Aiming young for foreign tongues

21st April 2008 at 01:00

LE CLUB, Age group: 9-12. Radio 3FM, programmes 1,3,5,7, beginning April 24, Mondays, 9.00-9.15am. Repeated Fridays, 11.15-11.30am. Programmes 2,4,6, 8, beginning April 25, Tuesdays, 10.25-10.40am. Repeated Fridays 11.15-11. 30am. Teacher's book including photocopiable worksheet pages, Pounds 2.75. BBC Education, BBC White City, 201 Wood Lane, London W12 7TS.

Recent figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, reveal an appalling British attitude towards language learning, but this news will not surprise language teachers, for whom anti-French and German attitudes are part of daily teaching life.

In France and Sweden, 87 per cent of those polled regarded the learning of foreign languages as "very important", compared to only 56 per cent in Britain.

As part of the "catch them when they're young" approach to this apparently worsening malaise, BBC school radio's new series of Le Club provides a range of audio materials which are designed to raise levels of enthusiasm among primary school beginner language learners.

The immediate bonuses of Le Club are twofold. First, the programmes are broadcast and repeated at convenient times for either listening or recording; and second, for a hard-pressed budget they are very cost efficient. With each programme providing two worksheet photocopy masters, Le Club, at its most basic, could provide a budget beginners' course with integrated listening, reading and writing exercises.

The eight programmes in this new series invite pupils to become part of the club and to learn to say something about themselves in French.

Jingle-style music and songs, such as number songs, play an all-important part in providing an acceptable, if somewhat irritating, medium for the repetition and constant pronunciation practice necessary at this early stage of language acquisition.

The language-teaching characters, Robot and his robotic family, may well become popular classroom figures, although it is hard to know how their tinny automaton voices serve to enhance basic French accent and pronunciation. The young French people in Le Club make up for this however.

The range of language in each programme is fairly limited, but as the series develops, programmes begin to put together more than just two or three word phrases, reinforcing the lessons with a constant repetition and singing of the newly introduced words and phrases.

As the language is accessible and, for the most part, readily understandable, is it not time that this basic French was taught to an even younger age range?

Younger children (five to eight-year-olds) would surely relate well to the racy musical format of the programmes, and the acquisition of language would naturally ensue.

The apparent simplicity of Le Club might appeal to teachers and pupils alike, offering a less sophisticated, daunting and therefore more accessible alternative to the more glossy audio-visual language courses. A weekly or even daily slot with Robot and Co could be a real winner.

If the acquisition of a foreign language were to be established as a primary learning task, as important as spelling and multiplication tables, then a series such as Le Club could be used to provide early successes in French on a parallel with comparable achievements in English.

Only when a basic mastery of another language is achieved among a considerable number of five and six-year-olds in Britain will the much sought after change in national attitudes towards language learning begin to emerge in our schools.

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