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Speaking in tongues

Ravensdale is one of Coventry's 86 primaries that have made room for languages in the curriculum, and the children love it. Helen Ward reports

"I know some French and one word in Spanish," says Katie Butler, eight, of Ravensdale Primary, Coventry. "Hola. I would like to learn more.

It's fun doing Spanish. More fun than maths."

Coventry was one of 19 authorities given a share of pound;4.6 million over two years by the Government to trial different ways of introducing languages into primary schools. Some authorities, such as Liverpool, already had extensive primary language programmes. Others, such as Coventry, did not.

Before 2003, just six of the city's 86 primaries taught languages during the school day. Now 50 do so. Nick Jones, the authority's adviser for languages and humanities, says: "We tried to develop an approach which worked in a multilingual context and which classroom teachers without language skills but with literacy skills could handle."

The result is a programme in which pupils become "language investigators"

in order to reveal the structures behind different languages.

"What distinguishes a gifted and talented language learner is their love of variety, their love of patterns," says Nick Jones. "Our approach is about trying to turn children into gifted and talented linguists from the outset."

Kathryn Bishop, the school's language co-ordinator, has led Ravensdale's rapid embrace of language teaching. The school trialled different approaches in key stage 2 last year, and has now expanded teaching to all years including the nursery. The pupils learn basic French and Spanish in KS1 in two 15-minute sessions a week. They use the authority's multilingual approach in Years 3 and 4 but switch to the QCA scheme of work in French for Years 5 and 6.

Kathryn, who has French A-level and is currently doing evening classes in Spanish, says: "I started testing a few things out, like how to say hello, and the children really enjoyed it."

Sarah Malam, headteacher of the 470-pupil school, says: "Primary education is about giving children a love of learning. That is at the heart of it. We came through an Ofsted with no huge issues, but one outcome was to look at our curriculum timings. So we revamped the curriculum checking our cross-curricular links and that freed up some time for languages."

About 15 per cent of the school's pupils already speak another language.

Jasryan Rai, 10, who learns Punjabi at his gurdwara, says: "I think French is easier to learn than Punjabi. But Punjabi is quite fun because we write it as well."

The two-year pathfinder project ended in March 2005, and the evaluation by the Office for Standards in Education found teaching was good or better in seven out of 10 schools visited and pupils did well and enjoyed languages.

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