Bid to halt language teaching isolation

29th July 2005 at 01:00
A three-pronged boost to modern language teaching could lead to a trilingual Wales. Nicola Porter reports

English, Welsh and French teachers are to work together in a scheme aimed at laying the foundations for a trilingual Wales.

It is hoped the project, involving 16 schools or school clusters from across the country, will also end the tradition of secondary language departments working in isolation.

The triple literacy action research project, run by CILT Cymru, the Assembly government-funded national languages centre, is due to start in September.

It is based on the theory that understanding grammatical similarities between different languages can aid learning. For example, a Welsh teacher could explain to pupils how adjectives in French generally come after the noun - as in Welsh. Everyday teaching duties, such as reading the register, could also be undertaken in different languages.

In addition to bringing secondary language departments together, the scheme - aimed at five to 14-year-olds - should ensure a smooth transition from primary to secondary for young language learners.

CILT Cymru's Richard Parsons, who is co-ordinating the project, said he could foresee a time when children leaving Welsh schools would be competent in three or even four languages. But ground-breaking moves to make Welsh schools "truly bilingual" must be achieved first.

He added: "The immersion techniques already being used to teach Welsh to pupils from English homes in Welsh-medium schools are nothing short of miraculous.

"This proves that Welsh children are as capable as their European counterparts at picking up a third, or even fourth, language."

Many Welsh-medium schools have already started to combine language skills as part of their modern foreign language syllabus.

A booklet showing grammatical similarities and differences in English, Welsh and French has been devised by Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni in Blackwood, Gwent. Ceri Griffiths, the school's head of modern foreign languages, said early results of moves to extend co-operation between language departments were positive.

She said: "It is too early to tell if work done to combine languages through the use of the booklet will have an effect on GCSE results, but there is a general feeling that standards are improving."

The Assembly government's strategy for modern foreign languages says that Welsh youngsters who start learning a foreign language at 11 should get off to a flying start because many are bilingual, or have been learning Welsh since the age of five. This foundation of language learning should make them more receptive to a third or fourth language.

But modern foreign languages in Wales continue to decline in popularity, with the number of GCSE entries falling. Just over a third of Welsh 15-year-olds took at least one such GCSE in 2003, compared to 46 per cent in 1996. And a CILT Cymru paper says secondary Welsh, English and modern foreign language teachers have too often worked in isolation - and thus have failed to capitalise on good work going on in all three subject areas in developing pupils' literacy skills, as well as earlier work at primary level.

It wants to break down barriers between primary and secondary and teachers of different languages, with the aim of putting languages on an "equal footing with science and technology".

Schools taking part in the trilingual project will receive support and guidance from project officers and free resources. In return, they must produce evidence of inter-departmental work and increased achievement of boys.

An interim evaluation of another CILT Cymru-run project introducing modern foreign languages to primary pupils found that there was almost universal support from parents and children (TES Cymru, July 22).

welsh voice, 14

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