At Riverside Primary School we are keen to promote the study of a foreign language because of its increasing importance in the modern world. This has been recognised in the National Languages Strategy ‘Languages for All, Languages for Life’ where there is the commitment to give every child between the ages of 7 and 11 the entitlement to learn a new language. There is also increasing recognition that enriching the curriculum and releasing children’s creative energy through sport, drama, music and languages reinforces their understanding of the basics and helps them enjoy a broader, more balanced curriculum. Ofsted cites the best primary schools as those already providing this breadth alongside the building blocks of literacy and numeracy.
In the United Kingdom it tends to be ignored that 60-70% of the world’s population is bilingual, in the sense that they have acquired a functional use of two or more languages. In many countries outside the U.K. major attempts are being made to introduce languages to young learners and in Europe most children learn a foreign language at primary school. In some European countries children are ready to start a third language by the age of 11.
At primary age children are still very malleable and receptive to learning a language and it is proven that a young child’s brain is uniquely well adapted for language learning, especially in the first 10 years of life. We are discovering, in this country, that we underestimate what our children can achieve and language learning is now being put firmly on the agenda in all phases of education and training. There is now an entitlement to language learning for pupils at Key Stage 2 and the DFES want primary schools to ‘embed language learning into the curriculum.
The development of ICT, email and internet mean not only that there are fewer international barriers, but also that they provide the means to learn a language and communicate it in a more innovative way.
The experience of learning and using a foreign language makes its unique contribution to the whole curriculum by taking children out of the familiar environment which is pervaded by English and allowing them to explore the life-style and culture of another land through the medium of its language. This in turn provides a satisfying, enjoyable and intellectually challenging experience for children in coping with a different linguistic medium.
Learning a foreign language makes an important contribution to learning in general. As well as teaching the meaning of words and sentences (an awareness of language), it promotes social interaction and fosters sympathetic attitudes towards the culture and people of a foreign country, by adjusting to different social conventions. Such attitudes help to promote goodwill and to counter insularity and prejudice.
Opportunities are promoted through children developing their skills of communication by listening, speaking, reading and writing. The study of a language involves practise of observational and study skills and committing to memory of useful material for subsequent recall. Use of role play can also develop creative and imaginative expertise as well as empathy and understanding.
Finally, effective foreign language learning equips children with a skill which is advantageous to high school education, adult life and work. Success in industry and commerce depends increasingly on our willingness and ability to communicate with potential customers in their own language. With the greater mobility of the work force within the European community it is very likely that children will later need to use a foreign language in employment. Others will use it for reading, travel, recreation and personal contacts, either at home or abroad.
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