Girls' success at minding language

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Feb 7 14:32:12 UTC 2005

Girls' success at minding language

With the lack of foreign language skills costing Black Country firms a
fortune, education reporter Cathy Spencer discovers how at one school
every student becomes fluent in at least two foreign languages

Feb 4, 2005, 07:54

Spelling star Nisha Abraham-Thomas made a name for herself after getting
to the finals of the BBC's Hard Spell competition.  But the 13-year-old
from Wolverhampton Girls High doesn't put her success down to good English
lessons but to her German, Russian and French classes. The school is the
only language specialist school in the city and teaches eight different
languages including Latin, Japanese, Gujarati, Punjabi and Spanish. Nisha
says it helps when understanding English. "When I was looking through the
dictionary I found a lot of words that originated in the French language,"
she says.

"Also when you learn a language there are lots of grammar rules which help
with English. I think it is great that my school has given me the chance
to learn another language because it teaches you about different cultures.
"I want to be a surgeon and a lot of technical terms come from Latin - so
it has helped being introduced to that at school." About 60 per cent of
British trade is with non-English speaking nations.  Unfortunately,
Britain - and the West Midlands - appears ill-equipped to exploit these
markets. A conference in Birmingham recently warned that a lack of foreign
language skills is costing Midland businesses 10billion a year in lost

And while countries in Europe are ensuring their citizens are
multi-lingual, Britain has cut the amount of compulsory language lessons
in school. Julie Lawton, headteacher at Wolverhampton Girls High School,
says: "It was a blow when the Government said that pupils could drop
languages at 14-years-old. "The Government is now asking primary schools
to take on the teaching of languages and by 2010 all primary schools will
have to deliver foreign language lessons. "Because we are a language
specialist school we are working with primary schools to help them deliver
this expertise.

"Studying a language in their early years is good because they haven't got
any inhibitions and if you can get their interest going then they should
want to carry on studying it." Until September every secondary pupil had
to study at least one language between the ages of 11 and 16. They now
only need to do so between the age of 11 and 14. That has resulted in a
third fewer pupils studying languages in year ten. Mrs Lawton believes
this has an impact on their English skills. "Pupils can learn more about
the background to English when they learn a foreign language," she says.

"They learn how a foreign language is made up and can then transfer that
to their own language. "I am keen for girls to find out more about
languages because the world is getting smaller and not only will it help
them on holidays but also in the workplace. "The English are the butt of
jokes - if you find someone who only speaks one language they must be
English. This is wrong and we should make the effort to learn about
another culture. "At Wolverhampton Girls High we offer a broad range of
languages and everyone who comes to the school studies three and each
pupil is required to continue with two at GCSE."

It was stories of her father's trips abroad with his engineering job which
encouraged Mrs Lawton to become a linguist. She says: "He would bring back
snippets of information from France and Germany and I realised what was
out there. "Focusing on languages has made me realise how important it is
for students to learn them - because there is a shortage of people with
language skills in this country. If you can speak another language you are
already ahead of the rest." The school has dedicated language classrooms
and a computer suite where pupils can learn interactively at their own
computer and using the interactive white board.

Mrs Lawton says: "We also encourage students to get out of the classroom
and go on trips abroad and they recently spent 10 days in Japan and we
have a trip to Russia organised for September. "Short visits show them
what it is like to be abroad and we try to organise trips across the
curriculum. The science department have organised a trip to Paris so
pupils can combine a science project with practising their language
skills." Being encouraged to learn language skills at school has opened up
a lot of opportunities for former pupils. Mrs Lawton says: "A lot of our
students go on to study languages at university and they have fantastic
opportunities to work abroad afterwards. "One of our former students has
recently got a job working at the British Embassy in Moscow."

Despite facing defeat in the final round, young Nisha Abraham-Thomas says
she plans to compete in the BBC competition again this year and is already
starting to work on becoming the champion speller. She says: "I think I
can be this year's champion and with my school's help and expertise in
languages I think I stand a good chance."

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