Why are we still waiting?

17th January 2003 at 00:00
Language teaching in primary schools should make children feel other languages are real and relevant and help them believe they can use them successfully. But how can we do this with insufficient specialist staff, no time and no resources?

In Kent, the answer has been to encourage teachers to raise language awareness by using small elements in normal school life. Children answer the register by saying Bonjour or Hola in any one of a dozen other languages. We have also developed CD-Roms that allow teachers who are insecure in French to manage rather than deliver lessons. These are available to all our primary schools.

The CD uses very basic language. It has small video clips, which pupils can return to at their leisure, showing French children at home and school. There is a chance to practise the language through games. The teachers are reassured by knowing that children are learning from native speakers. The content is carefully graded and based on the QCA non-statutory guidelines. A player might choose meeting and greeting, numbers to 30, months and days, colours, or saying their own name and age.

Once they have learnt dates in French, we try and use them in school life. It becomes natural to say the date in French each day in class - taking no time out of the curriculum. Classroom routines also absorb language so that some teachers might organise tables by colours such as bleu or rouge, or do counting exercises in another language.

Background information about life in France appears on a linked website, www.pilotelanguages.com. Photographs reflect words that the children will meet in the CDs. A BBC website also reflects many of the themes of the Kent CD-Rom.

We have the technology to think about language learning in revolutionary ways, yet progress so far has been painfully slow.

At a 1992 conference on languages it was said that we would be in a position to deliver primary languages in another 10 years. Those 10 years have come and gone. Are another 10 years to pass in the same way?

Glynis Rumley is project officer for primary languages in Kent

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