Japanese? Now you're talking!

22nd June 2007 at 01:00
Primaries will soon have to teach languages. Helen Ward reports on a scheme for pupils to speak in different tongues.

Lessons in Japanese have proved a hit with primary schools, but Latin was less popular as the pupils learned to master the techniques of speaking different languages.

The Government has said it will make languages compulsory in primaries, possibly as early as 2010. They should be taught to the same level as all other subjects. This means that by 11, children are expected to have generally accurate pronunciation, be able to hold conversations of three or four exchanges and write three or four sentences without a dictionary.

But how will it be done? Just under a third of primary schools do not offer languages and they blame a lack of trained staff.

The Discovering Languages project has been running at seven primary schools in Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire and Northamptonshire. None previously had timetabled language lessons. Each year learns a different language or languages - from French, German, Latin, Japanese and Spanish - by playing games, acting, making PowerPoint slides or singing songs.

Japanese was the favourite language of 26 per cent of the 336 pupils surveyed, said researchers at Manchester University evaluating the project.

Pupils were enthusiastic about the lessons too. And 60 per cent of the 148 parents questioned thought it better to teach a range of languages rather than just one in primary schools. But while the researchers' initial report says the programme is a "highly practical solution for primary schools who have no members of staff sufficiently qualified to teach a language", it says the approach may be scuppered if the Government insists on in-depth learning.

At Burrowmoor primary in March, Cambridgeshire, pupils learned French in Year 2, Italian and Latin in Year 3, German in Year 4, Japanese in Year 5 and Spanish in Year 6. "It is a brilliant programme," said Mrs Anna Traer-Goffe, the head. "We didn't need specialist teachers and children are developing awareness and understanding of languages.

"Teachers can read, research and learn alongside the pupils, using technology to support their teaching. The children are keen, interested and motivated.

"The fear I have is that if children learn a language early on, when some are still struggling with English, you run a real risk of them feeling like failures and being turned off languages aged 8. Secondary colleagues want children who are keen, confident and willing to have a go, rather than children with correct spelling."

Peter Downes, the former president of the Association of School and College Leaders and of the Association for Language Learning, is the project director.

He said: "Secondaries are taking pupils from up to 30 primaries. If you get children who have done varied programmes in different languages with varying degrees of success, it is going to be chaos.

"Secondaries will simply start again and there is nothing worse than that, as children who have done the language already will be bored and others will feel disadvantaged. This programme teaches children how to learn another language. It prepares them."


What pupils should be able to do: Oracy Listen to and understand the main points and some detail from a short spoken passage.

Give a presentation in a clear, audible voice.

Converse briefly without prompts.

Enjoy listening and speaking confidently.Literacy Read aloud with confidence, enjoyment and expression, in chorus or individually.

Understand the main points and some detail from a short, written passage.

Write several sentences from memory.

Develop a short text using a model.Intercultural understanding Demonstrate understanding of and respect for cultural diversity.

Present information about an aspect of another country.Language strategies Pupils must learn that languages use different writing systems, have formal and informal ways of talking, borrow words from other languages and describe ideas differently.

Pupils must also be taught language learning strategies; for example, memorising by associating words with actions

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