesses, parents, artists, community language schools and schools abroad.
Conference rates this year were pound;320 for two or more days, pound;250 for group members of the Association for Language Learning, pound;195 for individual members (annual subscription pound;36 or pound;50 with concessions for PGCE students and newly qualified teachers).
Alison Thomas is a former head of languages who now teaches foreign languages part-time, as well as writing for TES Teacher magazine and co-ordinating the weekly Languages resource (page 6)
* Association for Language Learning www.all-languages.org.uk
* TES Teacher's next languages Subject Focus will appear on January 27, 2006