As schools contemplate the removal of a second language from the national curriculum, the fast approaching Olympic Games should actually be reminding us of the importance of languages.
The government’s decision to include French as a core language at the Games demonstrates the significance of languages and communication in today’s society.
With every word spoken at the games repeated in French, Great Britain will seem diverse, cultured, and prepared for the international visitors who have arrived on our doorstep to watch the games. Can we say the same about our school pupils, however?
At the moment, children begin the study of French at the age of 7, then have the option to give this up. In Oxfordshire however, one school is fighting for the opportunity to defy the national curriculum and concentrate solely on English! Currently pupils in year 3 (7 years old) are believed to have a much weaker average reading age than as little as a couple of years ago. Headteacher of Banbury School Dr Fiona Hammans argues that she should not be obliged to teach foreign languages to her pupils if it is not felt to be in their best interests.
Dr Hammans believes that a 12-year-old pupil with a reading age of six would not benefit from learning French or German. She said: “They are so left behind and my real concern is that we don’t leave them even further behind.”
A child’s brain picks up a language through hearing and reading phrases, through books and other media, and communicating with their family and peers. Why then has the average reading age of 7 year olds decreased to the point where educationalists feel that learning a second language would be counter-productive? Are widespread use of video games and text-messaging partly to blame?
When I was younger I had dyslexia and found it very difficult to read. However, when I entered year 3, I started learning French as my second language. I had a French teacher who made us sing the alphabet and colour in drawings of animals with the words ‘un chat’ or ‘oui, j’ai un animal’ written next to them. We were given practical situations to apply what we were learning, such as pretending to be waiters and clients in a restaurant asking ‘qu’est-ce que vous voulez ?’. Though my dyslexia wasn’t extreme, I know I benefited from learning French at the age I did. When it came to choosing my GCSEs I not only continued with French but took Spanish as well and went through the whole process again!
So now, planning to continue with French at university, I thank my very first French teacher, her pages of vocab and recitals of ‘tête, épaules, genoux, orteils’ for forcing me. Although I didn’t enjoy it at first, her methods made it easier and more fun to learn, and now I’m actively choosing to pursue languages as a subject. If it hadn’t been compulsory I have no idea what I would have studied and where I would have ended up. I therefore think that the government should think hard before removing a second language from the curriculum, as how will young British people later compete with others from across Europe in the job marketplace, many of whom are able to speak several languages well?
Written by Gabriela Fullick.
Gabriela is an A-level student currently joining us in the Web-Translations office for an internship.
27 May 2011 13:55