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Catriona Cunningham moved from Geneva to Ayr to spread the word about modern languages teaching in primary

Catriona Cunningham moved from Geneva to Ayr to spread the word about modern languages teaching in primary

Catriona Cunningham was living in Geneva when she saw the post advertised for lecturer in primary modern languages at the University of the West of Scotland.

She and her husband, an IT expert, had moved to Switzerland for his job but they had a pact that, after a certain amount of time, they would both look for work back in Scotland.

In the event, Dr Cunningham was the first to be successful in the Scottish jobs market and her husband currently looks after their two children, aged two and four.

Dr Cunningham's background is in higher education research and lecturing, rather than the schools sector, but she believes that the advent of the Curriculum for Excellence makes primary modern languages a particularly exciting area to be working in.

In Geneva, she worked part-time giving private tuition to English-speaking ex-pats who wanted to learn French, but before moving abroad, she lectured in French language and literature at Edinburgh University. Prior to that, she had worked at Queen's University in Belfast and done a PhD at Glasgow University.

Her students in Geneva came from privileged backgrounds with easy access to travel opportunities. This underlined to her how important it was for others to be given access to a foreign language at a young age.

Her own experience of teaching school-age pupils is relatively limited, although she worked as an assistante in a school in Quebec in 1995 - a particularly interesting time, as it coincided with a referendum on whether the province should secede from the rest of Canada.

She started lecturing at UWS last August, and has covered a diversity of topics with her B Ed students, from the early acquisition of a second language to French films. She also looked at the history of modern language teaching with her PGDE primary students.

Delivering continuing professional development sessions to qualified teachers makes up another part of her timetable, and she has been setting up an international exchange programme with a teacher education institution near Beauvais in France. The research side of her post is focused on the place of French film in education.

With debate currently raging over whether modern languages should be mandatory in initial teacher education (at UWS it is), Dr Cunningham has been pleasantly surprised by the number of her students with language qualifications.

"Many have the language skills and the language-teaching methodologies, plus access to fantastic resources - but they often lack confidence," she says.

Her aim is to get across the idea that opening up a second language to children helps their first language - and the earlier the better.

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