Tuesday, October 24, 2006


I attended a Primary Modern foreign Languages course on Friday - most interesting. I went because the HT couldn't attend, having broken her foot, but I do wonder if PMFL may end up being my bag as well as maths since I seem to be (semi) enthusiastic about languages. During the brief discussion on PMFL regarding what we would declare as our language of choice, the other staff's combined responses were to look at their feet and not catch anyone's eye. I've trotted my French out for three weekends in Paris in the last 20 years - I've got by, but I'd hardly say I'm a whizz...

Don't get me wrong, I think the perceived English attitude to foreign languages (say it again, more slowly and louder but still in English, accompanied by a bit of hand-waving) is poor, to say the least. Relatives of A moved to Spain a number of years ago to buy a bar. They have since sold it, but still live out there and as far as I'm aware have made no effort whatsoever to learn the language. This just makes me die inside. I also think that to make it easier for our children to learn a language, leaving it to 11 is leaving it too late.

However I am concerned by the mixed messages given by the Government. I quote from the Standards site:

The centrepiece of the National Languages Strategy - Languages for All Languages for Life - is our commitment to give every child between the ages of 7 and 11 the entitlement to learn a new language. This marks a fundamental shift in our approach to language learning in this country and, by 2010 will transform the shape of language learning in our schools.


But it's not really followed through, is it? This comes from a QCA document published in 2004:

From September 2004, modern foreign languages (MFL) will no longer be a compulsory national curriculum subject, but will become one of the entitlement areas that all schools must offer within their key stage 4 curriculum. The new requirements are intended not to discourage students from studying MFL, but to provide greater flexibility and choice for learners.

And thereby lies the crux - it might not be discouraging students from studying MFL to exam standard, but it sure as hell isn't encouraging them to, either.

Maybe I'm being a cynic - perhaps if we engender a sense that languages are fun in primary, the students will carry it on through KS3 and KS4. But all I can see is that we have to shoe-horn in another subject - one that challenges music for making non-specialist teachers feel vulnerable - while our secondary colleagues work out who to make redundant in ever diminishing departments.

And then cap it all with this bit of gossip I picked up on the course. Over half of the primaries in our authority have made a start on rolling PMFL out in Y3 and some have actually been doing it for a number of years. Pupils are arriving at one high school in the authority with a grounding in Spanish - they can't just recite numbers, colours and body parts, they can have conversations, which is surely the aim of any language? Is the high school happy? Is it buffalo. It's thrown a strop because this part of the intake already knows what would be covered in Year 7 and part of Year 8 and it therefore is "having to teach them another language".

God forbid they should put those kids into a set and adapt the curriculum to take their Spanish on...


Jane Henry said...

Hear hear!!!

I speak French and German both learnt at school. But French suffering badly now from lack of use, and German (which was rubbish) better because we have family out there.

One of the best things you can give your children is a love of languages. All mine are learning French at school and I want them to do German too. And Spanish (which face it is going to be more useful). At both secondary schools we're looking at they do foreign languages still, but at one there is no Spanish teaching.

I agree, it's utterly utterly bonkers to allow them to give it up. Apparently the results have gone up since this decision was made. This is because the only ones studying languages are really keen and therefore pretty good at them. So we have five people in the country doing French getting A*s, and everyone else being utterly ignorant.

There's a result...


Nic said...

I'd love to meet the eejit who gives advice to the Government on all things educational...