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.

Cutting foreign language opportunities in school and downplaying the importance of proficiency in a foreign language greatly diminishes America’s ability to operate in the modern, fast-paced, globalized world.

I think I have said before that the world is shrinking as people move around.  Today rather than town to town they move country to country and not necessarily to the nearest country to themselves it can often be at the opposite side of the world. This news article discusses one persons feeling about this and the role that languages play in communication.

The statements below can apply to the UK and similar countries as well as the USA

It has been a source of pride and a political point for many that English is the “official” language of the United States and those who come to our borders should learn the language. But as a country that wants to continue to be a world leader, we will need to be very serious about pushing our students to be proficient if not fluent in at least two languages.

It is not un-American to be bilingual and it is not a sign of defeat to have bilingual signs. If anything, it makes us stronger as a nation. After neglecting this issue for generations, it is time to turn our educational system around and place learning a foreign language as one of the most important aspects of an education. Learning a foreign language in the United States needs to move out of the “elective” realm and into the realm of “core subject.

To become truly global citizens then language has to have a place in school curriculums and current discussion should be looking at the sort and types of languages that should be supported in schools.  For me the choice is easy support everyone who arrives with a language other than English to keep their previous languages and learn English. For all learners learn at least one language although from my experience the nearer languages are together the better for the learner to realise that each is not something totally new but  connect with each other.

I was lucky in school to learn French, German and Latin which I loved.  The Latin was great because it helped me understand English more. Recently I have done a lot of work in Italian, with an Italian translator, and can immediately see the benefits of learning both languages together and I think it would make learning a  langauge less scary. We should look globally at the languages most needed by global citizens and then find a way of supporting this via school curriculums.

As Adam Hogue says quite succinctly

America is in constant transition. With higher populations of minority groups becoming more dominant in the American landscape, we as a country should be a land of many national languages, not just one. Schools should be moving towards bilingual education in all subjects and students should be able to pursue an education in a variety of languages. Language has the power to change the perception of a person as well as a nation. This should not be forgotten as America continues to define our place in the global landscape.

As I study Hanguel, I am really trying to make up for lost time. I want to pick up a second language with more proficiency than I have in French, a language in which I can only rattle off a few verbs. It is up to the Millennial generation to place foreign language as the centerpiece of American education in the 21st century. Making that change will change other countries’ perception of America and l make America a better place to conduct business and study. Whether it be Mandarin, Vietnamese, French, Spanish,

Hanguel or Indonesian; a foreign language is key in our rapidly globalizing world.

http://www.policymic.com/mobile/articles/16126/why-cutting-foreign-language-classes-in-schools-would-hurt-future-generations-of-americans

Bilingual families

A wonderful story about bilingual families.

“They now speak the language fluently, have an understanding of Chinese culture and feel at home living in Beijing rather than seeing themselves as visitors. Laura can write her Chinese name, recognizes many Chinese characters, and can write simple characters.

….That kind of educational program is not for every family. Some expatriates would dearly love their children to learn Mandarin but realistically, have to stick with schools that offer the language of their native country, and a curriculum that is broadly similar to that at home.

…Australian Mathew Alderson has two children in local schools, Nik, 7, and 4-year-old Natalia, and after two years of immersion, can see the pluses and minuses of this kind of approach. There might not be much in the way of touchy-feely teaching methods, but the trade-off is kids who are fluent in Mandarin and whizzes at math.

…So far, Dean is happy with the results. Lachlan, 9, reads and writes fluently in Mandarin and is also fluent in English, while Oliver, 6, can write stories that utilize several hundred characters. The brothers speak English at home with their father and – of course – watch English-language television from Australia, the US and the UK

…Although trips to Australia are infrequent, Dean tries to ensure the boys know all about that country’s culture, history and sport. He has even taught them the words to Waltzing Matilda, Two Little Boys and other classic Australian songs, and explained the rules of cricket.

Read the rest at http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2012-09/07/content_15742232.htm

Schools set the right tone to help young language learners

Few parents like to be corrected, or contradicted, by their children. But there are exceptions to that general rule: Expatriate parents living in China tend to swell with pride when their Mandarin-speaking children point out that mum and dad are totally mispronouncing words, or hopelessly mangling grammar.

Children born in Beijing, or who arrive in the capital at a very young age, have every chance of attaining fluency in Mandarin. It is not uncommon to see blond-haired children chatting away colloquially, having naturally mastered the tricky tones that adult learners find so fiendishly difficult.

For babies and toddlers, chances are they will spend much of the day with their ayi (domestic helpers), individuals who rarely have any language skills apart from their native Mandarin. Some parents ensure that their kids are bilingual by sending them to schools where classes are given in English and Mandarin.

