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Primary push by linguist lobby

Pilots prove early start in languages boosts pupil interest, says national body. Karen Thornton reports

Linguists will be lobbying for a national roll-out of French and German lessons for primary pupils in Wales at a conference attended by education and lifelong learning minister Jane Davidson tomorrow.

CILT Cymru, the national organisation set up to promote modern foreign languages, says evaluations of a pilot programme - now in its second year and including 2,500 pupils - are overwhelmingly positive.

But Wales could be left behind England, where Education Secretary Ruth Kelly last month pledged pound;115 million to train new and existing primary teachers in languages, support specialist language schools, and fund exchange programmes.

Take-up of French, German and Spanish at GCSE and A-level continues to decline in both countries. The CILT Cymru pilot aims to develop enthusiasm for languages at an earlier age, by offering French andor German to Year 5 and 6 primary pupils. Most are taught by local secondary school teachers, in cluster arrangements involving 105 Welsh and English-medium primaries across Wales.

Richard Parsons, CILT Cymru's key stage 2 project co-ordinator, said it was working with the Assembly government on the future of the project.

He added: "We are hoping for a roll-out into as many schools as possible, and not just an extension of the pilot. We are getting a lot of interest from schools wanting advice on how to get started, even though they are not in the pilot.

"The teacher evaluations are very positive. Boys and special-needs children seem to have more confidence than in the past, and are really getting into languages."

Gareth Davies, head of Frongoch junior school, says 99 per cent of last year's Y6 pupils voted French their favourite subject. He takes the lessons himself, freeing up non-contact time for teachers - but acknowledges the difficulties of finding room for another subject in an already over-crowded curriculum.

He feels all primary pupils should have the chance to learn a third language. "With funding, it's a fantastic opportunity," he said.

"Our high school says the boys in Y7 were much more willing to speak in French in class than previously, because they had already been doing it in primary."

Ms Davidson wants to make language learning something that people of all ages want to do. At tomorrow's first all-Wales conference for modern foreign language teachers in Swansea, she is expected to acknowledge that the declining popularity of MFLs cannot be reversed overnight, but that Wales's bilingual culture provides a sound base for learning.

Delegates will also hear from language experts from inspection agency Estyn and the Welsh Joint Education Committee.

Some 21 primary teachers involved in the KS2 project returned last week from an exchange visit to Caerphilly's twin town of Lannion, in Brittany, organised by CILT Cymru. They stayed with local families, visited schools, and were sent out to local markets and shops.

Judith Badham, a Y6 teacher at 330-pupil Coed Eva junior school, Cwmbran, and a Welsh but not a French speaker, said seeing how French teachers taught English had been particularly valuable.

"The curriculum is already very full, but French is something the older children consider grown up because it's what they are going to do in the high school," she added.

Head Denise Embrey said the people of Lannion had been very welcoming.

"They must have been cheesed off by the end of it, though, with all these people coming into their shops and asking the price of croissants in pidgin French and not buying anything."

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