The Linguist

The Linguist 53,4

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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30 The Linguist AUGUST/SEPTEMBER OPINION & COMMENT Email with your views A challenge for teachers I read 'Revising the GCSE' (TL53,3) with interest but also with some degree of scepticism. Some considerable changes to the primary languages curriculum will need to be made before a credible primary- secondary curriculum can be established, and the new demands placed on secondary school modern foreign languages (MFL) teachers would appear to require a major national in-service training effort, such as has probably never been made before. The proposed revised GCSE curriculum certainly looks as though it will be a 'challenge for teachers'. The intention to require candidates to develop a high level of communication skills, with an emphasis on spontaneity, to read authentic texts, to understand how language works and how to manipulate it, is all very laudable, but how easy will it be to achieve these aims in practice? Much the same aims were produced for the National Curriculum for Modern Foreign Languages when it was published in the1980s, but the GCSE failed to reflect the aims. The gap between intention and practicable interpretation was too wide, as Shirley Lawes fears might be the case with the new curriculum. Dr Lawes argues that the new GCSE will be taken by children who will have been learning the language for nine years. She assumes a continuity of practice over the country across Key Stages 2 and 3. Is this likely? In your article 'Ready to Roll?' (TL52,3), we learned that there is no agreement in the primary sector over which languages to teach, how much time to spend on them, no consistency of practice and a widespread failure to establish primary-secondary transition. Moreover, the report highlighted teachers' serious lack of foreign language knowledge and skills. If, as seems likely, only a small minority of pupils will have been taught continuously for nine years, the Awarding Authorities will be faced with an impossible problem of producing common examination materials. The survey that informed the article in TL52,3, 'provided a strong message about the need for further staff development', including a need for teachers to have opportunities to improve their linguistic skills. In view of the demands which the new curriculum will place on teachers, the need for planned and coordinated staff and curriculum development seems likely to be just as important in the secondary sector. It would be interesting to hear from teachers of MFL what their reactions are to these proposals. Joseph Trickey FCIL The World Cup focused some press attention on linguistic matters, with a profile of England manager Roy Hodgson in The Daily Mail reporting that he speaks seven languages. However, rather than encouraging anyone to follow suit, it offered an easier solution: a telephone interpreting service that connects fans having difficulty with Portuguese to 'volunteer translators' in various languages. The DfE's announcement of plans to expand the teaching of Mandarin in English schools – coinciding with a major conference in London – received attention from the BBC and The Telegraph, among others. However The Express said this would be a 'waste of time and resource', since Chinese was an 'obscure' language. The author thought that it would be difficult to learn because he had heard many languages spoken on public transport and Chinese was the 'most impenetrable'. Forbes magazine agreed that there was no chance that Mandarin would ever displace English as the world's most important language, as it would be 'a very difficult language for the rest of the world to learn'. Meanwhile, in the wake of the removal of works of American literature from the English syllabus, The Mirror speculated on changes Michael Gove might be planning in the foreign languages curriculum, such as 'greater emphasis on miming and children speaking more loudly'. The most widely reported piece of language-related news was the findings from Edinburgh University that second language learning improves cognitive ability and slows brain aging. Septuagenarians who had learned another language outperformed on intelligence tests, and those with a third language did even better. Further research might explore whether learning Mandarin has a greater effect than European languages but, for now, the message that learning any language is good for the brain is a welcome one. Teresa Tinsley is Director of Alcantara Communications; TERESA TINSLEY © THINKSTOCK

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