They may be under threat in the curriculum, but modern languages are getting a revamp thanks to some creative technology, says Eleanor Caldwell
Languages may be in danger of losing their right to a place in the curriculum, but teachers are exploring exciting new ways of attracting youngsters who might be tempted to give them up. For example, a new burst of creativity is seeing pupils of all ages using digital video technology to script, shoot and edit films in a range of languages. As a result of local and national initiatives, including this year's Becta Digital Video Project, languages are being repackaged.
For the Partners in Excellence initiative, which involves schools from three regions in the west of Scotland, students have spent residential weekends using DV cameras (such as the Canon MV 550, pound;449) iMacs and iMovie software to produce Grand Fr re and other European versions of UK TV shows.
For smaller scale sound recording work, new Sound Morphers (TAG Learning pound;49.95) lets students record snatches of language, which they can download and edit to create homegrown listening material.
In the classroom, whiteboards are taking the hassle out of lesson timing - essential visuals for language are there in an instant. New language whiteboard materials from Bullet Point Presentations offer topic-based French, German and Spanish content (school licence pound;499 per language). These include animations with audio output and interactive exercises that can be edited by teachers.
Reading is enjoying a revival thanks to up-to-the-minute on-screen material. The appeal of Progrid's online resource CR-ed francais (pound;350 per annum) is that most texts are based on British youngsters'
interests - sports, films, showbiz gossip and fashion - all translated and adapted by experts.
The broadband service, Espresso French, combines reading practice with focused listening material in the form of topic-based video extracts which, like CR-ed francais, benefit from being regularly updated.
Software provision for schools is also coming of age. Primary teachers will enjoy the simplicity of Vektor's Launchpad CD-Roms (pound;19), which give structured practice in listening, speaking and reading in six topic areas. Vektor's Foundations package for key stages 2 and 3 (pound;240, single-user licence), which includes language manipulation and grammar practice, is the natural choice for secondary departments whose cluster primaries have used Launchpad.
Eurotalk's World Talk and Talk Now packages are growing increasingly popular and teachers will welcome the additional support of new accompanying pupil workbooks.
All major language publishers now also produce software and this includes a new focus on CD-Rom exam preparation materials. Nelson Thornes' GCSE Exam Preparation CD-Roms for French, German and Spanish (pound;150) are Bookmaster teacher resources that cover AQA, Edexcel and OCR syllabuses and include full sets of worksheets and a licence to cut, paste and edit.
For student use, Oxford University Press has produced Exam Success CD-Roms (pound;10 +VAT), like the AQA-based titles Francoscope and Fokus Deutsch. Collins Education and Kar2touche have teamed up to create the video-based CD-Rom Clique Francais (pound;56.99 + VAT single user). And look out for Metro Electro (pupil activity packs pound;395, teachers packs pound;495), the new addition to Heinemann course Metro. This covers both levels of Metro, with a broad range of presentations and activities for whiteboard and data projector.
For a more broad-based approach to revision and self-assessment, online language work in SAM Learning might be a valuable means of freeing up teacher time by providing a good homework and self-study base. And the popular BBC Bitesize CD-Rom series (pound;11.74 inc VAT) is to be upgraded to include a teacher's section and audio and speaking elements.
Linked to the TV channel's series Chez Mimi and Hennings Haus, 4Learning's language website (www.LTScotland.com5-14C4modernlanguages) is being discovered by more primary children as the popularity of Gridclub - 4Learning's new website for 7 to 11-year-olds - increases.
Scripting, filming, games and online revising are all integral to lessons and homework. They may be under threat, but languages are digging in for the future.
Eleanor Caldwell is a language consultant and former teacher