Little and often

24th October 2003 at 01:00
There are plenty of easy ways to launch into languages at primary school - and learn along with your pupils, says Rosemary Bevis

Introducing languages in the primary classroom may seem an enormous task, but I've discovered the biggest tip of all is: a little achieves a lot.

Most of us know a few words of another language - you can probably say "Hello" in at least four. Greeting the class in a target language gets you started and most teachers can produce enough language - perhaps numbers, or days of the week - for a few minutes' mfl each day. Remember that you will learn yourself as you teach. You may know some months of the year in French - as you work on them with the children you will soon know them thoroughly.

A key idea is "little and often". To learn a language successfully a child must hear and repeat it continually in different contexts. A small amount learned well is far better than long lists of words. And just five minutes a day is worthwhile. Try "POW! - Phrase Of the Week". A regular addition to a stock of phrases introduces just a tiny amount of new material to practise every day. Your repertoire and your confidence will grow together.

Basic vocabulary that you can manage confidently is the language that children meet at the transition to key stage 3 - greetings, politeness, names, numbers to 30. Conduct several minutes a day in the language by adapting the same words and phrases; for example, recycling numbers in mental maths, or revisiting classroom commands in a game of Simon Says as a PE warm-up.

Still thinking small: plan a little scheme of work. You won't thank yourself for being over optimistic. List minimum outcomes. You can leave scope to develop in different directions, but you'll have clear objectives to demonstrate. You could, for example, decide that by the end of the year the children will respond to greetings and the register, and know the numbers to 31. That doesn't rule out further learning, such as maths warm-up activities and saying the day's date, when and if you and your pupils are ready. You can fit a lot of mfl into the existing curriculum. I have done part of the literacy hour working on sounds and rhymes using the children's chosen French names.

Something you can rely on is the wow! factor. When children are taught a language by visiting teachers the excitement is tangible. That isn't lost with their usual class teacher, with whom they also feel more secure. You can keep up the wow! factor with games and challenging activities, and consolidate their learning throughout the week.

Use target language for instructions for ending the day or session: start with the final phrase, probably "Goodbye", and each week add in the preceding phrase. Incorporating mimes means you don't have to switch between, say, French and English. Picture yourself doing "posez les crayons" (put down your pencils); "apportez-moi vos copies" (bring me your work); "rangez" (pack away); "asseyez-vous bien" (sit up properly); "levez-vous" (stand up), "sortez doucement" (go out quietly) "au revoir!"


In assemblies children can sing a made-up song based on greetings, perform a greetings dialogue with puppets, teach the rest of the school a favourite language game. Generous praise is always essential, and harness the support of the class by letting the children know that you need to help each other.

You'll find they remind you to use the language.

Pam Fox, at the Dale Primary School, Stockport, has found her confidence growing as she practises language with the children, building content by adding one language item per week: "It is a team effort between the children and me. The more we use the words the easier it is to remember to include them - now the children don't like the register being taken in English. They like showing off their knowledge to visitors. They are very proud of their achievements."

Rosemary Bevis teaches French in three primary schools for the Marple Hall Primary Project, Stockport


CILT (National Centre for Languages) 20 Bedfordbury, London WC2 4LN, organises courses, and produces the Young Pathfinder series of books on language teaching for young learners. It has a resource library and a website: The National Advisory Centre on Early Language Learning was set up in the CILT resources library in 1999 as part of the DfES early language learning initiative. The NACELL Best Practice Guide contains sections on effective methods, schemes of work and lesson plans. Included is a plan for a year's teaching. Qualifications and Curriculum Authority Guidelines: BBC website for free interactive resource and help with pronunciation:

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