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Primary Insights: Languages
Well hello there and welcome to update #037!
‘Our children should have a passion for languages. Our main aim is to instil a curiosity about languages, for them to want to continue learning languages.’ We spoke with Kate Percival for Primary Huh to find out some of the barriers primary schools face when it comes to languages and how we can instil a sense of curiosity and joy of learning in this subject. And when done well, it helps pupils to see beyond their immediate context and culture.
‘We want to hook them into the joy of learning languages, and how so many links can be made with their own language. Pupils might speak a different language at home than the English they speak at school and the language we’re learning all together, but we want them to be able to make links across a range of languages. We want them to feel they can say, ‘I can speak French, I can speak Spanish.’ While the content, the number of words and phrases that they can say might not be huge, we want them to have the attitude that they can do it, they can speak the language.
‘We want them to develop a growth mindset, so that when they move to KS3, there is no limit to what they can achieve in language learning. We try to make sure that it’s not a secondary curriculum watered down for primary; it’s taught creatively, and there’s lots of learning based on songs, games, activities, role plays, puppets and toys.
‘The national curriculum is focused on speaking the language, and interaction with people. Essentially, listening, speaking, reading and writing are the key skill areas that we want the children to be developing. There’s one attainment target right at the end, about having an understanding of basic grammar. A lot of language teaching at primary is active learning and speaking, but you want them to be listening to you as well and being able to decode words and read sentences with perhaps the odd word that they’ve learned and then trying to work out what the rest of the words are. Writing usually begins from Year 3, or earlier, depending upon when the school decides to begin language teaching.
‘One barrier to learning a language is very simple: it sounds different. When children are first introduced to a language, they’re hearing words, but only their noise rather than their meaning. Not every child will naturally want to stand up and speak or to make these sounds. Not every child will be able to replicate these sounds. They’ve got to feel comfortable to have a go and know it doesn’t matter if they make a mistake or it’s not perfect.
‘Our culture is so self-conscious when it comes to speaking languages. To get children talking when they’re uninhibited in EYFS is key, because if you leave it until Year 3, you’re already going to have young people who will feel a bit embarrassed speaking in a foreign language. KS1 languages is ‘education of the ear’. Short bursts of provision, perhaps a song, game or activity. We say, ‘Put your best French/Spanish listening ears on and hear the sounds that are different from those you normally hear.’ It’s about tuning in and enjoyment.
‘We interweave cross cultural understanding throughout the curriculum. We’re comparing and contrasting what our life is like with life elsewhere in the world. For example, the target language country might have a rich celebration that you can pick up and run with in the classroom. We’re comparing and contrasting what our life is like with life elsewhere in the world. For example, it might be Epiphany. We’ve learned about Epiphany in January. It’s not something that we tend to celebrate very much in the UK, but some children may recognise it from their own cultures and are able to draw on that experience. The target-language country that we’re looking at might have a rich, enjoyable celebration that we can just pick up and run with in the classroom.
‘One lesson that really stands out is based on the Epiphany tradition where a little toy is baked in a cake and the head of the family cuts it into pieces. To prevent anyone from cheating and getting the piece with the toy in it – because they become the king or the queen for the day if they get it – the youngest member of the family hides under the table. They call out family members as the cake is cut and given out, and then they all eat at the same time, and whoever’s found the toy is crowned king or queen for the day and treated like royalty.
‘I do this with my class, and it’s not the day, it’s the 40 minutes, and it’s not a real cake, we pretend, but we work out who the youngest is and they actually hide under the table. Then we’re revisiting all those different family-member nouns and they’re calling out, ‘maman, papa, grand-mère, grand-père,’ and we’re pretending to hand out the cake, pretending to eat it, and pretending to find the little toy. That’s something that really stays with the children. It’s about having awareness and respect for other cultures, the way things are done elsewhere, and making those links for pupils to enjoy and learn from.’
The Primary Languages Network has wide ranging support and resources for teaching languages in primary and you can watch the full conversation with Kate on Myatt & Co, together with her contributions to the primary subject networks. (£/free trial).
Until next time
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