Say Oui to fitting in language lessons

16th January 2009 at 00:00
CiLT Cymru urges all primaries to find time for foreign vocabulary

Every primary school could teach foreign languages through better time management, say experts at CiLT Cymru, the national language centre.

Cutting registration time and introducing languages in all subjects are some of the suggestions in the centre's 130-page Getting Started guide. It was launched recently to help primary teachers cram at least 30 minutes of languages into the "crowded" curriculum every week.

There are currently no plans to make foreign languages compulsory at key stage 2, but schools are encouraged to take up schemes, with extra funding available in the Better Schools Fund.

More than 130 schools were involved in CiLT Cymru's pilot KS2 primary languages project, which was launched six years ago and ends this year. A similar number of other schools have been inspired to trial language schemes.

However, some heads say a lack of language specialists, time constraints and inadequate funding make teaching languages difficult.

"It is a challenge to find time in an overcrowded curriculum, but it can be done," said Ceri James, director of CiLT Cymru. "All the pilot schools managed to do it by tightening up on certain things and being more creative."

But Andrew Strong, head of Llanbister Community Primary, in rural Powys, said the idea was laughable in a school like his with 50 pupils and two full-time teachers, including himself. "We are completely overburdened as it is," he said. "There are many things I would like to add to the curriculum, but we haven't enough time to do some of the basics."

Tips in the starters' guide include pupils doing mental arithmetic in foreign languages, learning songs from other countries, and making cards in art lessons with greetings in a foreign language. Even taking the register in a foreign language can increase pupils' exposure.

"There is a range of interesting things going on, and it's not uniform across Wales," said Mr James.

Pilot schools addressed staffing foreign language schemes in various ways. Some used secondary teachers, some peripatetic teachers, and others used their own staff.

Experts believe that learning a language at the age of seven has a huge benefit on children's academic and social skills, and makes transition to secondary school easier.

Dr Jon Herring, a researcher in bilingualism at Bangor University, said KS2 pupils in Wales are better equipped to study languages than those in England because they learn Welsh as a second language.

CiLT Cymru argues that teaching languages in primary school should be made statutory. Foreign languages are taught in all primaries in Scotland, and will be compulsory in England by 2011.

`Getting Started' can be downloaded from www.ciltcymru.org.uk.

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