Consultation – draft National Curriculum programmes of study

Yesterday the government in the UK put out a draft National Curriculum consultation.  One of the programmes of study included is Foreign Languages at KS2 and 3.

Here is a brief summary of what is says please do join the consultation and let them know as teachers what you think.

Consultation – draft National Curriculum programmes of study:
Draft 2014 National Curriculum by subject

Learning a foreign language is a liberation from insularity and provides and opening into other cultures. A high quality language education should foster pupils’ curiosity and deepen their understanding of the world.

Language teaching should provide the foundation for learning further languages equipping pupils to study and work in other countries.

Teaching should focus on enabling pupils to make substantial progress in one of the following languages French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Spanish, Latin or Ancient Greek.  (No mention of sign language)

Teaching should provide a balance of written and spoken and lay the foundations for further foreign language teaching. It should enable pupils to understand and communicate ideas, facts and feelings in speech and writing, focused on familiar and routine matters, using their knowledge of phonology, grammatical structures and vocabulary.

The focus of study in Modern languages (ML) will be on practical communication whilst the focus in Latin or ancient Greek will be to provide a linguistic foundation for learning modern languages and for reading comprehension.

I think I have blogged before that I learnt French at LLantarnam school but what I probably haven’t said before was that I studied French from yr 7 to 11, German yr 8-9 and Latin yr 9-11. All from a ‘bog standard Comprehensive’. This built on my bilingual assemblies, signage and occasional lesson in primary school in Welsh.

I don’t think without my expectation for another language to always be present that I would have taken up the languages so easily in my secondary years.  Without the teacher enthusiasm of taking myself and a few friends who sung at a French singing competition where we competed against A level students I would have been disinterested.

What is also abundantly clear to me now is that the Latin that I learnt has probably been the thing that I fall back on and use the most. It is this linguistic background that I can work out words in other languages and have confidence to try.  NB I find that in my work with so many languages on a  daily basis it is actually Italian that I wish now I had learnt as every time I look at it I feel comfortable and it seems natural. Yet as a teenager I would never have even thought of learning it.

So for me these changes are welcome as long as we always remember there are children at the end of any policy/strategy that we deliver to teachers and pupils. A teacher interested in a language is far more motivating and inspiring than one who wishes they could teach Spanish yet are teaching French because of the outdated belief that well if you know one language you must be able to do this as they are only children. I think the tide is turning on this one and its nice to also see a recognition that currently Chinese is the largest language in the world so that to equip our youngsters for the world of work it gives them a real chance to be a global citizen.

Study shows bilingual students have better attention – USA

This is really interesting the research shows that again being bilingual is of great value.  Instinctively I know this but it is great to see that there are people out there researching it to give us the evidence base. This should help pupils all over the world as education establishments realise it is unfair to almost block out the pupils first langauge but instead embrace it, celebrate it and use it as the cornerstone for integrating into their establishment and for teaching the pupil their preffered establishments language.

It reminds me of when I moved from Wales to England and taught in London where there was a predominantly Greek Cypriot Community both at school and in the surrounding area and being really surprised when the then HeadTeacher stood in Assembly and said I have done  a survey and in this school we have 37 langauges but the schools langauge is English and I expect everyone to comply with this.  This was great for me as a new teacher because it made it easier for all, and she had the balance right becasue we also had a cultural day which was almost unheard of at the time run by the parents. The pupils were able to dress in their clothes, eat their food, and generally share their customs.  It was the first time I got to try and understand the Greek style of Meze eating -and I was an adult, but loved it.

This is the article that dug out that lovely memory.

Speaking two languages fluently helps improve attention, according to new Northwestern research findings.
The research, which was published April 30 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, studied 25 monolingual and 23 bilingual incoming high school freshmen.

Viorica Marian, NU department chair of communication sciences and disorders and the study’s author, said researchers believe that in bilingual people’s brains, both languages are constantly active.

When bilingual people speak or listen, they have to learn to subconsciously block out the other language processing center. In everyday life, this translates to better attention.

Researchers first measured the subjects’ proficiency to confirm their language fluency. All monolinguals spoke only English and all bilinguals spoke only English and Spanish.

Researchers connected the subjects’ brains to electrodes that measured the sound waves generated in the brain stem, a part of the brain that connects to the spinal cord. Subjects listened to a simple sound, the syllable “Da” repeated several times. For this part, both groups’ brain waves looked similar, Marian said.
However, when researchers added background noise in addition to the sounds, they found that bilinguals were better able to block out the extra noise.

“When a background noise was incorporated, like in a noisy restaurant, bilinguals showed an advantage over monolinguals, suggesting that bilingualism helps individuals process sounds better,” Marian said.

Marian said that recently, other researchers have shown similar effects in other sections of the brain, but she said the brain stem is different. Because it is a primitive structure in the brain, this research also indicates that these abilities may be one of the brain’s natural and basic functions.

In addition to the sound tests, researchers also gave participants cognitive tests of attention. Marian said the participants whose brains were the best at blocking excess noise also showed the best attention.

“So it seems to be this highly interrelated system,” Marian said. “The biological system influences function and the function influences the biology.”

She added that new research has shown that with each language someone learns, it becomes easier to learn a further language.

Marian, who grew up speaking Romanian and Russian and later learned English, said her future research will focus on people who have become bilingual later in life, such as during high school or college. She said she hopes that demographic changes in the United States will make bilingualism more common.

dschlessinger@u.northwestern.edu