Delivering languages;Letter

10th September 1999 at 01:00
IT IS encouraging to read (TESS September 3) that the importance of modern languages in our primary schools is being underlined by the authorities. We are only at the beginning of a debate which is long overdue and hopefully more worthwhile developments are not far away.

There are two key questions to be addressed: one, why do we need to teach languages in schools, especially primary schools, when English is already the lingua franca of the business world; and two, who is bestsuited to delivering a successful languages programme in a primary school?

The first question can be answered succinctly by emphasising the need to learn about and appreciate the culture and lifestyle of others. The study of a country's language is a powerful medium in that respect and must take precedence over any businesscommercial considerations.

However, I believe the second question is the more contentious. We can leave to one side the question of methodology for now, as the best resource, in fact the key resource, is the committed teacher who is properly qualified to teach the subject in question. This is true of any subject, of course, but language teaching necessitates a thorough grounding, so we are never "one page ahead of the class", as the popular saying affirms.

We must address the training offered to teachers, either pre-service or in-service based. Should we train qualified language teachers (secondary) to work in the primary sector or should primary teachers be given a proper academic grounding in a foreign language? If the choice is the latter, can a 27-day (hotel-based!) in-service be sufficient to prepare an already over-committed primary teacher for the vagaries of language teaching?

Lastly, why the emphasis on French and German. What's wrong with Italian and Spanish?

L Franchi

Queen's Way Alexandria

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