“He who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” ~ Richard Henry Dann
This song pretty much sums up my memory of learning a modern foreign language (MFL) at primary school. We learned it until we were blue in the face, and then sang it in an assembly to the rest of the school. I’m sure we did learn a few other basics (Bonjour, ca va, au revoir) but it is interesting to note that this learning didn’t take place until I was in year 6 (in England – the final year of Primary) and was taught by a specialist teacher.
Of course, it’s been a long time since I was at primary school (oof that makes me feel old) and approaches to education are ever changing. In Scotland, there is now the 1 + 2 approach which aims to ensure that children have the opportunity to learn a modern language from p1 (Education Scotland, Undated). This is slightly different in England, where languages are required to be taught in key stages 2-3 (ages 7-14) (Long and Bolton, 2016). The reason for beginning language studies at these earlier ages may be due to research which suggests that:
…an early start can result in early achievements such as improved communication skills, positive attitudes towards languages and cultures and heightened metalinguistic and metacognitive awareness… (Kirsch, 2012)
Primary teachers are expected to deliver lessons on modern languages, just as they are for all other areas of the curriculum. That being said, during my time on placement as well as the time I spent volunteering in a p2 class, I saw very little teaching in this area. This may be in part, because entry to teacher training degrees does not require a modern language qualification, and many people have not used those skills since they left school themselves. Not that I suggesting that I believe that candidates SHOULD have a higher modern language qualification (as that would mean rejecting many who could go on to be amazing teachers).
But for those of us that are perhaps a bit rusty/ lacking in confidence, we must work extra hard to undertake our own professional learning and development in order to provide the highest quality education to the children.
In order to support us in this professional development, the university is providing some MFL workshops. I am attending the French and Spanish workshops as I have studied French in the past (previously mentioned primary school and then a disastrous attempt at secondary school) and hope that this will give me a starting point to build upon.
Our first workshop session began with this video:
This grabbed my attention and immediately took me back to my time in nursery, where the children loved this song (the English version) and there were times when it was played on repeat. I really like the idea of using this as an attention grabber/ lesson starter as it is fun and a bit silly, and likely to get the children talking. They may also be able to make connections if they have heard the English version.
Throughout the workshop, Carrie demonstrated and had us participate in various active learning strategies. One of these was to watch and then repeat an action and french word (for example, Carrie would wave her hand while saying ‘Bonjour’ and then the class was expected to do the same). I felt that this activity was effective as there was lots of repetition, and the action added meaning to the word. The act of responding as a whole class, or even in table groups removed the fear of ‘getting it wrong’ and encouraged everyone to participate. There were also ways that this activity could be extended such as adding a ‘Simon Says’ competitive element.
At the end of the session, we were asked to devise an activity to reinforce talking and listening skills.
A simple activity which I feel I could use to develop these skills is to bring some simple instructional language into PE.
Left/ à gauche
Right/ à droite
Red/Rouge, Yellow/Jaune, Green/Vert (Traffic Lights)
The teacher would likely begin by being the instructor, but children could also have turns to call out the words; reinforcing speaking skills. To check comprehension, the teacher could have the children shout out the meaning as they do the action. Once the children become confident, the teacher could also swap between giving the instruction in French or in English.
The workshop helped me to recognise that there are some big gaps in my knowledge. In order to continue to develop my own modern language skills I have begun using the website Duolingo. This teaches through various methods such as:
I don’t think that I will ever become a fantastically fluent French speaker, however I aim to learn enough to allow me to be confident when providing examples or modelling pronunciation to my class.
Kirch, C. (2012) Teaching Foreign Languages in the Primary School. London: Continuum. p4