Let's get together

21st October 2005 at 01:00
The new president of the Association of Language Learning welcomes opportunities for like-minded people to share ideas

This year sees a fresh face at the helm of the Association for Language Learning (ALL): Kathy Wicksteed of the Specialist Schools Trust.

A member of ALL since its formation, she believes the association has a lot to offer. "It provides opportunities to get together with like-minded people, share ideas and concerns and hopefully come away refreshed and inspired. As we have regional branches, there is plenty of potential to become involved. So one aspect of my role as president is to get that message across. This is fun, it is a break and something that adds real value to your professional life," she says.

Kathy started her teaching career in the 1970s. From inner city London comprehensives she moved into the 16-19 sector, since when she has been an LEA inspector and has helped set up a language college initiative in a school. She joined the Specialist Schools Trust in 2000, initially as language college adviser, and today she is head of UK and international networks.

A member of the Nuffield Languages Inquiry which reported in 2002, she is passionate about the need for a coherent national strategy from early years to adulthood and has chosen "Working Together" as the theme of Language World 2006. "There are some fantastic examples of what can be achieved when schools collaborate with each other and their LEAs. There are so many exciting ways of enhancing students' language learning when you pool your ingenuity," she explains.

Transition between primary and secondary schools is another area where dialogue will prove vital while, at the other end of the spectrum, she recommends establishing links with local universities. "Invite somebody in to give people an idea of the different aspects of language and language-related subjects they could study in more depth when they are older," she says.

Where schools are struggling to maintain student numbers post-14, she stresses the importance of exploring new avenues, perhaps by integrating a language element into vocational subjects or work-related learning. "This is a great opportunity," she says. "Students need to be aware that they might wish to work in another country and that most big companies are now global. Why not make this real for them by getting them out of the classroom doing something practical that sets them thinking about how languages are used in real life?"

She believes in making it real in other ways too, including global citizenship. "Again, get people out there, visiting other countries and talking to their peers abroad. If languages are to flourish, I am convinced this is what we must do," she says.

These two examples illustrate the potential of languages to enhance other areas of the curriculum and there are many more. "Teachers need to persuade senior management that successful language learning has positive spin-offs across the board," she says, adding that there is lots of scope for involving other staff too, for example by combining languages and drama.

One initiative she finds particularly inspiring is bilingual teaching, where another subject is delivered through the medium of a foreign language. "Teachers have a lot to play for. Now that the rules are less strict, this is an opportunity to be creative," she says. "What can we do that is engaging, fun, different, lively? That is where it is good to be part of ALL. Come along. Find out what is going on in other schools. Be part of it. Share your expertise."

Association for Language Learning www.all-languages.org.uk

Language World takes place at the University of Manchester from April 7-8

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