UK: Children to try out six languages before they start secondary school

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Jun 26 01:00:49 UTC 2007

Children to try out six languages before they start secondary school By
Richard Garner, Education Editor Published: 23 June 2007

Primary school children are learning six different languages from the age of
nine under a pioneering new plan. The idea is to give them a taste of all
six so they can then decide for themselves which language to opt for when
they transfer to secondary school. The scheme is being piloted in three
local education authorities - Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and
Derbyshire - and is being backed by secondary school headteachers. The
children study French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Punjabi and Latin for a
term each before they leave primary school. The project is being evaluated
by the University of Manchester with a view to promoting it nationally if it
is successful. The report will be published by the end of the year.

Peter Downes, a former president of the secondary school headteachers' union
and a languages teacher himself, who is managing the project with cash
backing from the Esme Fairbank Foundation, said: "It is educationally better
for the children. We're living in a modern world - where children all
learning French and going into France for a day is no longer relevant. We
will need a much wider language base in future." Ministers are insisting
that every child should have the right to learn a foreign language from the
age of seven by the end of the decade. Some primary schools have introduced
the subject while others have not - leaving secondary schools facing an
enormous ability range when the children arrive at 11.

"It is really difficult putting them all in the same class," said Mr Downes.
"If you start from scratch for the beginners those who have been learning
for years will get bored ... This way they will all have been taught to the
same level by the time they transfer." The ideal, he said, is for clusters
of primary schools feeding the same secondary school to get together to
teach the project. 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." The proof of
the pudding lies with the pupils. Alex Saunders, 11, who has taken to
signing his name "Alexus" after learning Latin, said: "I like it."
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