First concerns;Primary;Reviews;Modern languages;Books

8th October 1999 at 01:00
THE TEACHING OF MODERN FOREIGN LANGUAGES IN THE PRIMARY SCHOOL. Edited by Patricia Driscoll and David Frost. Routledge pound;14.99

This timely and readable book coincides with the deliberations of the Nuffield Languages Inquiry into future UK language capability, and the Department for Education and Employment's recently launched Good Practice Project in support of early language learning.

Addressed to policy-makers, as well as classroom practitioners, the book is wide in scope and draws on the expertise of a dozen writers. The chapters deal with policy-related issues at local, regional and national level, and offer practical suggestions arising from a decade of first-hand experience in Scotland, Kent and elsewhere.

The challenges and complexities surrounding the introduction of foreign language programmes for primary children are presented in an accessible style, but the book doesn't attempt to discuss the pros and cons of early language learning. It nails its colours firmly to the mast by stating at the outset that the arguments in favour of primary languages teaching are "unassailable".

From the opening section, Policy and Rationale, the reader gains an overview of the debate, an informed account of the current diversity of practice, with differing aims, models of provision and approaches to instruction. There follows an analysis of the nature of teacher expertise by means of a contrasting study of the relative strengths of specialist linguists and primary generalists. A critical appraisal of current provision in Scotland shows how changes in one part of an education system may unintentionally undermine developments elsewhere (in this case threats to secondary diversification from predominantly French initiatives at primary).

The middle section, Classroom Issues, moves on to guidance on classroom strategies for teaching the four skills within a holistic framework, making cross-curricular connections, monitoring progress, incorporating the target language, games and activities and selecting appropriate resources. A strong recommendation for the inclusion of a thoroughly planned intercultural dimension is then advanced, followed by a discussion of ways of implementing European school links.

The third section, Future Development, re-addresses the question of the level of professional expertise required to teach primary languages effectively from two contrasting viewpoints. On the one hand, it examines the need for a long-term strategic plan and the implications for initial teacher education. On the other, it asssumes the continuing absence of such a training strategy, and proposes teacher-led, community-focused curriculum development strategies to empower primary teachers as agents for change.

The final chapter places UK initiatives within a European context by summarising current research, and suggests fruitful avenues for future study.

This book makes a significant contribution to the growing literature on primary MFL teaching and learning and should be obligatory reading.

Although it proposes no definitive solutions, it is based on sound evidence rather than anecdote. The references at the end of each chapter, the appendices of useful addresses and explanations of abbreviations, will help readers new to the field.

Cynthia Martin

Cynthia Martin is a lecturer in modern foreign languages education at the University of Reading

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