Letters extra: Linguistic skills and cultural understanding

I have read with interest the articles triggered by Estelle Morris' proposal to return to the days of modern foreign languages as an option at key stage 4.

While I believe the current lack of linguists will only be reinforced by this measure, cynics would argue that it is the shortage of language teachers which to some extent motivates the change. I shall not comment on this interpretation of the Green Paper. I would rather dwell on the effects of such a measure from a cultural awareness perspective.

Up to the end of key stage 3 teachers of MFL can only concentrate on the language itself because for most pupils being able to master the grammar remains the priority.nbsp; Even if we try to convey as much as we can about the culture associated with the language it remains fairly basic.nbsp; It is not only limited by the pupils restricted linguistic skills but also in general by their ego-centred view of the world.nbsp; Year 10 however is always a time of transition.

As we move through key stage 4 students acquire more confidence in exercising their linguistic skills and develop the maturity to go beyond the exercises and games used in key stage 3.nbsp; They can also cope with selected texts on more delicate topics such as child labour, the environment, homelessness, gender issues, religious oppression.

Of course, these issues are covered in other areas of the curriculum but because the aim of a language lesson is perceived as quintessentially transmitting the language itself, pupils tend to open up to these issues in a more relaxed manner.nbsp; There is also increased scope to learn about the French-speaking countries rarely mentioned in other parts of the curriculum.

In a society trying to encourage its youngsters to find a social conscience, and acquire some knowledge on different cultures and customs I believe teaching languages to 14-16 year-old pupils provides an ideal opportunity.nbsp; By making the study of languages optional at the end of key stage 3 it will only make our task that much harder and for some pupils a pointless exercise.

There again maybe it does come down to economics and teacher numbers.nbsp; Maybe the cynics have a point after all.

Helene Compain-Holt
Head of Modern Foreign Languages
Tettenhall College

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