The Linguist

The Linguist 60,3 - June/July 2021

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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22 The Linguist Vol/60 No/3 2021 FEATURES Can a university outreach programme help secondary school students to Love Languages, asks Jon Datta T his time last year I was a maths teacher and senior secondary school leader teaching a group of Year 11 French students (ages 15-16) in a severely disadvantaged area of Hertfordshire. The fact that a maths specialist was teaching GCSE French highlights the impact of nationwide staff shortages in modern languages and uncertainty around Brexit's impact on language learning. Worse, after two recruitment drives for a part-time French teacher, I was the highest qualified candidate. I had studied French as part of a joint honours degree 14 years previously. Why part-time? The class in question was the last remaining French class in the school. Throughout the year, I regularly thought 'How on earth did it get to this?' I had been hired to drive school improvement and to raise standards in maths. Yet here I was reminding myself of grammatical conjugations. I was just one step ahead of the students. Despite the enormous challenge, stress and workload of re-learning aspects of the French language and researching best practice pedagogy, I was hopeful that I could make a transformative impact. I wanted to convey my fascination with languages. I wanted my students to develop empathy and respect for people regardless of nationality, and to see the importance of truly understanding one another. And I wanted to enrich their outlooks and lives in the process. In reality, instead of cultural immersion, I drilled the students on vocabulary and grammar. My class had been taught by a cover teacher, on and off, since Year 7 (ages 11-12). Morale was low. I was trying to cram years of curriculum content into a single year, and in terms of accountability, the outcomes were more important than the process. By the time schools closed to most children on 23 March 2020, I was confident that my class would perform significantly better than expected in their GCSEs. This wasn't because they were particularly fluent in French, but because they had taken on board the necessary methods of gaining marks in a challenging and severely graded course. In fact, with predicted grades replacing traditional exams during the pandemic, I felt cheated that all of our hard work over the past six months would not be reflected through their exam performance. However, a nagging feeling persisted that no matter how successful the students were, they hadn't really connected to the language Inspiring study © SHUTTERSTOCK

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