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Everyone loves a challenge

Combining ICT with a chance to win a prize has tempted primary boys and girls into language learning around the country, says Carolyn O'Grady

About 30 children are sitting at their computers. "It's the hard game on colour", says Dave Parkinson, of EuroTalk, the man in charge. There are cheers. This is an easy one. The children work frantically at the game.

Next: "It's the hard game on time," he says. There are cries of dismay: clearly time is difficult. Tension mounts. At the front of the room the results are screened on a whiteboard, changing rapidly as participants jockey for position.

To see just how competitive language learning can be you have to attend one of the heats of the Junior Language Challenge. This is the London and South East region semi-finals and the language they are being tested on is Greek.

Four of these children will go on to the finals at the London Languages Show on 14 November with the possibility of winning a prize trip to Lapland.

A competition that combines ICT with language learning in primary schools, the Challenge has children learning the basics of three languages - Spanish, Greek and Saami (the language of Lapland) - using interactive CD-Roms with the look and feel of computer games. It is supported by CILT, the National Centre for Languages.

Competitors received a free pack of Talk Now! Learn Spanish from EuroTalk, a publisher of language learning software. They then had to fill out an award sheet and those with the highest scores were given a Learn Greek pack and a place in the semi-finals.

The Challenge has proved particularly successful with boys, who tend to do less well in languages (only 4.9 per cent of boys achieved A* in French GCSE this year compared with 8.1 per cent of girls). Some 52 per cent of those scoring more than 1,000 in round one were boys against 48 per cent of girls. However, Katy Peart, winner of the London and South East final also "loved doing languages on the computer. I find it a lot easier than reading a phrase book".

Paula Ashton, who teaches at Meare Village Primary School, Glastonbury, Somerset, first encouraged her class to do the Challenge at lunchtime.

Eight took part. Such was their enthusiasm that they did it after school too.

Beverly Hulme of St Francis C of E School, Falmouth, Cornwall, also did the competition as a lunchtime activity, having selected a group of Year 4 very able children: 14 pupils had got through to the semi-final.

The school also organised a "nurture group" in the lunchtime for pupils who found playground life difficult. They had become aware of the Challenge group, "and they wanted to do it too. So several are now doing it one day a week. It's a great way of challenging the higher achievers and engaging the others".

EuroTalk Junior Language tel: 020 7379

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