Saturday, 7 January 2012

Sustainable Promotion for Foreign Languages

thank you note for every languageI was delighted to share today in the Times Educational Supplement's MFL column some of the best strategies our language faculty has used over the years to promote languages with our students.
Instead of just looking at presenting a very wide range of strategies, I wanted to reflect on how effective different strategies had been in encouraging taking a foreign language as an option at GCSE.

Some activities are really enjoyable but not necessarily have an impact on the uptake and despite using exit questionnaires and questionning students, the key reasons that make a student take the leap and opt are still a bit of mystery.

Some of the best strategies included:
*Involving students in the organisation of trips,
*Trips to local restaurants or tapas bar to facilitate discussions about how speaking another language can help in other careers like catering,
*Inviting speakers to show how languages are used in the world of work,
getting involved in cross-curricular project,
*Linking with schools abroad for students to get the personnal satisfaction of communication for a  real purpose,
*Regularly celebrating student achievement to make students realise that fluency is not the ultimate aim at KS3 or 4 for that matter...  

In our on-going promotion campaign, languages teachers would be well-advised to warn students against the following reasons to opt:

I like the teacher
Lovely but very dangerous-everybody will have warned the students about it, but it still happens although it can also be more maturely expressed as "I know I will do better with this teacher as I get on with them". Still, a long term aim and career plan might be safer to secure student's commitment over the two years leading to a GCSE exam...

My friends are doing it
Not a great idea but it is a fact that a lot of students seem to opt in frienship groups. Some realise early it was a mistake but unfortunately some take longer and then feel trapped on a course they are no longer interested in. Opting in friendship groups can mean good group dynamics in class but it can also create a classroom climate that constantly needs steering away from the socialising mode..

My parents want me to do it
It is always a great asset to have strong parental support but it is sometimes a real problem if the choice to opt was not made by the students themselves. We all know that the correlation between student commitment and good results is very strong and students who are involved directly in the decision-making tend to be a lot more committed.

To avoid these 3 main pitfalls and really get students to carefully consider their options, it is also essential to have an honest on-going conversation with students about their aspirations, interests and achievements. Securing a choice for the right reasons is certainly the step in the right direction towards commitment and success.

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