Languages expert hits out at 'unclear' report

1st February 2013 at 00:00
Working group's plans for primary years are muddled, he tells inquiry

The government-commissioned report into languages that calls for children to start learning a second language in P1 and a third in P5 has come under fire for lack of clarity.

Dan Tierney, a reader in language learning at the University of Strathclyde, said that it was "unclear" whether the report by the Languages Working Group Committee was trying to achieve linguistic competence, language awareness or cultural awareness.

Economic arguments were mixed in with a celebration of Scotland's diversity, heritage languages and sign language in the report, Dr Tierney told MSPs on the European and External Affairs Committee as part of their foreign language learning in primary schools inquiry.

He highlighted the current problem of mismatch of languages between primary and secondary, where a pupil might be taught one language in primary and another in secondary.

"Rather than sorting out the existing situation, it (the report) suggests going down to P1. At present, with modern languages in primary schools, we have one of four languages in P6-7 - French, German, Italian or Spanish - and there are significant problems of continuity," said Dr Tierney.

If language learning was to be embedded into teaching, ie, where the class teacher drops a language naturally into the day, rather than having a stand-alone lesson - every teacher would need to be trained in a language, he added.

Brian Templeton, a reader in pedagogy policy and practice at the University of Glasgow, told the committee that trying to staff P67 classes with teachers proficient in languages was already a "very demanding challenge".

He questioned whether it was particularly relevant to expect primary teachers to have a Higher qualification in a language.

"Teacher education has to look at what we want them to do and give them the skills to do that." Mr Templeton said.

Achieving language competence would be demanding and fairly expensive, he said. But it was essential if we wanted to make a difference.


The European and External Affairs Committee has made a call for written and oral evidence by 15 February on the following points:

- Is there enough funding for the Scottish government's proposal?

- Do existing teachers have the skills and resources available for language tuition?

- What is the capacity within the curriculum to accommodate greater language study?

- The choice of languages for teaching - which should children be learning and why?

- The role of languages in economic development - which languages should pupils be learning to benefit themselves and the Scottish economy?

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