The Linguist

The Linguist 53,6

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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Primary problems 20 The Linguist DECEMBER 2014/JANUARY 2015 FEATURES How is compulsory language education in primary schools shaping up on the ground, asks Amanda Barton T he news that foreign languages are now a statutory part of the Key Stage 2 (KS2) curriculum in primary schools is cause for celebration. For many, the move is long overdue and aligns the primary curriculum with that in other European countries, where an early start in languages has long been the norm. However, we ignore the challenges surrounding the introduction of languages for learners aged 7-11 at our peril. Recent research reports have highlighted some of the potential obstacles, such as inadequate transition arrangements from primary to secondary school, and primary teachers with poor subject and pedagogical knowledge. Similar problems were encountered in the mid 1960s when the 'Primary French' initiative was launched to investigate the feasibility of teaching French to primary-aged children. The evaluation ultimately recommended against it, on the grounds that children who had been taught French in primary school rapidly became demotivated in secondary school as a result of poor transition arrangements. 1 Many believe the primary curriculum is overcrowded already. A survey of 591 primary schools, carried out in 2013, revealed that lack of time was perceived to be a major challenge in the delivery of a modern foreign languages (MFL) curriculum. Between 30 and 45 minutes of language teaching a week was found to be the most common model. 2 Approaches to teaching There are considerable variations in the way languages are being taught in different primary schools. In some, languages are 'embedded' in the curriculum, with little discrete teaching time devoted to languages. In this model, chunks of language are taught as they fit into the curriculum or the school day, such as during register or while studying other areas of the curriculum, for example geography or history. In other schools, language provision may be delivered in an allocated 30- or 60-minute slot each week. Although the new national curriculum places equal emphasis on writing and speaking, many primary teachers do not concentrate on literacy in languages lessons, focusing instead on developing pupils' listening and speaking skills. The rationale behind this can be easily inferred: pupils, especially very young pupils, may lack the requisite literacy skills in English to support their learning of reading and writing in a foreign language. In the absence of any assessment requirements until now, teachers may also resist teaching the 'harder' skills. According to the Government's 'Language Learning at Key Stage 2' report from 2010, there is little emphasis on verbs and grammar in primary classrooms. 3 Schools in the 2013 survey reported that the teaching of reading, writing and grammar were their greatest challenge. 4 Therefore meeting the requirements of the national curriculum is likely to be problematic. Pupils are expected to 'write at varying length, for different purposes and audiences', 'understand basic grammar', and 'develop an appreciation of a range of writing in the language studied'. Teacher capacity A reluctance to teach literacy in the foreign language may be attributed to primary teachers' poor subject knowledge: 29% of schools in the 2013 survey reported that staff did not feel confident about teaching languages to the level required in KS2. As a result, many schools rely on external language specialists, or on input from visiting colleagues from secondary schools. In some schools, language teaching is delivered by graduates with no teaching qualifications, or by teaching assistants or parent/governor volunteers. Although this may plug the gap in the curriculum, research suggests that the best provision at primary Primary problems

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