The Scottish Government has committed to every child learning a second language at the age of 5. Alongside this, they’ll learn an additional language in P5, which means children will know 3 languages by the time they leave school. It’s called the 1+2 policy and we think it’s a great pledge, as there are so many reasons why children should learn another language.
Increase their skills
Earlier this week an article came out stating that ‘bilingual babies are smarter’. Growing up learning or hearing a second language helps to increase their learning capabilities including problem solving and memory. This means not only do children benefit from knowing a second language; it also helps them improve across all other subjects that they’re learning.
This may seem like extreme forward planning, but as the world continues to internationalise, employers are looking to their potential employees for language skills. Business is conducted worldwide and the need to understand and communicate with other cultures is massive. Having the ability to learn a language at a young age is an excellent skill to have.
Secondary schools in the UK teach a foreign language in years 7 to 9, with it being optional for students to take a language at GCSE. Starting languages in primary schools could create the enthusiasm needed to help with the uptake of GCSE and A-level languages. It can help to show students that languages aren’t necessarily a risky option at GCSE/A-level, instead they are fun and there are ways that you can learn a language and do well with it!
Primary schools that have been a part of the Junior Language Challenge have found children love to learn languages. Those that get to the final of the challenge have had the chance to learn three new languages; many of them have chosen to enter again the year after too!
There are such a large variety of cultures in the UK, in one primary school there are 20 different languages spoken. Not one of these speak English as a first language, so equipping children with the skills to learn a language will make it easier for them to pick up English and communicate with each other.
In 2012 the European Commission report found only 9% of English students were reaching ‘independent learner’ level when it came to languages. This is tiny compared to Sweden’s 82% level; the UK is actually joint bottom when it comes to learning foreign languages. In Luxembourg children are offered the chance to learn 3 languages during their time at school. Clearly learning a language is an area the UK needs to invest in more – and Scotland are leading the way!
The Junior Language Challenge 2015 may be over, but we’re already thinking about next year’s competition. In 2016, we’d love to double the number of children taking part from 1,100 to 2,200, and raise even more money for our brilliant charity, onebillion.
Every year, we’re blown away by the enthusiasm and commitment shown by children, parents and teachers. 2015 was no exception, as you can see from our brand new video, made at this year’s final.
Please help us make next year’s competition our biggest and best yet, by sharing the video with friends and colleagues across the UK. Thank you!
Today we welcome back language teacher Kelly, with some advice on engaging teenagers in language learning. Have you tried thinking outside the box with students? Tell us about it in the comments…
Musicians have been flogging this particular dead horse for years: stop treating teenagers like an alien species that we have no relation to. Language teachers: take note.
Textbook learning: a one-trick pony
It doesn’t matter how much you enjoy language learning. Even the most enthusiastic learner will want to escape to a blanket fort at the prospect of studying purely from a textbook. And with good reason. Language textbooks, no matter the effort put into making them interesting, are one of the dullest resources to use when learning a language. And, incidentally, to teach one.
In my day…
Cast your mind back to your own time in school. Who doesn’t remember the tattered books on our desk with the rude scribblings in, the out of date ‘modern’ pictures and the stale, dated language that was being taught? There’s no easy way to jazz up your role play ordering of a baguette if you only know the standard fillings. Cheese? Ham? Tomato? Teacher: ever heard of Subway? We want to choose our own bread, avoid the olives, embrace the jalapeño and yes, of course we want it toasted.
If you can relate, pity the poor teenager in school as we speak.
Cue eye roll…
Being a teenager is an eventful enough time in your life; where’s the motivation to learn a language if all you get to talk about is school work and pets? Do you imagine that these are the only things teenagers discuss on Snapchat, Whatsapp or Kik? Have you never been on Tumblr?
Teenagers are just, as we are, feeling their way in the world. And what they are not feeling is the urge to learn languages when the methods of teaching are so out of touch. The issues that bother us are the same ones that bother them. So why not use that to a teaching advantage?
Attempting to change
A recent Guardian article looked at the ways in which an English exam board is planning on overhauling teaching languages using realia that teenagers can relate to and have a part of. Tattoos and tweets, authentic material foreign literature: things that are happening today.
For any ESL/EFL teacher out there, we hear you. We know. We have been saying this for years. If you use something relevant to the world around you to teach that your students can actively engage in, you’re going to get effective results. If you’ve ever taught at a language school with zero resources and had to make lessons out of nothing but your imagination, you’re probably looking down on the efforts being made to make language interesting in schools with well-founded ‘told-you-so’ disdain.
Teaching what matters
Teenagers – all students – want to learn about real, useable language, not tired, formal words and phrases that are technically correct but make you stand out like you’ve gone to a Slipknot gig in your preppy finest. There is nothing controversial about teaching people how people really speak; even within your own language you can learn something new every day. From colloquialisms to slang, language is a constantly evolving beast and we speakers are merely along for the ride. Digging our heels in and clinging on to the old ways is only going to result in hair (fur) pulling.
True learning comes from learning the basics and putting them into practice. Imagine learning the theory behind driving but never sitting behind the wheel of a car. Pointless and uninteresting. And while the theory is important – in the case of language, grammar and vocabulary – what is more important is putting it into practice. Role play how to find the post office all you want; what use is it if you’re needing directions to Primark on Oxford Street and you’re trying to navigate the Underground?
A recent report by the British Council has laid out the ten most important languages for the UK’s future, in political, economic, educational and cultural terms.
According to the report, the ten most important languages, in order, are: Spanish, Arabic, French, Mandarin, German, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Turkish and Japanese. I read this list with a certain amount of smugness that I speak Spanish, German and French – although my knowledge of key languages such as Mandarin and Arabic is, sadly, next to nothing. So feel free to give yourself a pat on the back if you can speak, or are learning, one of those ten languages.
Unfortunately, the report also indicated that the numbers of UK residents actually learning these languages, especially the ones not taught in schools, are very low. On a positive note, around 15% of people can hold a conversation in French. However, only 6% are able to do so in German, 4% in Spanish and 2% in Italian. But the figures for the other languages are as low as 1%.
Perhaps one of the problems is that Mandarin, Japanese, Russian and Arabic all require learners to pick up another script. This might seem daunting, but is actually really exciting. Just being able to read simple words in another script gives you a huge sense of achievement, and you’d be surprised how quickly you can begin to decipher words from what previously looked like squiggles.
Hopefully if you’re reading our blog you already know the importance of language-learning, and that picking up a new language is an adventure rather than a chore! But maybe this list will give you an idea about which language you fancy picking up – maybe it’s time to start reviving your A-level French? Or be brave and give Arabic a try? Personally, I’m working on adding Italian to my list, which is proving interesting as I lapse back into Spanish as soon as I don’t know a word!
The report recommends a much greater focus on languages in schools and that businesses should invest in language training for languages that are useful in their industry. But don’t worry if your school days are behind you – it’s never too late to learn a new language!