Joy division

16th November 2007 at 00:00

Dancing, dressing up and storytime with Monsieur Joyeux - these are all ways of launching a love of modern languages, says Nick Warren. On one day of the year, I don't say "Good Morning" to the children at assembly. I say "Bonjour," "Guten Morgen," "Kalimera," and "Hola!" instead. And then I invite parents from a variety of countries up on the platform to tell us how they would greet us in their mother tongue. This year, we had a Russian mum, an Arabic-speaking mum, a Polish mum and a Moldovan mum. The children, all dressed in national costumes or flag colours, repeat the greeting and say it to each other.

Then comes a bit of geography. I turn to the interactive whiteboard and point out where the people who speak that language come from. That's how assembly starts on the European Day of Languages at Parkroyal, a large primary school in Macclesfield, Cheshire. Then our 400 pupils and staff and guests listen with rapt attention as some of the children launch into a German song about Sleeping Beauty - Dornroschen war ein schones Kind.

European Day of Languages is our languages "starting gun" for the school year. Some schools think it comes too early in the term, but for us it provides an exciting event at a stage when new routines have just been established.

Modern languages are an important element of our curriculum at Parkroyal. Both me and my deputy, Adele Napper, are French graduates, and we teach French throughout the school.

In addition, staff have taken the Training and Development Agency's methodology course and are very willing and enthusiastic. Foundation stage and Years 1 and 2 regularly enjoy simple primary language learning (PLL) activities. Key Stage 2 has a more formal structure, with a weekly bespoke lesson from a specialist teacher, backed by linked activities involving class teachers and support staff. In Year 6, we go on a residential trip to France, which combines outdoor adventure with language learning and a taste of the local culture.

Preparation for the day starts in earnest at the beginning of the autumn term, but we have already started planning over the summer. We divide it into five sessions, the first being the whole school assembly. The other four are designed by staff, who can give free rein to their creativity.

There's a lot of singing, dancing, movement - and learning.

This year, we had stories read or told to children in Arabic, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Italian, Polish, Moldovan, Swedish and Tagalog, a Philippine language. One year group listened to a Mr Man story in French (Monsieur Joyeux) and made models out of plasticine. Those models have been stored and, later in the year, we are going to attempt some animated film-making in the style of Wallace and Gromit, using French dialogue.

We have a multi-coloured parachute, which earned its keep with many colour and number activities, in various languages, taking place beneath it as it rose and fell. Some groups used books, the web and DVD to explore the inside of a French school, noting differences and similarities. Two courageous colleagues undertook to teach some starter lessons in Greek, using the BBC website as a resource; the children enjoyed traditional Greek food, games and dance.

Mapwork and geography activities abound, as do PE and games - activities that easily lend themselves to other languages. We've decided to use some of the playground games in French every Friday in future.

In the afternoon, pupils sampled children's films in French and German. Foundation age children enjoyed a sample of Le Manege Enchante (The Magic Roundabout). Subtitles are excellent for older children: either the story spoken in French or German with subtitles in English or - as a change - the film in English with subtitles in the foreign language.

Catering staff play their part too, providing a special meal with an international flavour.

Everyone enjoys the day, but the children particularly love it. "I've never heard my children talk as enthusiastically about any other day," says Caroline McKendry, mother of Orlagh, five, and Calvin, seven. They especially loved watching Nigel Pearson, primary languages advisor at the National Centre for Languages, using hand-mime to demonstrate "Bonjour" and "Au revoir"


Other tips to make an international day go with a swing:

- find out about who speaks different languages in schoolyour community

- say the register in a different language

- hold a quiz - try capital cities, or car numbers, stickers and country recognition

- web cams - see what is happening in other countries

Nick Warren is head of Parkroyal Community Primary School in Macclesfield.


Ninety-four per cent of the world speaks a first language other than English. European Day of Languages, celebrated on September 26 throughout the UK and in 45 countries across Europe, offers schools a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the diversity of languages spoken, to explore the different cultures frequently represented in schools, and to promote language learning.

Increasingly, primary schools are also using the occasion to launch the learning of a new language.

Most events and activities are held on the day itself, but some schools extend the celebration over a whole week of language-related events. Others draw inspiration and ideas from EDL for use on international Mother Tongue Day, which falls on February 21. So why wait until next September to celebrate multi-lingualism?

Nigel Pearson is primary languages teaching advisor at CILT, the national centre for languages. To see Nigel's hand-mime, or just to find advice and resources on how to put a special languages day together, visit the EDL webpages on


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