Monday, 12 November 2007

Rt Hon John Redwood’s Diary: Learning Foreign Languages

I came across this article in via Joe Dale’s blog (see link in my favourite sites)

Rt Hon John Redwood’s article is interesting and relevant and I liked his comparison between compulsory Latin and the current situation in mfl. Those were different times and the main motivation was then to get into University, with languages recognised as a selection criteria.

“There is a case to say that children under 16 do not always make informed choices about what subjects are best for them, and that a modern language should be one of the elements of a balanced education. Making children study a language up to 16 gives them the option to develop this interest later in their academic careers if it works for them.”

Why later? This goes again all research that suggests that it is easier to learn a language at an early age.

Joe Dale’s answer focused on the following points:

· Compulsory languages at Primary level is a positive step although there are training issues.
· Sustainability and progression are key.
· KS4 uptake is affected by perceived difficulty of MFL compared to other subjects.
· This perception is backed up by data and a proven severity of grading at GCSE.
· Relevance is questioned and there is a lack of motivation.
· Languages are not necessarily a priority for schools’ Senior Management Teams, who prefer to concentrate on other subjects to achieve their 5 A*-C targets.
· We must find a way to reverse the downward trend and ICT may have a role to play.

I think you have said it all, Joe!

As regards Primary Language, I feel like you that good quality training is key as well as the co-ordination at LA level to ensure smooth transition between KS2 and KS3. Indeed, no single school can take this on-particularly if you happen to have 40-odd feeder primary schools.

If I remember well, it is the old transition chestnut that was so hard to crack in the previous PL experiment that it lead to its failure... However, I would argue that this should not be the role of Language Colleges only-it can also be a glimmer of hope and a breath of fresh of fresh air for all MFL colleagues.

Perceived difficulty is a tough one too. It is backed up by data and as much as I disagree with some decisions taken at Senior Management levels in schools, it is true that Languages for all is a luxury many schools cannot afford if they want to compete in leagues table.

Motivation is an issue, but that's when the wonderful creativity of so many of our colleagues comes into play. Anyway... are all our students motivated to study English, Maths or Science?

Equal opportunity of access to ICT for all MFL classes is one issue I want to look at to boost motivation. Why should only a few classes be allowed access, as is often the case, depending on random timetabling and staff ICT Training?

Maybe we should move from a plain "Languages for All" to a "Languages with ICT for All"...


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