ABERDEEN will blaze the trail for a radical extension of modern language teaching in primary schools.
The city has agreed to pilot teaching in two primary schools through French and German, beginning with primary one and perhaps even nursery pupils. It will use the success of Gaelic-medium schools as the model. Two more education authorities are being sought to take part from August 1999.
Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, told The TES Scotland: "I am very enthusiastic about piloting the immersion approach in languages other than Gaelic. My personal view is that this is the only certain way of ensuring we move towards widespread multilingual competence."
John Stodter, Aberdeen's director of education, said the council told Mr Wilson they would be prepared to pilot the initiative if Scottish Office funding was forthcoming. The modern languages primary programme, on which pound;16 million has been spent so far, is a likely source of finance.
David Eastwood, Aberdeen's head of services to schools, said the Gaelic-medium approach, including the city's Gilcomstoun Primary, had shown that pupils benefited without detriment to their English.
He said the primary modern languages project had notched up some successes. But staff turnover and transition into secondary had caused problems. Pupils in other European countries also started much earlier than the primary six stage common in Scotland.
Intellectual support for the move came from Ian Smith, an education consultant who told a conference this week that studies of the brain have shown that an early start to language learning is vital.
"After the age of four you lose the ability to speak other languages, and after eight it drops dramatically," Mr Smith said.