Refreshing the rusty parts

16th June 1995 at 01:00
Ann Barnes and Bob Powell explain the importance of building formal language work into initial teacher training courses.

Teaching a modern foreign language demands a high level of linguistic competence and yet, traditionally, the foreign language skills of the teacher in training have tended to be taken for granted. After all, PGCE students generally have degrees in one or more languages and by the time they embark on their chosen career, the majority of new teachers will have spent eight to ten years studying their chosen subjects, probably including residence abroad.

During interviews for training courses or teaching posts there may be some evaluation of language skills but this is almost inevitably cursory and rarely tests an individual's ability to function effectively in the classroom.

The reality is that many PGCE students, even those with recent joint language degrees, lack confidence in their fluency and accuracy when they face the prospect of acting as role models for younger learners. During initial training their attention is primarily focused on such practical matters as classroom management, teacher-pupil relationships, developing resources, differentiating learning objectives and assessing pupil progress.

The proportion of time spent in schools now - 24 out of 36 weeks on the PGCE course - has, if anything, increased the urgency with which these vital topics are tackled. There is precious little time to devote to maintaining language fluency in the main degree subject or improving the confidence of those wishing to offer a "weaker" second or third language.

Moreover, a significant proportion of PGCE students are "mature" students, coming into teaching following a career change or child-rearing. These people are often in desperate need of linguistic refreshment but, with the school-based model of training, there are fewer opportunities for providing a regular programme of language learning activities. Their needs vary: from general confidence boosting to fine tuning of grammatical knowledge and extending vocabulary.

No less important is the ability to personalise the language being studied for pupils across the age and ability range. The statutory requirements of the national curriculum emphasise the use of the target language but even native speakers can find it difficult to find the right tone and level for the "language of the classroom".

The PGCE languages course at the University of Warwick is fortunate to have for its specialist subject work a solid link with the University's Language Centre. Aware of the problems facing new teachers, we have developed an overt language component as an integral part of the course. This progresses from independent study in the first term, using established courses, computer assisted language learning programs, and satellite television, to regular language classes in the second term, comprising work at post-A level and post-degree level.

In the second term, alongside their methodology sessions, student teachers put themselves once again in the role of language learner - a dual learning role for them as they participate in activities they may well use later in their main teaching practice. As one student remarked: "The Language Centre sessions are valuable not only from a linguistic point of view but also for developing 'empathy' skills - we are reacquainting ourselves with the trauma of being a pupil!" We are undoubtedly not the first to introduce formal language work into the initial training course, but one innovation in our scheme is the opportunity we are offering to final year foreign language undergraduates to join the PGCE students in this language learning experience. Some groups, therefore, include students in the final stages of a degree course with only one foreign language, for example Italian or German, wishing to improve their competence in French - a subject most left behind at school. Some of the undergraduates are considering applying for a PGCE next academic year, some have already accepted a place at Warwick or elsewhere.

The results of this combined refresher programme are very encouraging. Enthusiasm for rusty languages has been refired. Personal pride in linguistic accuracy has been underlined and a growing awareness of how competence can be improved independently has been cultivated.

Subject mentors in schools support the idea of continued language study for trainee teachers. They are in no doubt about the need for good linguistic models in the classroom. But they recognise that linguistic maintenance is not something that schools can tackle themselves.

Dual linguists are increasingly in short supply. Our students recognise the advantages of being able to offer more than one foreign language and are grateful for the chance to brush up their languages and, most important of all perhaps, to regain lost confidence. We are planning to make this programme of linguistic refreshment a permanent feature of the course.

Ann Barnes is lecturer in foreign languages (teacher education) and Bob Powell is director of the Language Centre at the University of Warwick.

END molepkow-1 FROM:disk1suppstes16.04-05.1EX.G.TXY EDITION: PAGE:SPIII NAME:Lucinda SOURCE:The Times Educational Supplement ISSUE:4120 DATE:16 June 1995 COPYRT: KEYWORDS: HEADLINE:Haute coiffure;Modern Languages BYLINE:Dorothy Lepkowska SECTION:Features STORY: Dorothy Lepkowska watches Spanish hairdressing students learn Afro techniques at Manchester's City College, where exchanges are just part of the European culture.

