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Language Education

Teach languages, primaries told

This seems like something people have been saying for years.

I can see the reasons for removing it as a compulsory subject for GCSEs, but it does seem a shame to cut back on language education when as far as I can see foreign languages are something we are particularly weak at as a nation. Perhaps including this in the primary education is the way to counteract this.

I remember when I started languages at secondary school and it was like going back and starting primary again. When I first learnt to read the books I was given were mindnumbingly tedious (ie "Jane has a dog", etc, etc), but when you get past that stage and have a reasonable vocabulary you get to cover more interesting stuff. Then when you go to secondary school you get to start that all over again in a different language. Learning to count again, albeit in a different language, when you're 11 is a bit demoralising.

I think when you start your first additional language at that age, the difference in your level of vocabulary between your mother tongue and the new language is so big that you don't really see where it's going to go. Perhaps then it would be better to introduce this earlier so the gap is not so wide? Also, I imagine with the difference in languages when you get to secondary stage there must be a greater degree of "unlearning" of rules from your mother tongue that are no-longer valid in the new language. Would this then also be easier to deal with earlier, so that the foundations of the second language were already in place by the time these rules were learnt in the first?

I think from my experience of school that the comments about languages being seen as pointless seem a fair summary of what I saw from my language classes. Perhaps they were even pointless. Given the short space of time they were studied was there even enough learnt to make any use of the subject? I've got a reasonably good GCSE in German, but I would be the first to admit I have never known enough about the language to make much use of it (and now I've forgotten a lot of what I learnt). OK, people can get a lot out of them but studying them at A-level and beyond, but the vast majority of people don't.

Comparing this to other subjects, most seem to give you enough background by that level that you might be able to apply them to a limited extent. Is this just a case of language education being held back by the later start?

Then again, I seem to be focusing on vocabulary here. However, that did seem to be the main focus of my language education together with general notions of sentance structure. Things like translation skills and grammar were just brushed over as far as I can remember. Was that just bad teaching or lack of time? I only have experience of one secondary language education, so I wouldn't really know.

All in all, it seems as if languages at primary level would be a good thing.

However, what is the cost of this? How do you make the extra time to fit this in? What gets less coverage?


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
14th Dec, 2006 12:13 (UTC)
I think the teaching of languages in UK schools is fairly useless in itself for visiting a foreign country for anything more than a week, but I don't think that's its main purpose - it's to teach you what the basic bits of the language like pronouns, present tense, past tense and adjectives sound like and look like, so that you can just about make out the gist of something and get a foothold for learning it properly should you ever want to. It's also so you can at least find out if you're any good at/like picking up new languages before you make decisions to go and live in different countries.

I think people would be a lot more competent and comfortable in languages if they learned them earlier; other countries are far better at English than we are at foreign languages because they start teaching it at primary level. There was a study somewhere (duh have forgotten sorry) that found the ability to learn language had a marked decrease about the age of eight, which means we completely miss the boat on basic biology, as well as socially setting ourselves up to be a nation of arrogant tossers who go to other people's countries and expect everybody drop everything in order to work around them.
14th Dec, 2006 13:03 (UTC)
I can see that it would be useful to give you an overview of the language like that. However, certainly as far I could see from my class at school, most people didn't view it that way and instead thought more of it as a futile attempt to learn another language for the sake of knowing another language. Then again we were right up in the north of the country so weren't really near the continent, so that probably played a factor in it too.

I had heard about studies like that, but haven't actually seen them myself. However, it does beg the question as to why we don't teach it a primary level given that is the case?
14th Dec, 2006 12:54 (UTC)
I started taking language classes, French in case you were wondering, when I was in first grade, and I don't think it really helped encouraging me to learn them more.

In the US I think language classes serve the purpose to teaching grammar since NO english teacher touches that subject.

I will say I'm now kicking myself for not working harder with French and Spanish when I was younger since I'm now fighting through German and French. What I think would help the most with learning languages is sending kids into immersion programs after a few years of learning the basics. I would agree more focus needs to be on speaking the language vs. writing since most will use the skills for travel. But learning languages helps open students to cultures beyond there own (which is a big probelm in the US).
14th Dec, 2006 13:22 (UTC)
*shrug* my mum taught us a lot of french when we were junior school age. I gradually forgot it through secondary school, retaining enough to sleep through French lessons and do well in my GCSE. Since then I've forgotten it even faster... I don't think these things are much use unless you keep it up, by travelling to the country for a week each year, or making an effort to read books in the language, or seeking out people who speak the language to practise conversation, or anything.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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