Mere Poule est morte;Letter

26th February 1999 at 00:00
I WAS sorry to read that I caused Libby Purves to crash her gears by suggesting that we should introduce foreign language awareness lessons for nine and 10-year-olds. (TES, February 12).

We all know that children learn languages with enthusiasm and make rapid progress if they start early. The problem in this country is that we do not have enough well-qualified teachers of French (or any other language) for language to become a compulsory part of the primary curriculum. Indeed, we are struggling to find enough teachers in the secondary sector.

The proposal for foreign language awareness is a pragmatic response to our present dilemma.

If we can fund the creation of good teaching materials, there is no reason why primary teachers without language qualifications could not teach foreign language awareness. It fits in naturally to the concepts of the literacy strategy which will, over the coming years, dramatically raise primary pupils' understanding of how language works.

Those who have just started in Year 1 will be well placed in September 2002 as they enter Year 5 to start broadening their linguistic knowledge by six terms of 12 one-hour-per-week sessions in a range of languages.

The syllabus would go beyond the bonjourciao level which Libby Purves dismisses as a "wally" curriculum. It could cover links between language, history and geography; different graphic systems could be explored; watching specially-filmed videos and listening to cassettes would help in the "training of the ear" which is a prerequisite for successful later language learning. Short and visually attractive reading books could be produced to enable pupils to see how languages work in similar and different ways.

A well-resourced two-year course along these lines would bring variety to literacy lessons and would lay a foundation for serious and rigorous study in key stage 3 (what Libby Purves unattractively calls a "nasty little struggle"). This is where we do have the qualified languages teachers who sometimes find it difficult under present arrangements to motivate pupils who may have reached 11-plus in monolingual isolation.

Libby Purves may well hanker nostalgically after her M re Poule but we have to prepare pupils for a more diverse multi-lingual future and that is a challenge which will require radical solutions, not a return to a past which cannot in any case be recreated.

Peter Downes

President Association for Language Learning

42 Huntingdon Road



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