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French by numbers works

"DEUX plus trois?" asks Vicky Carlin, an advisory teacher at Emmaus C of E and RC primary in Liverpool, writes Helen Ward.

Oliver's hand has shot up high. He is quivering with the answer.

"Cinq," he says. Classmates cheer and clap. Oliver is in Year 2.

Emmaus is one of Liverpool's centres of language excellence. All children start learning French in nursery. By Year 2 they can understand enough to get through a 30-minute maths lesson entirely in French. Headteacher Frank Maguire stresses French reinforces maths lessons, not replaces them.

In Year 3, Faye Whittaker, seven, and Dileep Jojo, eight, know their numbers backwards. "Being able to read in French would be very good, we haven't done that yet," said Dileep. "My dad always asks me what I'm doing in French. He knows a bit of French, so I tell him."

While the school's pupils may be completely unfazed to find their next lesson is in French, teachers say it can be nerve-racking.

Faye and Dileep's teacher, Kevin Thomas, became a bricklayer after leaving school at 16. He later went on to do a degree specialising in history. He said: "Having no French experience at all I was a bit wary, but the way it has been introduced gradually it seems easy enough."

Mrs Carlin and her colleague Chris Green take classes, but their role is primarily to train teachers.

Last year Mrs Carlin took three 30-minute sessions with each class while their teacher watched. A half-hour of French was introduced for teachers in the weekly staff meeting.

As teachers' confidence grows, they gradually take over the French classes. Mr Maguire said: "I canvassed staff and they were all enthusiastic, which was important. It doesn't affect maths, English and science, although we do not go into as much depth in the foundation subjects as others do. But it has been an absolute success story, the children love it. They are free of inhibitions in pronunciation and the parents are delighted."

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