[lg policy] Britain's children left behind in languages by the time they're three

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jun 13 19:08:42 UTC 2012

Britain's children left behind in languages by the time they're three

At least 11 countries have lowered the age at which children start
language lessons, says study
Richard Garner Author Biography

Wednesday 13 June 2012
Growing numbers of pupils around the world are learning a foreign
language at an earlier age – with some starting as three-year-olds,
says a major study released today. At least 11 countries have lowered
the age at which children start learning a second language in the past
decade, with two of them – Spain and Belgium – introducing the subject
for pupils aged three.
The first bilingual state primary school in England – St Paul's in
Brighton – is also introducing lessons in Spanish for three-year-olds.

The study, by language experts Teresa Tinsley and Therese Comfort for
the education trust CfBT, offers a comprehensive insight into language
teaching throughout the world. It coincides with the decision by
Education Secretary Michael Gove, in his national curriculum review on
Monday, to introduce compulsory language lessons for all children from
the age of seven in September 2014. The report reveals that of 21
countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development, England devotes the least time to teaching languages to
nine to 11-year-olds.

Only 3 per cent of curriculum time is devoted to the subject compared
with 25 per cent in Luxembourg and 13 per cent in Greece. Countries
where language learning is still voluntary in primary schools consist
of England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Australia, Ireland and the United
States, the report says. Language teaching is even on the decline in
the US. In 2008 the US Education Department reported that the
proportion of elementary (primary) schools offering foreign-language
instruction had dropped to one quarter of all elementary schools. The
Obama-led government has sought to redress this but education policy
in the US is highly decentralised. "English-speaking countries
dedicate the least amount of time to foreign-language learning," says
the report. They are, it adds, "lagging behind the rest of the world".

In addition to devoting the least amount of time to the subject, they
also had the lowest expectations of their pupils. But the report also
said: "There are greater challenges in implementing primary languages
for policy makers in English-speaking countries than there are in the
rest of the world." In English-speaking countries, it adds, "there is
no one language which everyone wants to learn".

it is also often argued in the UK that learning another language is
unnecessary because English is the universal language of business.
However, the report concludes: "The assumption that English speakers
do not need to learn other languages because others are learning ours
is damaging to our economy."

The report does not come up with an optimum age for learning a foreign
language but says an early start is essential. "Unless language
learning starts early, it is argued, learners will be unable to take
advantage of the natural capacity young children have to acquire
language instinctively," it says. Case study: Holidays in Spain the
inspiration for bilingual primary

It all starts in the nursery school with Spanish lessons for
three-year-olds. St Paul's Church of England Primary School in
Brighton is the country's first bilingual state primary. The 235-pupil
school chose Spanish because it was the language its pupils were most
likely to come across on their holidays.

Parents are being attracted to the school because of its bilingualism
and its headteacher, Linda Dupret, has been appointed to the panel set
up by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, to review the curriculum.

"We're one of the worst countries in the world for speaking foreign
languages," she said. "We're doing them [the pupils] a disservice if
we don't teach them another language."

The children's enthusiasm for Spanish is nurtured by practising the
language in other lessons. Six- and eight-year-olds receive a weekly
Spanish lesson and use Spanish vocabulary in art, music and PE.

The ease with which the children take to a second language at such an
early age seems to spur their enthusiasm for other subjects.

Where St Paul's has started, others are likely to follow. In Brighton,
there is a proposal for another bilingual primary school – which will
be opened as a free school later this year.


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