Word to the wise

25th May 2007 at 01:00
Katy Sullivan (Learning the lingo, TES magazine, May 18) is absolutely right to say that primary foreign language teaching is really taking off.

As a secondary language specialist working with three primary schools in the London borough of Westminster, I have entered a new world of enthusiastic young language learners, with parents and teachers all on board.

While I agree with Ms Sullivan that speaking should be a priority, I strongly disagree with her suggestion that we should "leave the written rules and grammar to the secondary schools". Progression relies on developing an understanding of grammatical concepts, otherwise we are only teaching a string of new words.

No maths teacher would recommend that teaching basic mathematical rules be delayed until secondary school on the grounds that children should be "excited about learning" and "taught in a relaxed setting".

My advice would be, don't underestimate children's capacity to learn.

Grammar is, of course, taught in primary literacy and applying young learners' knowledge of the structure of English to a second language can only be beneficial. Grammar can also be fun. In my experience, some structure is essential and quickly learned and the more able students are really keen to learn about complex grammatical structures.

I look forward to welcoming Year 7 pupils into my French, German and Spanish classes with four years' structured language learning. That will give us the chance to use the language as we should, not just to converse but to read books, to teach in foreign languages across the curriculum and to communicate and work on complex projects with our partner schools aboard.

Susi Sahmland. London

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