Tuesday 23 October 2012

Language Show Live 2012: Multi-lingual awareness for Primary Schools

Multi-lingual awareness for Primary Schools was a seminar given on Sunday morning by Peter Downes and Joan Dickie.  It was described in the programme as "From popular English stories in a foreign language and interactive video phone conversations to fun ways of investigating languages - top tips to make your pupils love languages!"  

Now I've made it no secret over the past few years that I am uncomfortable with children in Key Stage 2 learning lots of different languages.  In my opinion they will end up knowing little about anything.  I would rather they spent the time on one language and made real, tangible progress.  Obviously this creates significant difficulties for many schools when Year 6 children transfer to Year 7, in particular the huge range of provision in different feeder primary schools.  So it was with interest that I settled down to hear about "Discovering Language - the alternative approach to 'one language for all' at KS2".

The 'Discovering Language' project, funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and administered by the ASCL, promotes language awareness from Year 3 to Year 6.  It puts spoken and written language into the wider context of communication, and explains the wide range of world languages, how they have developed and why they change.  By listening to 5 or 6 different languages, children develop their listening skills and are encouraged to make careful observations.  Their interest is stimulated and they begin to see the connections between languages.

This approach has a number of advantages:

  • It is more approachable for non-specialist teachers who are over-challenged by having to do one language for four years.
  • Small children have a huge capacity for learning lots of different languages and for comparing them with each other and in turn comparing them with English.
  • This method is not so much teaching as allowing children to make discoveries.
  • A good background for new Year 7 students regardless of the language they end up doing.
  • A sound foundation for all learners that really helps with their literacy.
  • Helps to overcome the problem of mixed-age classes.
  • Overcomes transition problems.
The one disadvantage, for me, is that it is intended to be taught by class teachers and not visiting specialists, which means that I would be out of a job.  Again.

Children look at verbal and non-verbal communication, such as sign language, signals and signs.  The BSL 4 Kids website is a good source of information and resources about British Sign Language.  They also examine the historical roots of English, coming from events such as the Norman Conquest.  If teachers of Literacy want to improve children's vocabulary, they can look at the dual Anglo-Saxon/French vocabulary that exists in English, such as Greetings versus Salutations and room versus chamber.  This also explains why in English we have pig/pork, sheep/mutton and cow/beef among others.

The Language Investigator from Coventry LA
Early Start - resources are available in French, Spanish and German, and have been commissioned in Russian.

I have to admit that having attended this seminar I have been slightly swayed in my opinion.  I don't want to teach KS2 children lots of bits of language, but would be interested in this kind of comparative etymology and linguistics.  It's something that I do mention a lot in passing to explain to children why, for example, cognates exist between French and English, or why a lot of Spanish has Arabic roots.

Mr Gove has made it clear that KS2 children should learn one language from Year 3 to Year 6, and also that he is not going to make available any additional funding to facilitate training and resourcing.

I would be interested to hear others' views on this subject.  One language at KS2 or Language Awareness?


  1. Oh that's really interesting! I share both your concerns and your tentative enthusiasm for this. I too always make a point of explaining cognates and historical connections between languages - indeed I suspect many monolingual adults would appreciate and benefit from this sort of "comparative etymology and linguistics" as well as KS2 children and upwards. It would be great to have a sensible balance here offered to schools: practice with just one language (and preferably by an MFL specialist!) but also some sessions of language awareness which could tie in very nicely with Literacy I think.

  2. Bonjour,

    Je vous invite à visiter le site "Voyages en français" et la rubrique "Jeunes nomades" modérée et animée par des professeurs de l'Institut Français de Madrid. Nous invitons les jeunes apprenants à échanger sur les thèmes du voyage et de l'interculturel, en français, et de réaliser ensemble des projets :

    Regardez notamment l'article Le jeu des 7 familles et la fiche pédagogique associée :

    Merci d'avance de votre intérêt et commentaires !