Up the ladder for success in languages

3rd June 2005 at 01:00
Ask any 11-year-old boy about his ideal way to spend lunchtime and he will probably talk about kicking a football around.

But not at Burnham Copse primary, where Year 6 boys regularly spend their breaks learning vocabulary and singing - in French.

The school has introduced two half-hour lunchtime sessions to encourage children to see language learning as interesting and fun.

Every Monday and Wednesday, 18 pupils of various ages attend the classes.

They learn the language by playing games, reciting rhymes and singing.

Teachers have already noticed an improvement in pupil behaviour and a rise in self-esteem among otherwise low-achieving pupils.

Helen Barden, headteacher of the junior school in Tadley, Hampshire, said:

"Some pupils have realised that they have an aptitude for languages they never knew was there.

"One boy in particular is soaking up words and constantly asking to be taught new ones. It is wonderful to see."

The school has just adopted the new languages ladder to encourage pupils even further.

The Government's scheme, launched last week, gives learners of all ages and abilities a chance to measure their achievements against a single grading system.

It fulfils one of the three objectives of the national languages strategy for England: to introduce a system of accreditation.

The ladder uses "can do" statements to measure learners' abilities in the four main skills - reading, writing, speaking and listening - at three stages: breakthrough, preliminary and intermediate. Within each stage there are small steps leading to grades and certificates which can be awarded by a classroom teacher.

Sian Thomas, a peripatetic French teacher who works with pupils at Burnham Copse, said: "We work through repetition. As the pupils recite rhymes, sing or play games, they are constantly repeating vocabulary.

"For children of this age it is an ideal way to learn because it is fun and interesting.

"The ladder measures things that children can do rather than test them on what they can't, so it is a very positive way of teaching.

"The look on the children's faces when they realise they are going to get a certificate is wonderful. They are so proud of themselves because they have achieved something they didn't know they were capable of."

The languages ladder was launched in the same week as a new survey found that there was strong demand for adult languages classes.

The study of council provision by CILT, the national centre for languages, found that adults in England were learning 36 languages in classes provided by local authorities.

Three-quarters of these are at beginners' or level 1 standard, with Spanish being the most popular language.

Isabella Moore, the centre's director, said: "There is a will among the English people to overturn the monolingual stereotype.

"There is no doubt that we are starting to become more open to the idea of being global citizens and needing to communicate in a range of languages other than English."

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