The Independent Summer School: Day 2: Modern Languages: Foreigners like Messing around Too ; the Idea of Learning a New Language Strikes Fear into Many Hearts, Young and Old. Approached in the Right Spirit, However, It Can Be Child's Play. Introducing Day Two of Our Series, Hester Lacey Explains How
Lacey, Hester, The Independent (London, England)
Learning a language doesn't have to be a chore. Parents who struggled with French irregular verbs at school may find that bizarre, but it is true. Making your first faltering communications in a foreign language can be amusing - and it can also be rewarding.
But why should you, as a parent, spend precious holiday time engaged in the equivalent of a GCSE oral? First, the sense of achievement for a child batting answers back to a parent in French - or Spanish - is immediate; primary-school children, in particular, are delighted by the idea of being able to say something, however basic, in a language that isn't English. Second, this is a skill that has an obvious practical application: you can communicate. Finally, while the English are notoriously rubbish at language- learning, there's no reason for this to be the case.
Being multilingual is taken for granted among many of our European neighbours. There may well come a day when we are expected to come up to scratch.
Language learning is something of a lottery for primary-school children. Pupils at independent schools are far more likely to start learning French at, say, age eight. Some state schools make an effort to offer an introduction to a language but this tends to be outside conventional lessons, in lunch hours or after school. While the Government is keen to see children learn a foreign language when they are young, the first year that schools have to lay on language teaching is at key stage three (age 11). French is the most popular language, followed by German and Spanish.
But there is a wealth of research that shows early learning is the most effective, and that is backed up by recommendations from the European Union. The good news is you don't have to be fluent in French, German, Spanish, Italian, or any other language, to give your child's learning a boost. Many home teaching-aids are geared towards parents who have only the most basic skills themselves. Starting or practising a language really does lend itself to sessions that are fun - the learning process isn't obvious, but the enjoyment factor certainly is. As a bonus, parents may also end up improving their own fluency, vocabulary and ability to communicate.
Materials for home learning include user-friendly games, activities, tapes, CD-roms and websites. This reflects what is happening in schools. "Approaches tend to be more active, and more value is placed on speaking and listening than was the case a few years ago," says Steven Fawkes, who is president of the Association of Language Learning. …