1 ‘Won’t it all be too difficult for a non-MFL specialist?’
The evaluation of the pilot project shows that initial worries disappear very quickly and that teachers enjoy broadening their own experience of languages. The materials available do not require teachers to have specific MFL qualifications. Those who do have such qualifications will be able to apply their skills to tackling different languages. Clearly teachers will need some training in how to teach languages and there are many opportunities available for them to do this, as well as a range of guidance books from CILT.
2 ‘The pupils may ask me questions I can’t answer.’
True, but the classroom style encouraged by this approach is one of co-learning rather than knowledge transmission. Teachers who are working with this approach find that there are now excellent internet links to help them research most of the queries that may arise.
3 ‘Parents expect them to be learning one language, probably French.’
True, because that is what many of them did when they were at school 30 years ago, but once the purpose of this model is explained to them, they accept and welcome this wider approach. It is important that the model is explained to parents so that they are not confused by the multiplicity of languages. Given that many pupils already live in bilingual households, the idea that we live in a monoglot country is out of date.
4 ‘Does it matter which languages we choose?’
No. This model is designed to give every school maximum flexibility. Many factors will be taken into consideration in deciding which languages to choose:
a. the languages already spoken in the school
b. the availability of teaching materials suitable for non- or semi-specialist teachers
c. the expertise of the teachers on the staff. If you happen to have a teacher with a special interest or knowledge of a particular language, build on that but don’t allow it to dominate just because that teacher is in her ‘comfort zone’.
d. the geographical and social context of the school, e.g.
i. whether the local community has a preponderance of speakers of a particular language
ii. has business links with a particular country
iii. has active twinning links with other countries
However, we do recommend that you choose a range of languages taken from different language families or types e.g.
i. French and/or Spanish and/or Italian from the ‘Romance’ languages
ii. German, or perhaps Dutch, from the Germanic languages
iii. An Indian language, e.g. Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi or Gujerati
iv. Welsh as an example of a Celtic language
vi. Russian or Polish from Eastern Europe.
vii. Japanese or Chinese from the Asian language families
We also strongly recommend that Latin should be included in the programme because it not only links well into historical studies but illustrates many important features of language structure.
Some schools have been using Esperanto, an artificial language devised in the 19th century, as a way of increasing language awareness. Although this has not been formally included in the Discovering Language project, an evaluation of the impact of Esperanto can be found on the University of Manchester website.
5 ‘Ofsted will be critical.’
The pilot schools which had an inspection received good reports and in some cases particularly positive comment was made on the MFL provision. We understand that Ofsted have a positive view of this approach but of course it has to be well structured, resourced and delivered. The Head and Governors must be able to demonstrate the positive contribution this model makes to inter-cultural understanding and communication skills.
6 The Framework specifies ‘progression’ – how can this be achieved if you keep starting again on a new language?
In two ways:
1. if you are teaching a new language for 4 to 6 months, even on the low provision of one hour per week, there will be progression within the learning of that language.
2. Over the course of four years, the languages you teach will get progressively more difficult for the native English speaker. The skills and techniques applied to the easier languages can be applied to the more challenging ones.
There will also be progression in the pupils’ capacity to grasp the way languages function. This can be closely linked to the literacy strategy.
7 ‘How can I assess pupils’ knowledge and skills?’
We understand from the QCDA that there will be no requirement for formal assessment of language proficiency, unlike numeracy, literacy and science. However, for those who do wish to give their pupils accreditation, there is an assessment framework available (Asset Languages) which enables teachers to assess progress at low levels and in separate skills. It is unrealistic to expect pupils to achieve the same levels in all skills and all languages.
Work to provide a framework for the ‘assessment’ of Inter-Cultural Understanding and Knowledge About Language is currently in progress as part of the extension to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation project.
8 ‘What about transfer to the secondary school?’
This is at the heart of the ‘Discovering Language’ approach. The expectation that pupils will progress smoothly from primary to secondary in the same language is unrealistic. Secondary schools take in pupils from anything from 5 to 40 different primary schools. The only way progression from KS2 to KS3 could be achieved is if all primary schools do the same language (probably French), taught by specialist teachers and reaching defined outcomes. We believe this to be not only impractical but also undesirable. A 21st century UK does not need to be a nation of French speakers. We need to encourage pupils to have a range of languages but above all to have a positive attitude to learning whatever languages they may need later in their life.
The burden of trying to prepare your pupils for specific languages in specific secondary schools is removed. Your Year 6 pupils will probably go to a range of secondary schools according to parental preference. These secondary schools may well offer French, Spanish, German and, increasingly, Mandarin or Japanese as first languages in Year 7.
Whichever secondary school your pupils transfer to, you will have given them a foundation in several languages but, more importantly,
1. you will have trained them to listen carefully
2. given them techniques in how to learn a range of languages
3. given them an introduction to the structures of languages (how languages function)
4. given them a clearer idea of the range of languages in the multi-lingual and multi-cultural world in which they will be living
5. inspired in them an interest in language learning
6. developed communication skills