In the new National Curriculum, languages are an ‘entitlement’ area for learning, which puts them in the same box as history and geography, as opposed to one of the core subjects. Learning a language is not just about words, it offers an enriching education including culture, history and literature, giving a young person setting out in the global business world an enviable advantage over his or her peers.
Julie Baker is the languages coordinator for Bricklehurst Manor School in Wadhurst and is a passionate advocate of her subject. “As an educationalist, I believe children ought to be learning a language to have a fully-rounded education. The mere fact of studying how other people live is part of learning a language. It is true that it is not essential to learn a language and it is true that English is an international language but it gives you an advantage in the job market. We don’t say we’re giving up geography because we all have satnav! If you have the same credentials as somebody else going for a job, the ability to speak a language is an advantage.
“Learning a foreign language helps you understand how your own language works. I spend a lot of time teaching how English works and how it relates to Latin, for example. It makes you a better practitioner of that language but also your own language.”
Audrey Sandrama from Wellesley House School in Broadstairs agrees. She says: “I tell them ‘You might think that learning French is not useful but later on in life you might move to another country and you might need to use it.'” And if they can do this in a confident, authentic way then her department, which offers French and Latin, has done the job.
Audrey adds: “It’s important to learn a language as it is everywhere now. But it is not just about learning words, it’s about the culture behind it. You understand their way of thinking and a different way of interacting with people.”
Teaching is done in a variety of ways but the big question is: how much of the lesson should be conducted in the target language? One school of thought is to go for ‘immersion’, where the teacher will conduct the whole lesson in the target language. Bricklehurst, which offers French and Chinese to its pupils, believes a balance can be struck.
Julie explains: “Immersion is difficult – my daughters were taught this way but gave up languages as soon as they could. The idea is that the children become so tuned in that it starts to make sense to them. But most children need an explanation in English.”
In the early years, schools use songs and games to introduce the basics, and to develop pronunciation. At Wellesley House juniors invite their parents to a French soiree to encourage them to use the language they have learned in class.
Learning grammar in a traditional way is important as it gives a firm base on which to develop good speaking skills – a useful talent to develop for those business meetings later on. Any language student will remember the vocab tests, listening and written comprehension and dictation â€“ these tried and tested methods work. Authentic experience in the target country is encouraged through day trips and residential visits.
Julie says: “When the children leave here, we want them to have a very solid grounding in the grammar. When they come back to visit, many say to me: ‘Thank you very much, I really understand it.’ They get it because they have done the grammar. It’s then you can start to put sentences together.”
Finding ways to understand their place in a global employment market is being developed for pupils at Wellesley House through the International School Award. This scheme has been set up by the British Council to recognise schools that are embedding an international dimension in the curriculum. Audrey explains: “We try to do this in all our subjects with cross curricular activities and links with schools in France and India.”
Julie adds: “If you are going to be international, learning a language is a diplomacy thing. Even if you are just making a basic effort, your efforts will be appreciated and the communication will flow more easily. It’s learning how to get on with your fellow man.”
- Wellesley House School www.wellesley.kent.sch.uk Broadstairs
- Bricklehurst Manor School www.bricklehurst.co.uk Wadhurst
- words: Lesley Finlay
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