An article published in the Independent on 23 June 2007 presents a new plan piloted in Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Derbyshire to introduce primary school children from the age of nine to 6 foreign languages before they start secondary school.
The idea is to provide a taster and hopefully the basis for an informed choice when they transfer to secondary school. French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Punjabi and Latin will be studied for a term each before they leave primary school. The project is being evaluated by the University of Manchester and a report will be published by the end of the year.
With the 2010 deadline approaching, a lot of primary schools have introduced languages into their curriculum in many creative ways - leaving secondary schools having to deal with students very different linguistic profiles on entry.
“One school which has seized on the initiative is the 320-pupil Cavalry primary school in March, Cambridgeshire - in the largely white Fenlands. "We didn't have any language teacher here at all," said headteacher Val Spriggs. "The children really have taken to this. Our children in this area have very little experience of other cultures. It has been a lovely way of introducing them to different ways of doing things."
"Catherine White, the teacher in charge of delivering the project, admits to having had a sketchy knowledge of languages - especially Japanese - herself when she started the scheme.
"You don't have to be a linguist to teach it," she said. "After all, I gave up on art when I was 14 or 15 - but I still have to teach it."
Such project could have a massive impact in terms of students’ motivation but they should be supported by an element of choice offered at secondary school, which is often not possible due to staffing and other curriculum constraints.
The project also helps dealing with some of the transition issues, such as setting in Year 7 on the basis of previous language studies, which often gets too complicated in large secondary schools to be effective.
Fostering enthusiasm for languages through tasters or general language awareness programmes at LEA level could be a lot more effective than starting something that cannot be followed up at secondary level. Watch this space for the report…