Language pluses

26th January 2001 at 00:00
Jack McConnell gave a preview this week (page five) of the European Year of Languages, which is to be officially launched in Sweden. He broke into French, command of which he is pledged to improve as an example to us all. Had he been Education Minister a year ago, he would not have had to admit to the need for self-improvement: it was Maths Year 2000, and Mr McConnell is a former maths teacher.

The TESS Curriculum Special last week reported that Maths Year had been a great success, with the momentum being maintained into this year, though putting any figures on that would be a real mathematical challenge. At least Mr McConnell has a coherent, long-term programme to evaluate - and fund. He has promised a response by March to the Mulgrew report on school teaching of languages.

Theconference that framed his speech on Monday appeared to agree that relevance is a key factor in language learning. English speakers have a problem not shared by, say, the Dutch and the Danes. While they are busy successfully mastering our idioms, we sit pat confidently assuming that when push comes to shove (one of those tricky idioms), everyone around the world will address us in English. That is not the case as exporters know.

A good introduction to languages in primary is better than forced study to the end of S4. That is the basis of the Mulgrew report whose cost in terms of training ought to figure in the post-McCrone programme for revamped initial teacher education and continuing professional development. For once, the means may be easier to find than the motivation.

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