This is an exciting time for language learning in primary schools. Teachers now have a wealth of supportive documentation to draw on with the National Languages Strategy, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority schemes of work for key stage 2, and, of course, the KS2 Framework.
Since 2001, there has been a steady increase in primary PGCE courses with a language element. Specialist language colleges continue to offer support and advice. In addition, schools are now more aware of a wide range of resources to support the entitlement. These include excellent online activities, the European Languages Portfolio, and whiteboards, used increasingly by colleagues to enrich their teaching.
CILT, the National Centre for Languages, together with the Comenius Network and Nacell (National Advisory Centre on Early Language Learning) provide training and enable colleagues to exchange information and ideas. We are now seeing more primary schools are offering languages and discovering how much children enjoy the challenge, and how this enriches their education.
Many are well ahead of the target of a language offered to all primary children by 2010.
There is a new confidence among those teaching languages to young learners, manifested in attendance at courses, regional support groups and courses abroad. There are some outstanding and imaginative ideas being used to teach languages. Increasingly, primary schools are linking with partner institutions abroad, placing learning in a meaningful context, enabling children to use language for authentic purposes and to broaden their cultural horizons.
A little can go a long way
Simple but effective language can be used and embedded in many everyday activities. These could include:
* simple instructions from the teacher;
* asking permission;
* praise and encouragement;
* the register and fruit distribution;
* prayers in faith schools.
Music and song are motivating for children and help them memorise language.
* Traditional songs are often familiar and can be adapted to teach words or phrases.
* When music and singing are combined with movement (as is often the case in primary), it helps children recall language, and it's fun.
* There is a wide range of music for teachers not quite confident about their singing.
These needn't break the bank. Primary schools have a wealth of materials that can be easily adapted for language teaching. These include:
* number fans;
* small whiteboards;
* plastic toys;
* paintings for games on the school playground;
* stories with Big Books. These can easily be adapted with words in the chosen language placed on the page;
* flashcards and other visuals. These can be created with laminators, digital cameras and computers, and sometimes the children will draw them for you.
Children love games as part of their language lessons, especially if there is a competitive element. The following games can be used at a basic level or adapted to challenge.
* Guess the card. Having taught some words or phrases, you conceal a flashcard and the children have to guess what it is using by asking questions in the target language. The teacher can then extend this to have nine known, but concealed words or phrases in a noughts-and-crosses shape on the board and, in teams, children try to get three in a row.
* Number games. These can vary from bingo to games that include addition, subtraction and division. Children can even enjoy their numbers while doing a Mexican wave.
* Snap, played as a class or in groups, then less teacher-directed.
* Pelmanism, finding pairs.
* Kim's game.
* Pass the parcel. When the music stops you have to say what will come out of the bag.
* Simon says - always fun and excellent for teaching verbs and body parts.
* Fruit salad. Each child is given a word, for example, denoting a colour, animal or a number. When two are called out, those children change places.
When the teacher says "fruit salad" in the chosen language, all children change then reform in a circle.
* "Show me...", "Bring me...".
* Hide and seek with objects.
A helping hand
Finally, remember you are not alone. There are many people and organisations that can give support and advice.
* CILT, the National Centre for Languages, offers courses at home and abroad, books such as the Young Pathfinder series, and the Early Language Learning DVD.
* Nacell offers practical advice and support.
* Copies of the framework and other helpful documentation can be found at www.teachernet.gov.ukpublications
* The cultural agencies of various nations that provide materials, advice and training.
* The KS2 QCA schemes of work for French, German and Spanish.
* Language colleges.
* Other schools in the area - some may have started and be able to offer their help.
* The local authority and their advisors, and agencies such as the British Council, which can advise about links abroad.
* Most schools have parents, governors and teachers on the staff who can contribute their subject knowledge or teaching experience.
* Nigel Pearson is primary school specialist for CILT, the National Centre for Languages. His seminar, Practical Ideas for Teaching Languages will be on Saturday May 6 at 1.30pm at the G-Mex Centre, Manchester