In my previous school I worked as a language and early years teacher for key stage 2, and it got me thinking: why couldn't I use my passion for languages to inspire children aged 3 and above to love other languages and cultures, too?
Initially, my idea met with some opposition because I wanted it to be rolled out throughout the school if it was successful. I was told that children couldn't learn another language when they were still getting to grips with English, but I disagreed. Fortunately the school allowed me to test my theory.
I started off slowly, taking the register in Spanish (I chose Spanish because it is mostly phonetic). The children were hooked from the start: "Dora the Explorer speaks like that, you know, Miss." Then, whenever I wanted the children's attention I would count down in Spanish: cinco, cuatro, tres and so on, to silencio. They knew that when I got to silencio it was time to stop and listen for further instructions.
The morning routine was eventually delivered in both languages, with the children entering the classroom to Spanish music and finding their self-registration cards, which read "Me llamo ..." ("my name is ..."). The days of the week were sung to the Flintstones theme tune (lunes, martes miercoles, jueves sabado, domingo). The weather was discussed in both languages.
The classroom was transformed into a bilingual zone, with words displayed in both languages. A display board was filled with Spanish images produced by the children - for example, a flamenco dancer or flags of Spanish-speaking countries.
The class mascots were Dora the Explorer (pictured right) and her friend Boots, and the children took it in turns to take them home for the weekend and detail their exploits in their diary. Upon their return, I would describe some of their adventures to the children in Spanish.
Slowly, little bits of Spanish were drip-fed to the children. Fast-forward to Christmas and they were at ease with this dual-language approach. They even freely offered comments in both languages.
Parents were thrilled with their children's language skills; the children were enthused, showing off their linguistic skills. Ofsted rated my practice as outstanding and I noticed a huge improvement in the children's speaking and listening skills. The benefits of teaching another language from such an early age are huge. The excitement and eagerness is there: we just need to tap into it.
Michelle Dredger is lead teacher for primary languages and a freelance trainer for Pearson and Creative Education
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