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'I want to speak their language'

Ministers say it would be unrealistic to make foreign language teaching compulsory in primaries. Helen Ward reports

"I would love to go to Italy and speak Italian to the people there," said Stacey Craig, aged nine and already able to count up to dieci.

Stacey is one of the 110 children learning Italian at Lowther primary school in Barnes, London, under an initiative to introduce foreign languages to young children.

The scheme was the idea of the Italian Embassy, which is funding teacher, Adele Maggioni, and providing the curriculum.

Pat Henchie, headteacher, said: "It's brilliant to have an experienced teacher coming in and giving the children the opportunity to speak another language.

"You can't refuse a gift like that, an Italian teacher in the school, it's incredible."

Children, aged seven to 11, have been taught an hour of Italian a week since September.

"If we thought the children were missing out on anything else we would have to review it . But it's working very successfully.

"We have had to look at the balance of the curriculum, in terms of personal, social and health education for example. It's very good social education."

Italian is not the only foreign language offered at the school. French has also been taught for the past three years. Lessons are given on a less formal basis by a French assistant who is working with the local authority. There is also an Arabic after-school club .

Pupil Mehry Dehghanizai, 11, speaks Beluchi, English and Urdu, some Spanish and French and is learning Italian and Arabic.

She said: "When I grow up I may teach languages. If someone had a problem and couldn't speak your language but you could speak their language, you could help them."

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