Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Speaking in tongues

Me and my French teacher
Now being a bit of a traveller and a Francophile I ought to be in favour of languages. I kind of am so long as they are useful to me. Learning languages is difficult, it requires brain power and application. I struggled with French - the teachers were all distractingly gorgeous and pouting (as most young women are to 13 year old boy) and could not get my head around German because of the evil seemingly unapproachable stereotype Frau Cow (ho ho - we were funny) who in later years we discovered was a concentration camp survivor. Then there is also the cultural resistence - everyone speaks English.

When I was working overseas I tried to learn the basics of the local languages but, like our students, eventually saw little point as most people I met spoke some English and so became another lingusitically challenged Brit abroad. Those who did spend time on learning Chinese or Thai pronunciation and orthography all seemed a little affected in some way but their students did appreciate the occasional forays into .their cultures. Respect I suppose

For our students where they go on holiday there is only English spoken in the resorts. Moreover, everyone who isn't middle class dislikes  the French and, as all inhabitants of tabloidland well know the Germans are all goosestepping Nazi bastards and we  are so much better than them because  we won the World Cup in 1966 and a couple of World Wars they don't know the dates of and forget or never knew that other countries made a few sacrifices too.

So why would you want to learn their language? Why would anyone want to teach them? So big respect to our German and French teachers in their uphill battle of trying to give a love of language and alien culture to our charmers. A good 35% of our learners are on the SEN register and perhaps another 10%   should be with them in their attempts to achieve functional literacy with English. You do have to wonder at the logic of making them struggle through three years of speaking in tongues before dropping it as they all do in Year 9, although, like my subject, many have dropped it mentally after the Christmas card made in Year 7.  It seems a terrible waste of time and resources. My year 8 form group whinge on about the value of learning MFL more than they whinge about other subjects possibly with the exception of Superstition and Dance if it's the fat boys.

Nonetheless, the couple of small classes that do go through to GCSE tend to do quite well. Survivial of the fittest I guess. Perhaps if we started languages as a serious subject in Year 1 rather then Year 7 we might get somewhere. What I think I see in MFL in the UK is Darwin in action all around the country EB notwithstanding languages are being junked and have been for years. What is the point when so many people around the world have some English as a second language which is the default lingua franca of so much politics,business, media, IT, told interactive online games and popular culture. French language pop anyone? Perhaps time for a rethink for kids like ours at least - maybe a Key Stage 3 European Studies programme could be organised with some cross-curricula content and at least make Europe seem more than football and foreigners.


  1. What about offering our pupils Esperanto as an introduction to suiccessful language learning?

  2. That's an idea Bill but I tend to think teaching correct grammar in English might also be useful. No one really seems to bothered about it...or is that just my observation?


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