Languages- Scary or Intriguing?


Did the language change scare you away from this blog post or intrigue you? Did it make you want to hide, never to hear another language again or did it make you want to continue and learn more? What if you were a young child in school- then how would it make you feel?

This is a subject brought up during a recent German workshop. How should children be welcomed into a modern foreign languages classroom? Should they be welcomed with a cheery “Guten Tag!” or “Bonjour!” or just a simple “hello”?- What do you think?

Before being in a room of completely mixed ability German speakers I would have said “yes! Use the language as much as you can, it can’t do any harm, right?” I believed hearing a language regularly, even something simple such as hello, would help children feel more comfortable with learning and speaking the language. I would have thought; if they hear and see it regularly they’ll be able to pick up the pronunciation and see which letters make which sounds.

However, the tutor of our German class decided not to welcome us all in the language, instead opting for a simple “good morning”- why? She didn’t want to scare anyone. At first I thought the idea of being ‘scared’ by language to be silly but maybe that’s because I spent six years learning German. Through discussion within the group, I soon learned that not everyone had such an extensive background and some had none at all. This made me think back to when I first started secondary and first walking into a German classroom, after having spent three years at primary studying French and hearing my teacher welcome us in a language I had never heard, did it make me feel anxious? Yes. So imagine how it could make a primary 1 child feel.

With the introduction of the 1 + 2 modern foreign languages scheme, I feel it is even more important not to scare the children with language. With children starting learning languages at a younger age than ever before, I believe it is important to settle them in. Begin by having words in the language dotted around the classroom, beside their English translations and images or real life objects of the word. For example, labelling the scissor box with both the English and foreign language word for ‘scissors’. This way the child will begin word association and may become curious about the language. Continue to work your way from there, insuring differentiation so that every child is able to take part. I believe it is the role of the teacher to ensure no child is ever scared of learning, no matter what the subject may be. It is the teacher’s responsibility to encourage positive learning throughout the class and ensure progression and depth- two of the main principles of Curriculum for Excellence.

So I ask you again, is learning a new language scary or exciting? And what do you think we, as teachers, could do to make it less scary for children?

3 thoughts on “Languages- Scary or Intriguing?

  1. Katie Rebecca WhithamKatie Rebecca Whitham

    I found this post really interesting because I was brought up speaking another language in school. I went through the Gaelic medium in the highlands and don’t remember speaking any english in school unless it was in the playground or at home – maths in gaelic was not fun!
    But I worked as an early years practitioner in a gaelic nursery last year and it is surprising how much children pick up a language if you speak to them in it, with very little English, everyday. Circle time was always done in Gaelic and we would sing Gaelic songs and tell them what every word was. We also used a “talking teddy” where we would ask the children to pick a coloured tie for the teddy to wear out and they had to tell us where he was going all in Gaelic, just to build it up and by the end of the year, the 4 year olds were able to use brilliant Gaelic!
    However, although I speak fluent Gaelic, the thought of learning another language now at 19 does terrify me. Maybe it’s because i’m older and to 3 and 4 year olds learning a language isn’t anything different because everyday they are learning something new – especially at nursery. I think the introduction of the 1 + 2 modern foreign languages scheme is a great idea!

    1. Zoe BoomerZoe Boomer Post author

      Very interesting to hear views from someone who was brought up speaking another language, thanks for the comment!

  2. Rachel Billes

    Hi Zoe, I found this post very intriguing- as you know I am a keen linguist! It had never even occurred to me that saying hello to a child in a foreign language could be seen as daunting or even scary. I think that by introducing modern languages at a younger age it will encourage children to explore them and feel more comfortable in doing so. I really like the idea of labeling objects around the classroom with foreign words as the children will start to learn these words without even realising they are doing so.


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