What keeps me awake at night: 'Inadequate provision of modern foreign languages in primary schools'

Teaching and learning languages needs to be taken seriously, says one French teacher

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Did foreign language teaching become a statutory part of the primary curriculum back in 2014, or was that just my imagination?

Because, as we reach the end of another school year, I find myself thoroughly disappointed – and here’s why.

Having learned no more French than she did at nursery, my 10-year-old daughter has tried to use her role within the school council to campaign for better French lessons at her school, not just because she is passionate about learning languages, but because all her friends are, too. 

“We only get 15 minutes,” they exclaim.

I know that, of course, for many primary schools, language teaching becoming compulsory at key stage 1 and 2 means nothing more than business as usual and many children are benefitting from well structured, fun and engaging lessons.

However, I also know that I am not the only one to be experiencing exasperation at the inadequate and quite often inaccurate provision of modern foreign languages in UK primary schools.

Languages are a key life skill

Surely the impetus behind making languages a prerequisite at a younger age is because languages are a key life skill? Surely they merit a bigger slice of the school day and need to be taken seriously, as with every other area of learning?

After all, it won’t be fluency in algebra that gets you treated quickly in A&E somewhere miles from home in a foreign country and, although expertise on rock formations might come in handy at some point, language skills will set you apart from the rest in any job application.

It is universally agreed that the sooner a child begins to learn another language, the better. Children have the ability to mimic alien sounds of different accents and they are less likely to fear getting things wrong – a key skill in becoming proficient in any language.

From key stage 3 onwards, children can become naturally reticent, particularly where foreign languages are concerned. However, if they already have a good grasp of the language this would help to remove the awkwardness some feel when struggling with speaking the language in front of their peers.

Languages are taught through interactive methods and whatever learning occurs early on is sustained and developed. Perhaps equally important is the fact that learning foreign languages encourages understanding of cultural identity and liberation from insular attitudes, particularly valuable skills in the world we live in today.

Jessica Spearing is a French language and EFL coach at the Vici Language Academy in Newbury

Tell us what keeps you awake at night. Email: chloe.darracott-cankovic@tesglobal.com

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