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Scottish primary languages plan

Hot off the press today from The Herald, an intention for all Scottish primary school pupils to learn two modern foreign languages! I add the exclamation mark since, whilst I admire the ambition of this initiative, I wonder how on Earth it will be achieved, especially given how hard it has proved to introduce just one foreign language in English schools. The idea seems to be a response to the falling numbers of children taking languages further up the system. As in England, Spanish is holding its own, whilst French and German are in decline.

It is a curiosity that, as languages are in ever greater demand in Europe...


British students are showing less and less interest in studying them. The reasons for the relative unpopularity of MFL in England are well known, league table effects, inherent difficulty and severe grading being high on the list. I do not know to what extent these factors come into play in Scotland.

Anyway, we'll see whether the Scottish ministry is willing to match its intentions with cash and good organisation. One should also question whether the aim is sound. I have yet to be
convinced that primary MFL increases subsequent enthusiasm for language learning or higher
take-up. Is there research evidence to support this assumption? And why two languages? Is the
primary curriculum full enough already?

I'll keep an eye on this story...

Here is the original piece if you don't wish to register on heraldscotland:

THE Scottish Government has announced ambitious plans to teach all primary pupils at least two modern languages.

In the week pupils return to school after the holidays, ministers are to announce they are setting up a working group to discuss how to meet the target.

The working group will look at the role of employers, universities and parents in promoting languages, as well as how the subjects are taught at school.

The training of teachers will also be a focus following concerns that primary staff are not taught language teaching as part of their university courses or probation years.

It comes after another disappointing decline in the number of pupils taking modern language Higher exams. Figures published last week showed a 4% drop in the number of pupils sitting French, German and Italian at Higher, with only Spanish showing an increase.

Dr Alasdair Allan, Minister for Learning and Skills, said the working group of key individuals and language organisations would be asked to help devise a language plan for Scotland.

“It is considered normal in most European countries to come out of school speaking more than one language,” he said. “The idea is that young people would be exposed to two languages other than their own, starting in primary school.

“It is early days, but there is strong support for the idea that you boost languages in this way and teach them earlier.

“That means we have to take decisions about teacher training to give primary teachers confidence in this area because it is no longer an option for pupils to arrive in secondary school without any meaningful exposure to other languages.”

The demise of languages in secondary has been blamed on the fact many schools no longer see languages as compulsory, despite school inspectors calling for them to be a “core element” in the first three years of secondary.

In addition, as part of cuts to education budgets, two-thirds of local authorities have scrapped foreign language assistants.

There have also been problems in primary, with The Herald revealing last year that three-quarters of schools were missing recommended targets for the delivery of modern languages.

The announcement from Dr Allan follows comments by Michael Russell, the Education Secretary, that he supported the so-called “Barcelona Agreement” by the European Council, which called for the teaching of at least two foreign languages from an early age.

Dan Tierney, a reader in language education at Strathclyde University, said: “I fervently hope Scotland can meet the proposals in the Barcelona Agreement.

“We have had many reports over the years and have worked hard to improve the languages situation although some of the more ambitious and expensive recommendations have not been implemented. There needs to be greater coherence in language provision to ensure continuity and we need to address teacher training at university.”

Sarah Breslin, director of Scotland’s National Centre for Languages, added: “I fully back this initiative and I think there is a real sense now of the importance of languages for Scotland to take its place in a globalised world.”

A spokeswoman for CBI Scotland stressed the importance of languages to businesses. “Scotland relies on its ability to compete in international markets and operating effectively in a global economy relies on the right language skills,” she said. Staff who can communicate at least conversationally can make all the difference in the conduct of business, consolidating relationships with existing suppliers and customers and opening the way to new contacts.”


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We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
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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!

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