Thursday, 26 February 2015

"Nobody in the world speaks French"

I have a couple of Google News Alerts which bring me each day a few interesting stories about languages and a lot of not interesting ones.  This morning's Alert featured a story that I had seen on the Languages in Primary Schools Facebook page last night, and about which there was a lot of discussion.  Here is the beginning of the article from today's Telegraph:

Mr Fraser believes that French is of no use to the modern world, especially to modern trade, and that children should be learning Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin or "even German" instead of French "to help them to get ahead in business".  He is disappointed that his own children learn French at school for this reason.  Now, we have heard things like this before, but you can imagine the reaction that this has provoked in the many teachers whose life's work has been to teach the French language to children all over the country.  In my opinion, Mr Fraser speaks before he thinks, and lacks the requisite knowledge and wisdom to see the bigger picture about language learning.

We cannot deny that the language skills of the average British Joe Public are lamentable.  The recent changes to the curricula of both England and Scotland to enable primary school children to learn at least one foreign language are one step to remedying this situation.  It is also widely acknowledged that learning one language opens the door not only to a new world of culture and ideas, but also to a whole raft of Language Learning Skills (LLS) and Knowledge About Language (KAL) which can be easily transferred to the learning of a new language.  The learning of any language, surely, is better than none.  Even French, Mr Fraser, is better than none.

As language teachers, we all know what we think.  But what do our non-teaching friends think about the situation?  The same Telegraph article has a survey asking what language children should learn at school.  Here are the results so far:

I shared this story on Facebook last night, and would like to share with you my dad's response.  My dad spent over forty years working in business and finance, the very world for which Mr Fraser thinks that today's children need to be prepared by learning a language other than French.  Here's what my dad said:

"Methinks I detect an old fashioned anti-French agenda - which is odd, bearing in mind that Scotland and France are supposed to be friends and allies from way, way back.

Since I was in the sixth form (50 years ago!) we have been told we should be learning Russian and Chinese ("Optimists learn Russian, pessimists Chinese", went the joke of the time). The role of speaking Spanish for business purposes is clear - though has the speaker missed the fact that in Brazil, one of the fast-growing economies, they speak Portuguese? And the advantages of being proficient in Arabic have never been more pronounced. And yet, and yet...

French - the language of the EU, of our big eponymous neighbours across the Channel, of parts of Belgium, of Luxembourg, of the French Caribbean - should not be written off as suggested. Quite apart from being valuable for success in the European community as the preceding sentence suggests, there is a tradition of teaching it in UK schools and the resource to do so - not only books and other materials but also trained, experienced, and passionate staff. Why does that matter? Because what is really important with young children is to arouse their interest in and habits of mind for learning ANY language. From French, and the disciplines and interest in learning it instills, they can indeed go on to other languages - not just those listed above but also business gobbledygook and Masters-speak!

And how would you properly understand ENGLISH history and, especially, our language without a knowledge of French?  French and France are accessible. Our students can fairly easily travel to France to build upon their classroom knowledge.

So come on, strange Scottish politician, expand opportunities, don't chuck 'em out!

So nobody speaks French, Mr Fraser?  Well, as you can see from the top of this post, Peppa Pig speaks French.  Dora the Explorer speaks French.  Bob the Builder speaks French.  I don't think the TV companies would have spent time and money producing French-language versions if "nobody in the world speaks French", do you?  There are many millions of little children who do, many millions of little children who would love to make friends with our children via a shared language.  Because there is more to language than business.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Looking forward to #ililc5!

Looking forward to seeing lots of you there !  Not booked?  All the info is here.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Be my Valentine

For the last few days people have been asking for Valentine's resources.  Then yesterday, completely by chance, I came across this Valentine's origami box on Pinterest.  I have simplified the idea to make a Valentine's card-cum-minibook, which would also be ideal for writing about likes and dislikes at non-Valentine's times of year.

To make it, first of all download the template from here.

1.  Cut out the shape, around the solid lines.

2.  Fold along the long, "internal" dotted lines.

3.  Fold out the two halves of the heart, along the dotted lines.

4.  Decorate the outside.

5.  Write inside!

UPDATE 15.02.15:  Due to popular demand I have created some more shapes for this design of minibook.  You can now download:

Easter Egg minibook
Christmas tree minibook
Smiley face minibook
Star minibook

UPDATE 31.03.15  A bell-shaped minibook for Les Cloches Volantes for Pâques.

Bell minibook