Languages expert puts the onus on English grammar

Teachers must help children grasp the basics of English before true success with Scotland's ambitious foreign language targets can be achieved, a major event on language teaching has heard.

The message came from one of Europe's leading figures in language learning, who underlined that all teachers must take responsibility for English.

His comments were timely, as Scotland presses ahead with the 1+2 policy - the idea that young Scots should routinely learn two languages in addition to English, and at least one from P1.

Waldemar Martyniuk, executive director at the European Centre for Modern Languages of the Council of Europe, responded after a University of St Andrews student explained that she struggled with aspects of Spanish because her schooldays had given her "very little understanding of English grammar".

Claire Rampen, representing the National Union of Students Scotland at the event, organised by the Scottish Parliament's European and external relations committee, was applauded when she asked: "Is there a place for a real understanding of English grammar and language in the primary school curriculum?"

Mr Martyniuk said: "This is an important point ... building up the linguistic repertoire or linguistic power starts with the first language, not with the foreign languages that get added to the repertoire."

He stressed that a subject specialist was "a language teacher as much as they are a teacher of history, geography or physics", adding: "A teacher cannot think that it is not their problem. That will not work."

Alasdair Allan, minister for learning, science and Scotland's languages, insisted that Scotland had already improved: "Children, particularly those in primary school, are much more able to say what they have learned and why they have learned it and, as far as I can see, more grammar is probably being taught now than was being taught 10 or 15 years ago."

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