The varying skills of pupils doesn't have to be a problem when it comes to learning foreign languages, says Wendy Adeniji.With more than two-thirds of primary schools already offering a foreign language, and this figure due to rise to 100 per cent by 2010, how do secondary schools cope with the varying language skills of their intake? How do they avoid boring budding linguists without leaving those with no knowledge struggling?
The majority of secondary schools still start as they always have, assuming that the learner has no previous knowledge. However, this is no longer adequate. Schools must now take prior learning into account and language colleges are demonstrating how to do it.
Primary schools can provide evidence of the standard pupils have reached, for instance using the first stages of the new Asset Languages qualification or filling in the Junior European Languages Portfolio. But other teachers feel it is best to have no assessment at primary level, as this may take the fun out of language learning.
Secondary schools can assess pupils on entry themselves. At Belle Vue Girls' Language College in Bradford, teachers assess pupils when they arrive in Year 7 and put them into sets, including at least one class where all pupils have learned French before.
Tess Wilkins, director of specialism at Belle Vue, says: "Some pupils had done one hour a week for one year and some had done half an hour a week for three years. We did not know what that looked like, so we assessed them all."
Another option is for the secondary school to give some primary recruits a languages boost before they come.
At St Wilfrid's Catholic High School in Wakefield, the nearby primary schools teach the same language as the secondary school, French, and all follow the same scheme of work. The school runs two intensive language days in July for pupils who are coming from schools other than its seven feeder primaries - about 130 pupils from 45 schools.
In Year 7, pupils who have learnt the language before are encouraged to take their studies further through extension tasks. They also help their peers with pronunciation and basic vocabulary. The MFL department at St Wilfrid's is part of an accelerated learning pilot in the school. From next year, top sets will take the GCSE in Year 9 and others in Year 10
Wendy Adeniji is an MFL trainer and consultant
- CILT Junior European Languages Portfolio www.cilt.org. ukpublicationsportfolios.htm
- QCA Bridging Unit (old QCA)
- Teachers TV Transition in MFL Programme, originally broadcast October 2007, available online at www.teachers.tvvideo22333
Secondary teacher tips
1. Read the key stage 2 framework for MFL: it should inform your planning for key stage 3.
2. Build on the confidence and embrace the enthusiasm of pupils who have learnt a language in key stage 2.
3. Do not discourage pupils by criticising their pronunciation (they may have been taught by a non-specialist). Just correct gently, and praise their achievements.
4. Make sure you don't bore them to death by going over things they've done before. Show them how they can use what they have learned in other contexts.
Book 100+ Fun Ideas for Practising Modern Foreign Languages in the Primary Classroom by Sue Cave. Brilliant Publications, pound;13, www.brilliantpublications.co.uk or call 01202 712 910.
An accessible book with games of movement, games that involve flashcards puppets, and games for the interactive whiteboard.
CD and book J'aime Chanter! Brilliant Publications, pound;33. 20 songs for younger learners, many sung to the tune of well-known rhymes such as Ten Green Bottles, for foundation and KS1 learners.
CD and book Vamos a Cantar! Brilliant Publications, pound;33. With catchy tunes and simple lyrics, these songs will go down well at KS2.
CD and DVD Take 10 en Francais. www.deseducation. org or call 01392 384839, pound;29 per pack of books, CDs plus DVD.
Helps primary school children practise their French in a fun way while taking part in short tasks of daily physical activity. CDs play the songs and there is a DVD to watch children performing the actions. An excellent resource accessible to teachers with little or no language.
Software Kartouche Developing French and Developing Spanish. School licence pound;299 plus VAT. See www.kar2ouche. com or call 01865 886 330.
Engages pupils in a range of stimulating activities, enabling them to complete storyboards, create animations and produce publications using characters based on a group of French teenagers and their families.