Australian Laura Faulkner, 6, and her brother William, 4, have attended several such schools, allowing them to switch with ease between English and Mandarin. Their Beijing-born sister Tessa, who is 18 months old, can also understand both languages.

When the Faulkner family moved to Beijing four years ago, hotelier father Michael and teacher mother Michelle viewed it as a great opportunity for their children to grow up speaking, reading and writing Mandarin, skills that are almost certain to be major assets on their resumes in the 21st century.

“We thought it essential that they were able to communicate with other children, in the park or in the playground, and we looked for a bilingual kindergarten,” says Melbourne-born Michelle, who is also studying the language.

“They now speak the language fluently, have an understanding of Chinese culture and feel at home living in Beijing rather than seeing themselves as visitors. Laura can write her Chinese name, recognizes many Chinese characters, and can write simple characters.

Although the Faulkners’ spell in the city will be finite – Michael is manager of the new Swire hotel, East – they are convinced a bilingual education for their children will be beneficial both now and in future.

“The bilingual system is very impressive here,” says Michelle. “The facilities and varied lessons that our kids get here are excellent. They have specialist teachers in art, physical education and music, which supplement the bilingual program.”

That kind of educational program is not for every family. Some expatriates would dearly love their children to learn Mandarin but realistically, have to stick with schools that offer the language of their native country, and a curriculum that is broadly similar to that at home.

International schools in Beijing do make an effort to include Mandarin lessons in the curriculum, scheduling up to five hours of classes weekly, but it is not really enough for the students to reach any real level of fluency, especially if they have limited opportunity to speak the language at home.

Bilingual schooling offers a halfway house where, in theory, youngsters become proficient in both languages. Critics argue that there is a danger of their overall education being diluted by participating in such a hybrid system.

There is a third, more radical, option open to expatriates that pretty much guarantees that their kids will become fluent in Mandarin. Some local public schools have international divisions that accept foreign passport holders, although there is no attempt to modify the local rote-learning system.

Australian Mathew Alderson has two children in local schools, Nik, 7, and 4-year-old Natalia, and after two years of immersion, can see the pluses and minuses of this kind of approach. There might not be much in the way of touchy-feely teaching methods, but the trade-off is kids who are fluent in Mandarin and whizzes at math.

“While we remain committed to the attainment by our children of a high level of Mandarin fluency and literature, after several years of exposure to the Chinese system we are now starting to better understand the price that must be paid for this,” says Sydney-born Alderson.

“It is necessary to compromise on the standard of the children’s English and to accept educational practices which value rote learning over creativity, comprehension and problem solving. Our son is in the first year of school and in order for him to cope with the workload, he now needs a tutor for two hours, three times a week.”

The Alderson children, who speak Russian at home with their Ukrainian mom Sasha, will most likely go to an international school at some future date, which means the annual fees will quadruple. The cost of a year’s schooling at international establishments such as the Western Academy of Beijing, Harrow or Dulwich, nudges the $30,000 mark, almost four times the cost at local public schools that accept foreign students.

One significant factor for parents who ultimately aim to have their children attend university in their native country is that schools such as No 55 Middle School offer the International Baccalaureate system, which is recognized by institutions of higher education in Australia, Europe and the United States.

Whichever system they choose – bilingual education, local school or personal tutor – no parent is likely to regret insisting that their child learns Mandarin. It is certain to be an asset in the 21st century, as China continues to grow, and links with other countries become closer.

Australian Rob Dean – a fluent Mandarin speaker – is determined that his two boys will grow up bilingual.

Both attend Fangcaodi Elementary in the heart of Beijing, a public school that has an international wing, where children of all nationalities receive all their lessons in Mandarin. Dean and his wife Ruan Yixuan reasoned that would be the best way to ensure the boys have total command of Mandarin from an early age – although they may well attend an international school at a later stage.

“I studied Mandarin and have lived in China for 18 years, so I know just how hard it is,” says Dean. “My wife and I discussed their education and we agreed on letting them do their primary education in Mandarin with an eye toward getting a firm grip on the language that will remain with them for life. Obviously learning Mandarin is much easier when your brain is young and free of beer!

“We are a bilingual family. My wife is from Beijing and the kids will always be half-Chinese. Thinking about their future, and the world they will likely be trying to make a life in, having a Chinese heritage, but no language abilities seemed like a cruel trick to play on them.”

For all that, Dean recognizes the drawbacks of the system, in particular the lack of emphasis on creative thinking and the limited sporting opportunities. The school takes the traditional view that children are there to learn as much as possible in a disciplined environment, not to be mollycoddled.

So far, Dean is happy with the results. Lachlan, 9, reads and writes fluently in Mandarin and is also fluent in English, while Oliver, 6, can write stories that utilize several hundred characters. The brothers speak English at home with their father and – of course – watch English-language television from Australia, the US and the UK.

