Curriculum chiefs act to allay languages 'anxiety'

22nd October 1999 at 01:00
NEW guidelines on teaching French, German, Spanish and Italian to young pupils - part of the response to the Government's concern about language standards - attempt to bolt language learning more firmly to the rest of the 5-14 curriculum.

For primary children the transition should be "from language to languages". Draft guidelines from the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum state: "Effective language strategies developed in first or second language should be used and further developed in the learning and studying of a foreign language."

A review and development group chaired by Dan Sweeney, head of quality development in North Lanarkshire, produced the guidelines in collaboration with the Government-appointed Action Group on Languages, whose chairman, John Mulgrew, spoke of the group's "anxiety to ensure there are updated arrangements for 5-14 in Scotland that meet the needs of all pupils".

Mr Sweeney told The TES Scotland that the training of teachers and their language competence were keys to raising standards. "If we are serious in taking this forward, we must also give thought to appropriate teaching and learning materials."

The guidelines adopt the six levels of the 5-14 programme, but point out that because most pupils begin a modern language in primary 6 the programmes of study have been designed principally around level C attainment targets. In fact, they should incorporate activities for pupils still operating at levels A and B. That will also provide learning strands and targets for schools where a language is started earlier.

Reflecting the Government's emphasis on the practical importance of languages, the guidelines seek a "sound balance between languages as communication and languages as an intellectual discipline". They should reflect "the new Europe in which Scotland will play a strong role and in which a modern languages capability is increasingly important".

The draft guidelines, on which the curriculum council wants comments by December 17, do not discuss how languages should be delivered in primary, but the highly detailed content and ambitious aims for listening, speaking, reading and writing are bound to raise again questions about non-specialist teachers.

These were articulated recently by Sandy Wilson, a languages expert who heads lifelong learning in Clackmannanshire. Pointing out that primary languages were centrally imposed and not teacher led, Mr Wilson warned that teachers trained for 27 days lacked confidence in their abilities, especially with reading and writing, since the training programme concentrated overwhelmingly on listening and speaking.


The guidelines on speaking a language say that pupils at level C should be able to convey simple information, ask and answer questions and talk about experiences, feeling and opinions.

The section "Knowing about language" states:

* On the basis of listening, reading and writing, know that language is about communicating things of real importance to real people for a genuine purpose.

* Recognise a range of questions in familiar contexts and respond readily, for example: Comment tu t'appelles? Je m'appelle.

Como te llamas? Me llamo.

C'est quel jour? C'est lundi.

Que es la fecha hoy? Es domingo. Quel temps fait-il?

Que tiempo hace?

* Be aware that intonation is important when differentiating between questions and statements.

Know there are different genders

Use a widening range of verbal. phrases, for example: voiciil y aeccoc'e.

* Know it is appropriate to engage eye contact and acknowledge non-verbally and verbally what others say.

* Know it is appropriate to take turns in conversations.

* Begin to see pattern and structure, for example: tu - du; questions answered by je - ich.

* Know the difference between tu - du and vous - Sie and when it is appropriate to use either.

* Know that in Italian questions to someone you know will end in -i and answers end in -o.

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