Ca va tres bien;Modern languages

8th October 1999 at 01:00
Eleanor Caldwell on how languages are being introduced in Scottish primaries.

The small town of Stenhousemuir near Falkirk in central Scotland may not be one of the country's international centres, but parents are getting used to hearing their 10 and ll-year-olds practising French or German at tea-time and asking for help with their homework. This is thanks to Stenhousemuir primary, an excellent example of the growing success of the Modern Languages in the Primary School (MLPS) initiative, which was introduced in Scotland in 1993.

Under the MLPS teacher training scheme, one teacher per school elects to attend a 27-day course which combines development of linguistic competence with training in teaching methodology. The scheme's original aim was to train one teacher for every two classes u 2,755 teachers nationally. It has far surpassed this with a total of 4,500 having completed MLPS training and currently teaching French (77 per cent), German (29 per cent), Spanish (3 per cent) and Italian (1 per cent) to P6 and P7 (11 and 12-year-olds) in 95 per cent of the country's primary schools.

The language qualifications of primary teachers starting MLPS range from relative beginner to graduate. Many have Highers and are pleased to have the opportunity to turn reading and writing skills into confident speaking and listening.

Stenhousemuir has four trained teachers offering French and German to pupils in P6.

There is a language graduate in each of the two teams. Primary 4 class teacher Fiona Macdonald, a French graduate does a class swap once a week, dropping in on Primary 7 and switching into French for an hour.

In the first lesson after the hol From tne start, me lesson 15 lull of spontaneity and humour.

Fiona Macdonald lobs quick-fire questions at eager pupils.

The anticipated polite response to "ca va?" is quoshed by one boy who responds gloomily "tres mali".

Next comes the French alphabet. Hands shoot up to volunteer miming a letter in front of the class. All sorts of body contortions form Ks, Ys and Qs, and not one letter is guessed or pronounced wrongly.

The language of primary teaching merges with French farmyard noises as pupils count round the class. In the following quick-fire descriptions of members of the class, Fiona Macdonald's description of one boy has hands flying up in response. Finding he has guessed wrongly, the chosen pupil looks disappointed.

But the penny drops when further description - "il porte un T-shirt noir" - leads him to grab his own T-shirt and exclaim "C'est moi!"

While singing can be the kiss of death with recalcitrant 15-year-olds, it's eagerly awaited in the primary classroom. Following the written text, the P7 pupils use reading and listening skills and sing out heartily.

In the German class the action is just as lively. Revising numbers learned last year, children show a great determination to succeed with the trickier higher numbers. P5 teacher and German graduate Jackie Brown even elicits the correct pronunciation and spelling of "dreissig".

Both teachers stress the value of their excellent liaison with the modern languages department of their local school Larbert High. Secondary colleagues come to the primary school at the start of projects on Europe to add an extra cultural and linguistic dimension. The European Christmas party is now an annual event.

Headteacher Evelyn Crosbie, a self-confessed non-linguist, is firmly committed to languages in the primary school. "I was nervous about speaking French and was always terrified of making mistakes," she says. "We must remember that learning another language enhances the development of our own language. We started teaching languages at Stenhousemuir before the MLPS programme got under way and it is a key part of our school development plan."

* Guidelines

As a result of the work of the Modern Languages Action Group and the Scottish Council on the Curriculum (SCCC), teachers in Scotland will shortly receive a consultation document with proposals for revised 5-14 modern languages. This aims to streamline the 1993 guidelines document, designed for secondary school, to the same format as 5-14 documents in other subjects.

The proposals include the introduction of reading and writing at the earliest stages of language learning and stress the importance of knowledge about language. During the three month consultation period teachers will also be asked about changes to the Standard Grade examination. Revised 11-14 modern languages guidelines are scheduled to be published early in 2000 with first implementation in August 2000.

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