Making a French connection

2nd May 2008 at 01:00
West Country schools are encouraging a love of languages by going bilingual in other subjects
West Country schools are encouraging a love of languages by going bilingual in other subjects

Primary schools around the country are trialling ways to teach history, science and other subjects in a foreign language.

The technique, known as content and language-integrated learning (CLIL), is common in Europe, but has been less popular in England where, until recently, most primaries did not teach languages at all.

All primaries will have to offer language lessons to key stage 2 pupils by 2011, and this technique is a way of solving the problem of finding space in the timetable.

Advocates also say it is a powerful method of learning a language because it puts new vocabulary in context, and it fits with the trend towards themed work in primaries.

Sue Hughes, English subject leader and primary languages co-ordinator at the University of the West of England, is overseeing a trial of the technique by 24 primary language specialist trainees at schools in the South West.

She said the idea was inspired by a trip to see CLIL teaching in action in Finland, 18 months ago.

Others who went on the trip, which was funded by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), have come back and experimented with the technique in Manchester, Liverpool and Nottingham.

Mrs Hughes said: "In primaries, CLIL has real potential. But understanding how it might be done within the curriculum is something we're exploring.

"Rather than funding secondary language specialists to show primary teachers how to teach, we should use funding to improve primary teachers' own language skills so that they can incorporate languages in their lessons."

Last term, the TDA gave pound;5,000 towards a training day for schools in South Gloucestershire, Bristol and North Somerset, and 24 PGCE languages trainees are now using the technique on school placements in the area. The themes taught using the method include the planets and the Second World War.

Don Sibley, head of The Tynings School in Staple Hill, said: "It's a really positive way of working - quite new and innovative. But it is dependent on having competent speakers. People without that capability would struggle to deviate from the text.

"We've used it to teach geography, and I think it helps children learn both French and geography to a deeper level."

The trial comes as a bilingual primary in Aberdeen that teaches PE, drama, music and art in French has been judged a success by researchers at Stirling University.

Children who received their education in French at Walker Road Primary have now moved on to secondary school, where they are doing very well in French and are ahead in English.

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