Languages And The Law In Primary Schools

It is currently only compulsory to learn a foreign language from the beginning of secondary school, at age 11 and pupils can stop learning languages from the age of 14. Sadly, this has lead to a dramatic decline in GCSE language entries, resulting in a significantly lower number of students who are competent in a foreign language by the time they leave school. By comparison, in European schools, children encounter another language when they are much younger, at the age of eight. Restricting the compulsory period of time for language learning to just three years in British secondary school means that approximately one tenth of primary schools don’t teach a language, and even those that do, only offer it to some year groups.

From 2014 a new primary National Curriculum will be effective, and it will become a statutory requirement to teach a foreign language from the age of seven. All primary schools will have to teach one of the following languages: French, German, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, Latin or ancient Greek. This is only the minimum requirement and schools will be encouraged to offer further options which do not necessarily have to be taken from the compulsory list. Because of this, there may well be an extremely diverse range of languages taught across the country. Having no restrictions on the second language could see some schools teaching languages such as Russian or Arabic. The hope is that by introducing children to languages earlier, they will have a better foundation to continue learning at secondary school in order to become fluent in their chosen language. To this end, by the age of 11, pupils will be expected to be able to speak in sentences, understand basic grammar, use appropriate pronunciation and express simple ideas clearly.

Far from just being a measure to improve England’s standing in Europe with regard to our competence in foreign languages, the new curriculum should bring many other benefits. Statistics have shown that younger children tend to grasp new languages more quickly than adolescents and adults, which increases their motivation to carry on learning. Furthermore, learning classic languages such as Latin and ancient Greek can increase students’ understanding of other modern languages, including their mother tongue. Because of this, it is expected that conversation and literacy skills in English will also thrive under the new primary regime. Latin and ancient Greek have been added to the core list to try and spark a resurgence of classics studies in schools.

Schools will undoubtedly have to adjust to the new curriculum by making sure they have enough suitably trained teachers and that they can build in sufficient teaching time to reach the required standards. However, language learning can be intertwined with other curriculum areas by employing the embedding technique. For example, cultural learning can be incorporated into language classes by teaching about stories, poems and songs in other languages. Vocabulary can also be reinforced in maths classes by using foreign words for numbers, times and dates.

Ultimately, the introduction of this new legislation brings the hope that children in England will vastly improve their everyday language skills in other tongues.