Languages don't have to be dull

27th August 2004 at 01:00
That senior students have the chance to use their foreign language "for real" appears to be the crux of the apparent success of the Partners in Excellence initiative (page four). It is well documented that persuading young people to learn French, German or Spanish in Scottish schools is a struggle, especially when there has been a negative reaction among pupils to compulsory languages up to S4. Numbers have suffered in S5 and S6.

Researchers from Stirling University point out that language learning has a "rather dusty" image, lacks intellectual excitement and is seen as difficult. But that can change, according to the evidence from the Executive-supported PiE project in Argyll and Bute, East Ayrshire and North Ayrshire. It does not have to be dull.

Learning a language remains an invaluable skill as well as an intellectual challenge that is the equal of any other subject. But it is how you teach it and involve young people in their own learning that matters when they are only too aware of the dominance of the English language. It is hardly rocket science to discover that using languages "for real" should be the fulcrum of language learning, yet we continue to structure our learning in ways that make this difficult. Even academic students find language proficiency a challenge until they actually manage to speak to people of their own age abroad, face to face or through ICT links. Immersion strategies are the most effective.

In the autumn we will be presented with the outcome of the national curriculum review. One of its challenges should surely be to allow opportunities for more effective learning - and that includes languages.

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