Compulsory education in Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) has been high on my list of desired movements within Scottish Education for several years now. So it comes with no surprise that I was overwhelmed with joy when Scottish Government announced the upcoming 1+2 language policy in 2011. The 1+2 policy, proposed to come into place in 2020, aims to broaden children’s horizons and future prospects through the introduction of an additional two MFL, on top of their mother tongue (L1). This will be achieved through the introduction of the first MFL (L2) beginning in primary one and will merge the second language (L3) during the middle and upper stages of primary school.
My exposure to MFL in the primary school was very limited; in fact I left primary school knowing a few basic French greetings and a handful of French songs – which were certainly unrelated to my education! To me, learning a new language, at this stage, was not on my agenda at all. It wasn’t until I went to secondary school where I was exposed to MFL in great depth and it completely changed my views on learning a new language. I was immersed in a new culture, new sounds, new punctuation – new everything! Due to my enthusiasm, learning language became my strength so I sat examinations in Intermediate 2 French and Spanish followed by Higher French. I would have chosen more languages had there not been restrictions on the balance of curricular areas when choosing subjects. This year, as my elective module, I have chosen to learn Italian in order to broaden my language knowledge further and I intend to take part in the MFL elective in third year with the intention of specialising in this field.
But enough about me!
In this post I hope to analyse, to an extent, the 1+2 approach and how it will be advantageous, and potentially disadvantageous, when it comes into place in 2020.
I believe there will be several positive outcomes from the introduction of the 1+2 policy. Firstly children will develop a love of language learning, so long as it is taught in an engaging and inventive way, and will be able to use this transferable skill later in life. Indeed Education Scotland outlines the aims of the policy and how it applies to the four capacities when they state, “Through learning new languages young people can become successful learners with opportunities relating to working and travelling abroad; confident individuals able to communicate in more than one language; effective contributors to a changing world with an understanding of Scotland’s relationship to other countries; and responsible citizens with an awareness of cultures and languages in addition to their own” (p6).
Although I believe that this new policy has economic reasoning at the centre, to develop a work force that can push Scotland’s global success through use of language, there are cognitive advantages that can arise from language learning in the early years. Children who speak English as an Additional Language (EAL) for example, have developed several skills in advance of monolingual children. A common perception is that the brain has a limited capacity to learn language, hence if a child has, for example, Polish as their first language, their English and Polish language skills will be hindered because of this “limited capacity”. However research has shown that the brain has an unlimited capacity for learning language and that it is easier to pick up a new language earlier in life due to a child’s mental flexibility. The skills that bilingual children have already acquired include “greater awareness of how language operates [which] can help with the development of literacy skills, especially decoding, and with the learning of other languages; enhanced problem solving abilities, which are useful for maths and ICT; heightened creative potential, which may display itself in writing and critical understanding and an awareness of the importance of context and audience in language use” (p4). If these skills are evident within bilingual children I believe it is clear to see the cognitive advantage of introducing our children to language within the Early Years too.
However as I am keen to pursue a career in the Early Years at present, I have reflected upon some of the disadvantages this early language development could incur. In a recent input within the 2CM6 module, where we are discovering some of the pedagogical strategies of teaching Spanish within the primary classroom, our lecturer pointed out a very important point – the phonemes in any MFL will differ from English phonemes hence we should be careful when demonstrating written forms. In English, we have 44 phonemes which children are expected to learn within the first few years of education, in Spanish, for example, only 24 exist but the pronunciation of these phonemes differ greatly. How are we expected to teach the phonemes of English without merging those existing in the chosen MFL too? It may be possible to teach children to speak and listen in a MFL during the first few years of school before introducing reading and writing skills to prevent confusion. However Scottish Government have provided a number of resources for the Early Years which include animated stories with written dialogue hence shows that Government expect us to introduce reading and writing. I believe this needs to be carefully considered before the guidelines for teaching MFL are updated to accommodate the 1+2 scheme.
Another factor that has been heavily criticised, yet it still a valid argument, is the impact this will have on school staff as not all teachers have experience in MFL beyond first and second year of secondary school. This of course is not enough to be confident in presenting a MFL lesson to children in P6 or P7. For this reason I believe compulsory modules in MFL should be introduced in teacher education so our future teachers are equipped with the same amount of knowledge in language development as they have in mathematics or literacy. Luckily on our course we are given the option to develop our language skills through our elective and compulsory languages module.
Although the implementation of the 1+2 policy is still a few years away, I am keen to see how schools move towards integrating this into their curriculum and how Government are able to provide resources and appropriate training to make the most out of the program.
Belgutay, J (2011) Young Scots must rise to languages challenge. Available at: https://www.tes.com/article.aspx?storycode=6088675 [Accessed: 15th October 2015]
Education Scotland (no date) Resources – Support materials – Learning and Teaching. Available at: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/learningandteaching/curriculumareas/languages/modernlanguages/supportmaterials/resources/index.asp [Accessed: 15th October 2015]
Kanaki, A (2015) Speaking and Listening. [Lecture to MA Education Year 2] ED21005 Languages. University of Dundee. 8th October.
Keatch, B (2015) Reading in the Early Years. [Lecture to MA Education Year 2] ED21005 Languages. University of Dundee. 6th October.
Scottish Executive (2005) Learning in 2+ Languages. Available at: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/images/LearningInTwoPlusLanguages_tcm4-306089.pdf [Accessed: 15th October]
Scottish Government (2012) Language Learning in Scotland A 1+2 Approach: Reports and Recommendations. Edinburgh: Scottish Government
University of Surrey (no date) Spanish phonemes and phonetic transcription. Available at: http://www.fahs.surrey.ac.uk/languages/spanish-phonetics/advanced-phonetics-7-2/spanish-phonemes.htm [Accessed: 15th October 2015]