The family is likely to be in Beijing for some years to come given that Dean runs a successful employment communications agency that helps companies attract, and keep, talented staff.

Although trips to Australia are infrequent, Dean tries to ensure the boys know all about that country’s culture, history and sport. He has even taught them the words to Waltzing Matilda, Two Little Boys and other classic Australian songs, and explained the rules of cricket.

Why Chinese immigrants can struggle with English fluency

“Sometimes, people are just afraid to make mistakes and decide not to speak. We have to learn not to be afraid to embarrass and humiliate ourselves.”

Derwing said English-language training for immigrants must focus more on listening, speaking and pronunciation skills, as well as the so-called soft skill of engaging in casual conversation.

How often have we heard other teachers say this of our children in schools? Zhenyong Li gives a great account of the difficulties he finds particularly with small talk.  I am not sure that the children find some of these problems mainly because they pick up the social play ground talk quite easily, but have a problem with academic language.

The study by the Montreal-based Institute for Research on Public Policy followed 25 immigrants each from Mandarin and Slavic groups, and assessed their listening and speaking skills at years 1, 2 and 7

There are observations to be thought about here not least why do they struggle so much more than the Slovak group, and what can we as teachers do to improve this.  Also this is surprising as those English speakers learning Mandarin seem to be really well.  A school in Canton Cardiff has achieved the success of many of its students passing exams for  adults to a really high level.

Read the rest here: http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1205277–why-chinese-immigrants-struggle-with-english-fluency

Zhenyong Li has no trouble speaking English in his engineering jargon, but the Chinese immigrant says it can still be challenging to carry on small talk.

And yet, casual conversation with native speakers around the water cooler is crucial to language development — and social integration — for those whose mother tongue is something else, especially Mandarin.

A new study found the Mandarin-speaking immigrants it tracked had made “no significant progress” in their English accent, fluency and comprehensibility seven years after their arrival here, compared with their Slavic-language (Russian and Ukrainian) speaking counterparts.

The study by the Montreal-based Institute for Research on Public Policy followed 25 immigrants each from Mandarin and Slavic groups, and assessed their listening and speaking skills at years 1, 2 and 7.

“Mandarin-speakers over time did not get much easier to understand when native listeners heard them speak,” said University of Alberta educational psychology professor Tracey Derwing, who co-authored the study with NorQuest College language instructor Erin Waugh.

“They made very little progress in their pronunciation and fluency. They still had many pauses and hesitation.”

Participants in the study — all possessing the same overall language proficiency, well-educated and with similar language training here — were shown pictures and asked to describe them in their own words, while being evaluated by 30 listeners to eliminate any bias or subjectivity.

Researchers also found the Mandarin speakers had had significantly fewer conversations of 10 minutes or more with native and non-native English speakers than did the Slavic participants.

The Mandarin speakers were, as a whole, more reluctant to initiate conversation and appeared to be less aware of current local events than the Slavic speakers.

The Slavic speakers, as a group, the report said, were more assertive and more deliberate in their effort to learn English. They also had an advantage because of interests shared with the larger community (ice hockey, for example), which helped with conversations.

Li, who came here from Shanghai in 1998, said Mainland Chinese learn their English from textbooks through reading and writing, and have no opportunity to drill their listening and speaking skills outside the classroom.

“If you cannot listen or speak proper English, you feel discouraged to participate in a conversation because you are afraid others don’t understand you,” said Li, 52, who has a master’s degree in engineering from the California Institute of Technology and is a manager of a Markham consulting firm.

The Chinese Professionals Association of Canada in Toronto has introduced several programs to address the language gap, which focus on pronunciation and “soft skills” in communication.

“It’s vital to be able to carry small talk,” said its president, Hugh Zhao, who moved here from Shenyang in 1989. “Small talk leads to common understanding and other big topics. It’s not enough just to talk about the weather in Canada.”

Zhao, a computing manager at the University of Toronto, said the Chinese language is very different from the English alphabet, and so are the cultures attached to those language.

Also, silence, which for the Chinese is a virtue reflecting humbleness, is not valued in the West, where people tend to appreciate participation and outspokenness.

“(Mainland) Chinese students are not active in class because, if they understand it, they don’t want to show off. And if they do not understand something, they don’t want to ask and show their ignorance,” Zhao said.

“Sometimes, people are just afraid to make mistakes and decide not to speak. We have to learn not to be afraid to embarrass and humiliate ourselves.”

Derwing said English-language training for immigrants must focus more on listening, speaking and pronunciation skills, as well as the so-called soft skill of engaging in casual conversation.

“Communication is a two-way street. The burden of communication should not be on immigrants’ shoulders only,” she added. “Canadians should not just zone out or shut down when they hear somebody speak with an accent.”