The fact that there is little, if any, demand for Afro hair-dressing techniques in Spain somehow doesn't bother the students from the Instituto San Andreu, in Barcelona. The most important consideration for these 12 young women currently on a return exchange visit to the City College in Manchester, is that they will have acquired another skill and, at the same time, improved their knowledge of the English language and absorbed some British culture.

Their English hosts and classmates have recently returned from a two-week stay in Spain, where they were taught the historical influences in hair-dressing and how to create period styles with long hair - a change from the short-cropped fashion in vogue in this country.

Hair-dressing is just one of a number of vocational courses at the college where students are offered a European dimension to their studies and exchange trips are organised with partner institutions overseas. Others include drama, in association with a Portuguese college; nursery nursing in partnership with a German institution and graphic design which takes students to Italy.

In addition, the college is the first in the country to train armed forces officials from the Ministry of Defence and the Joint Arms Control Inspection Group in the Russian language, to equip them with the necessary skills to check former Soviet nuclear installations are abiding with arms treaties - an arrangement considered to be quite a coup by the management.

And from September, state-of-the-art video-conferencing facilities will enable lecturers from City to teach classes in Finland. Reciprocal arrangements may follow in the future. The development of these projects in the past two years makes the Manchester college one of the national leaders in the UK Lingua programme.

David Cronin, the college's international projects co-ordinator, is responsible for bidding for money from European funds to the language projects. Last year students received Pounds 50,000 in grants for exchange trips, about three-quarters of what was required to meet costs. The balance came mainly from college funds and students are asked to make individual contributions of around Pounds 30 each, but allowances are made for those from disadvantaged families who cannot afford it.

David Cronin says: "We wanted to give our students the option of incorporating a language into their vocational courses if they wanted to. Many of the students who do these courses have little experience of travelling and many have never been abroad.

"It is now widely accepted that partly through laziness and partly through a reflection of reality, the British have had a poor record on language teaching. We have been comfortable with the knowledge that everyone else speaks English so we have not felt the communicative need to learn languages ourselves. At this college we realised this was not the way forward. Our students are British, but they are also citizens of Europe. They have a right to seek work abroad and must be made aware they have career prospects which they can exploit and for which they will be competing with their counterparts in Europe. "

He says one of the most important aspects of the projects is that the emphasis is not just on the "golden triangle" of English, French and German language teaching. Less widely used languages such as Greek and Portuguese have parity of esteem, so that young people can gain experience of all cultures and can feel they are part of an integrated Europe.

Although in some vocational courses the language element is recognised at GNVQ level, most students include the experience abroad and foreign language knowledge on their Records of Achievement. David Cronin says: "These are now increasingly important for entry to university and are obviously taken into account by admissions tutors. For example, our entire cohort of graphic artists gained university places last year without any difficulty because they were able to demonstrate the work they had done in Milan."

Meanwhile, back in the hair-dressing salon at the Abraham Moss Centre of City College, willing models are having their hair "relaxed" or straightened by the Spanish students working alongside their English classmates - with a little help on both sides from interpreters.

Pam Cadden, head of hairdres-sing at City College, hopes the relationship established with the Barcelona institution will develop so that Manchester students will eventually be offered job placements in Spain. She says: "Increasingly our students will be competing with their peers in Europe for all sorts of jobs, and they have to be ready to rise to that challenge. People might say hairdressers have little need of knowing a foreign language, but doing so widens their horizons and prepares them for every eventuality. Being able to speak a language gives them that extra bit of confidence and the change in those girls who have taken part in the exchange has been remarkable. "

Some of the British students are considering using their skills on passenger cruise liners when they complete their two-year courses. Sarah Pearson, 17, one of the British students who spent time at the Instituto San Andreu, says: "I decided to take on the Spanish element for the experience. Perhaps I will have more chance of getting a job with knowledge of a foreign language and I may even decide to work in Spain or on a ship some time.

"Young people today feel European and want to know and understand about other countries. We have made some good friends and we all get on very well. We are picking up the Spanish and they are getting good at English so we are managing to communicate."

Her classmate Susanne Turner, also 17, says: "It was interesting to see the techniques they use over there and the way they work. We thought our salons are more advanced but their applications are quite different."

Raquel Amado, 19, one of the Spanish students adds: "Not only is the knowledge of English going to be useful to us, but we are also learning new techniques and applications. This gives us additional skills we would not normally have learned in our own country."

For more details about the Lingua programme and funding, contact the UK Lingua Unit, tel: 0171 725 9493

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