Skip to main content

Lessons from abroad

Lessons from abroad: International review of primary languages is a research report from the CfBT published this year and written by Teresa Tinsley and Therese Comfort. It looks at practice in a number of overseas countries, some of them Anglophone, for example the USA and Australia, others including Asian countries, France, Spain and Scandinavian nations. It is a very lucid and interesting review.

The clear executive summary is worth reading and in a sense it says nothing very surprising, but delving into the detail a bit more I was more persuaded a little than before about the value of second language learning at primary level, though remain as sceptical as ever given the challenges it presents to Anglophone countries.

To sum up, research is pretty clear that there are significant benefits to children in learning another language whilst young. The younger you can go, the more likely you will be able to tap into the natural acquisition capabilities of the under 6s. In addition, there is a natural fit between the "joyful" (I liked that word in the report) learning of languages and primary methodology.  The familiar problems arise, however: how to you make enough time for it to happen and who will have the expertise to do the teaching? As the report states, subject specialists are deficient in primary methodology, whilst primary specialists are usually very short of foreign language skills.

Further, how do you provide for continuity between primary and secondary cycles, especially in a country like England where there is no agreement on which the best second language should be. As the conclusion of the report states:

"... early language learning can only be effective when there is sufficient time, high-quality teaching and continuity through to higher levels of learning." (p.81)

I remain of the view that, despite the government's recent commitment to modern languages at primary level, the resources, planning and political follow-through will be too scarce to make it work. Sufficient time will only be allocated if CLIL* approaches are used and these demand significant language skills on the part of teachers. Continuity will become harder to achieve as the schools become more autonomous, with access to less local planning. Lastly, in the current economic climate there are no funds for further training and history teaches us that the enthusiasm of politicians for primary languages is ephemeral.
* Content and Language Integrated Learning. This means teaching other subject areas through the medium of the second language, thus killing two birds with one stone.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this review Steve. I do understand your scepticism but I feel that if we wait to make languages compulsory in primary until it can be done in a top quality way, we will wait for ever, meanwhile some schools will press ahead and the gap between them and the rest will get wider, with no chance of planning for continuity and progression in secondary. So I say we need to get on with it and keep making the case for it to be done in the most effective ways with sufficient training. I hope the report contributes to that in some small way!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for commenting and writing the report. I'm sure it makes the case strongly for primary MFL.

    I take your point entirely. Half a cake is better than no cake, as they say. But we won't achieve the desired continuity, so maybe we should play up the benefits of longer contact over a child's school career, metalinguistic knowledge and intercultural understanding. I cannot see us getting high quality progression and internalisation of the syntax of one language.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

Three AQA A-level courses compared

I've put together my three reviews of worthy A-level courses which you might be considering for next September. They are all very useful courses, but with significant differences. The traditional Hodder and OUP book-based courses differ in that the former comes in one chunky two year book, whilst OUP's comes in two parts, the first for AS or the first year of an A-level course. The Attitudes16 course by Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri is based on an online platform from which you would download worksheets and share a logon with studenst who would do the interactive parts (Textivate and video work). The two text books are supported by interactive material (Kerboodle) or an e-text book.

Attitudes16





An excellent resource which should be competing for your attention at the moment is the Attitudes16 course which writers Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri have been working on for some time. You can find it here at dolanguages.com, along with his excellent resources for film and li…

Learning strategies (3)

This is the third in the mini-series of blogs about learning strategies. So far, we have looked at some (rather scant) research evidence for the effectiveness of strategies. Bear in mind that a lack of research evidence does not mean strategies do not work; if there is any consensus, it is that they are probably useful and probably best used when integrated into a normal teaching sequence. We then looked at a classification of different types of strategies.

In this blog Gianfanco and I look at how you might integrate strategies into your teaching. There is nothing revolutionary about this stuff! You may do a good deal of this type of thing already, but you may also be new to the concepts and applications of learning strategies.


Let's look at how you might use strategies, particularly with regard to the teaching of listening and reading. Remember: this is just about how you help students to use strategies to become better listeners and readers.

How to teach strategies 

The research …