Since the Government announced in November 2012 that teachers overwhelmingly supported the plan to introduce a second language for primary schoolchildren, discussions about the benefits for pupils aged 7 – 11 years have been ongoing. Advocates in education are sharing their professional views and expertise, offering tips about learning resources and ways to use foreign language lessons that motivate and inspire children.

More than 90 per cent of teachers surveyed backed the Department for Education’s proposal, affirming that all children will benefit from learning a foreign language. This applies to high achievers as well as young people with special needs, and also to students who don’t have English as their native tongue. Learning a foreign language has been found to clarify pupils’ understanding of English rules and grammatical concepts as what is learned in one language can be used to reinforce another.

According to primary school teachers, French, Spanish and German were identified as the most popular foreign languages followed by Italian and Mandarin. Further options include the classical languages of ancient Greek and Latin.

Getting ready

From September 2014 it will be compulsory for primary schools to teach a foreign language and schools are encouraged to pick one language and focus on it, so as to ensure pupils get a good grounding. It goes without saying that teachers who have a qualification in a foreign language will be very much in demand.

Headteachers and curriculum planners are taking an imaginative approach to provision, which is being organised according to different models in different places. For example, some teachers are planning to include regular Skype sessions with partner schools in other countries, so that children have the opportunity to converse with a native speaker in real life, thus improving their grammar and vocabulary. The real-life contact has been found to be highly motivating and schools where this is being used find children are already responding positively.

Teachers can also use simple PE instructions to coach pupils in a foreign language, employ dual-language flashcards and use fun games to encourage pupils to enjoy the experience, while learning about other cultures. Spending a whole day learning aspects of the curriculum through another language is an ideal way to reinforce the enjoyment of counting, reading and singing in another language, just as children do in English.

Ways of integrating languages

The education charity CfBT Education Trust surveyed 3,000 state primary schools, almost all of which (97%) stated they already provide language teaching to some of their seven to 11 year olds, within class time. More than three quarters of schools have suitably qualified teachers, although 23 per cent lacked staff with a qualification higher than GCSE level.

Some schools are recruiting specialists while others are aiming to make a genuine connection with their local community by recruiting a native speaker. In these cases, classroom teachers will often work alongside community representatives.

Some secondary school teachers are providing additional language training to primary school teachers and teaching assistants, and this kind of collaboration is set to strengthen the quality and continuity of foreign language training for all children.