Learning the lingo

18th May 2007 at 01:00
Modern languages are fast gaining popularity with primary pupils. Teacher Katy Sullivan gets them hooked with lessons that are practical and fun

The children are taking part in role-plays within an area of the classroom that has been specifically set out for structured talk. This week, a desk and a couple of chairs are transformed into a cafe with the help of a pretty tablecloth, a bunch of flowers and a menu offering an assortment of treats.

You may be thinking that this scene is taking place at the foundation stage rather than in a class of key stage 2 children. But then you may not have realised that the talking is geared up to teaching pupils Spanish rather than English.

Modern languages may recently have lost favour in secondary schools, but Early Language Learning of the foreign variety seems to have found a new home. Although not yet compulsory within the primary sector, children all over the UK are already learning another language as it is embedded into their curriculum. From after-school clubs and timetabled lessons to simply having today's date displayed, children love learning new languages.

My Year 6 pupils here at Holy Name Roman Catholic Primary School in Moss Side, Manchester enjoy answering the register in the singsong tones of a foreign tongue, and playing a simplified version of I Spy. They even found sponsored spelling fun - this was to help raise funds for a Year 6 visit to Spain during the autumn term.

Following our successful bid for the Department for Education and Skills International School Award, we received British Council funding to embark on a joint scheme with a school in Aldea del Fresno, Madrid. Un Arco Iris de Fiestas or A Rainbow of Fiestas is an ongoing project uniting the two schools in dance, drama, art, history, music and, of course, languages.

The visit was timed to coincide with Spain's National Day on October 12 because we wanted to immerse ourselves as much as possible in Spanish culture. The children were excited to be eating out during the evenings in Madrid, especially when they were able to order their food in Spanish.

Prior to the visit I had six weeks to get my pupils speaking Spanish. I should mention at this point that I am still learning the language myself.

I have been taking evening classes at a local college for two years and last summer I spent three weeks in Granada improving my speaking, listening and grammar.

I find the rate at which the children remember and recall Spanish incredible. They enjoy the idea of catching me up and challenge me to translate words that relate to them. It keeps me on my toes - and I now know that un salto con pertiga is a pole vault.

Primary schools can choose which language they want to teach, according to the resources that are available to them. With only limited funding, many schools have opted for whatever is most widely spoken among their staff, while others have made their choice according to what is offered at the secondary school.

Whatever the language, the key issue is getting children excited about learning, so it's important that it is taught in a relaxed setting where talking is the priority. Leave the written rules and grammar to the secondary schools.

Extra funding for language assistants can be obtained from the British Council or you can check out universities to find willing language students only too happy to share their skills. The Centre for Early Language Learning has also produced a DVD toolkit that will allow your school to assess where it is now and how it can move forward. !Buena suerte!


Get the children to go around the class shaking hands, saying "hola, buenos dias, encantadoa".

Register your class in the target language.

Use it to discuss the date and weather and tell the time.

Display all new vocabulary.

Label class objects.

Play D"nde est ?(Where is?) by asking children to point to where an object is.

Set up role-play areas to encourage structured talk with the relevant vocabulary.

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