“Liberation from insularity.”
“Provides an opening to other cultures.”
“Deepen understanding of the world.”
These are things that I am delighted to see included in the MFL section of the National Curriculum (2014). Mainly, though, I’m just happy that MFL is finally statutory from KS2 – that is from age 7, for all those who aren’t from the UK. Although I’d prefer to see languages offered from a younger age, I am glad they are now available for children across the country.
The Department for Education states that some of the aims are: to foster pupils’ curiosity; for children to communicate in speech and writing; and to discover and develop an appreciation for language and culture. This last one is interesting, because it gives the impression that the government aren’t in favour of rote learning. Whilst, generally, the curriculum is good and seems to be based on current good practice models in language teaching and learning, there are just two problems I have with it.
1) Children will read great literature in the original language
What is great literature? Do the government really think that our children, who aren’t learning languages through immersion, will be reading ‘great literature’ by age 11? Do many of our children read great literature in English by age 11? What is great literature???
2) Children will have a continuing development of pronunciation
Will they? Doesn’t this require their teachers to have good pronunciation and speak with the correct intonations and accents? I know that, from my teaching trip to Germany this summer, one of the girls I travelled with spoke German with a strong Lancastrian accent. As such, much of the pronunciation was wrong and she felt that many people struggled to understand what she was saying. She had this accent because her teacher at secondary school was from Preston, as she was too. So, does this development of pronunciation and accuracy require specialist teachers? If so, is that wise? What message does it send to children, if their class teacher doesn’t teach them particular subjects? Will they think that those subjects are as important?
Now… the good stuff.
There is so much that the government have got right with this provision of MFL. For example, almost 60% of the focus is on practical communication skills – speaking and listening. Schools can offer ANY modern foreign language, OR an ancient foreign language. This is excellent because, as the curriculum says, learning an ancient language can: provide a linguistic foundation for reading comprehension; develop an appreciation of classical civilisation; lay the grammatical foundation for learning a modern foreign language at KS3 (age 11+). Schools will no longer provide a random mixture of several different languages, but focus on one language. For children, this means that they are more likely to make substantial progress. Of course, the progress of children in these languages will depend very much on their school’s priorities – something I will be looking at in my small scale research project at university.
I truly believe that learning a language does ‘liberate you from insularity’, and also ‘provides an opening to other cultures’. These are things which are needed now, more than ever, as we live in multi-cultural communities and interaction with other cultures is made easier with the ever expanding technologies of the 21st Century. Will children who have teachers who value languages and are fairly proficient do better? I think so, but it is probably too soon to tell.
- Language teaching is facing a state-independent divide (theguardian.com)
- Educating and Learning up to date Foreign dialects in the United Kingdom (aboutunitedkingdom.wordpress.com)
- Boost Modern Foreign Language Success with School Travel Service (listfree.org)