Languages - Boys lose early ground in learning another tongue

25th September 2009 at 01:00
A gender gap in modern languages is emerging according to research

A gender gap in modern languages is emerging, even before children go on to secondary, according to research by the teacher who developed modern languages for the primary school in the early 1990s.

But Daniel Tierney, once a national development officer for MLPS and now a reader in language education at Strathclyde University, said the strategy had been successful in a number of aspects.

MLPS teachers had reached a good level of linguistic competence and had a good understanding of their objective. But there were variations in their practice, his research showed.

Questionnaires complete by 974 people and interviews with 48 teachers revealed variations in how much time was spent on language teaching. Some spent 10 minutes per week on it, others 90 minutes. Some were not teaching pupils to write in another language; some were not teaching dictionary skills.

There was also a variation in "error tolerance". Some wanted to correct children very quickly, saying they did not want them to pick up bad habits in their language learning. "But errors are part of the learning process and may be part of pupils' lack of confidence," said Dr Tierney.

His research showed that pupils were particularly anxious about having to read out loud in another language.

"We need to reassure them more - it looks as if we are putting them on the spot too much. Let's stop asking them individually to repeat things," he told the MLPS conference.

At the P6 stage, 66 per cent of boys compared to 81.7 per cent of girls quite liked or liked learning a language; 26 per cent of girls rated it their favourite subject compared to 14 per of boys.

By P7, only 56.7 per cent of boys quite liked or liked learning a language compared to 66.2 per cent of girls; 10.5 per cent of boys and 15 per cent of girls said it was their favourite subject.

He acknowledged that it was difficult to produce continuity from P6 into secondary, but encouraged primary teachers to concentrate more on showing children how language works as it would stand them in good stead in S1, even if they switched languages.

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