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Language teachers must be 'thorn in side of British insularity', says private school head

Language teachers should be a “thorn in the side of British insularity” and must go beyond teaching “functional” phrasebook expressions, according to the head of a leading private girls’ school.

The best teachers help students to “immerse themselves in other cultures” and overcome the belief that languages are harder to achieve top grades in, Bernice McCabe, headmistress of the elite North London Collegiate School, will suggest later this morning.

She will make the comments at a two-day teacher training course on modern foreign languages being held by the Prince’s Teaching Institute (PTI) in Oxford this weekend.

Ms McCabe, a co-director of the PTI, will say that language lessons should give children an “outward-looking perspective” on the world.

"The best language teachers do not follow pre-digested workbooks aiming at functional phrasebook competence,” she is expected to say. “They help our students to understand the richness of human communication, develop the desire for self-expression and immerse themselves in other cultures.

"In fact, the best language teachers are a thorn in the side of British insularity and reticence."

Ms McCabe believes that the focus on results in schools has had a "discouraging effect" on pupils, putting them off languages.

Exams regulator Ofqual has examined the problem, and the way that language exams are set and marked is expected to change before next summer, she will add.

Ms McCabe will also tell delegates that the PTI course will look for ways to give language teaching "new life".

"The best way, as I see it, is to concentrate on improving the quality of teaching and to look for practical and effective means of reinforcing and enriching what goes on in the classroom," she will say.

"Ideally this involves travelling abroad and exposing your pupils to the need to communicate in a language other than their own.

"If this is not possible, there may be other activities that can bring the study of languages to life and make them seem more attractive to your pupils."

Related stories: 

GCSE results: Spanish to become 'dominant' language in schools21 August 2014

Modern languages need 'national recovery programme', say MPs14 July 2014

Quarter of primaries have no modern language expertise – 25 March 2014

Modern languages 'going the same way as Latin and Greek' – 25 March 2014

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