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MFL: Flying the flag

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By Julia Stead, MFL coordinator, St Michael’s CE (Aided) Primary School

Championing languages can open up doors to the world around us

Flags

European flags

We all know it well… a squeezed curriculum where it’s hard to find the time for our planned lessons, let alone half an hour for a new-fangled idea like modern foreign languages. Well, not so new fangled, I cry! Languages came into vogue years ago, when in the mid 70s, teachers saw the benefits of early language acquisition in our European counterparts. But then, with more flexible teaching patterns and a more topic-based curriculum approach, it was easier to fit some teaching of languages into the school day. Recently, in the UK, subjects have been squeezed to breaking point, with teachers being forced to devote huge amounts of time to basic skills. However, language learning will become statutory in 2010, and all Key Stage 2 children will have an entitlement to learn a modern foreign language for an hour a week. My argument, as MFL Coordinator and teacher in a city primary school in York, is that it should be seen as an essential subject. Taught well, it can inspire children, foster a huge sense of achievement and broaden children’s horizons past the end of their street, which can be the furthest some children ever reach.

The logistics of a new subject don’t have to be difficult – just play to the staff’s strengths

Spreading the MFL wings

An outside agency introduced French to our Year 6s a few years ago, but our in-house language teaching began for Year 3s only two years ago. Now, MFL has grown to reach all year groups in KS2. The result? A greater awareness of MFL for the teachers, and a persuasive argument for its inclusion in the curriculum. For one thing, children start learning the chosen MFL all together – so start out on an even footing. If a non-specialist teacher is teaching the language, every person in the room is learning together, exploring the language as a team, and everyone can achieve. No other subject gives you that common starting point.

Working together

Language learning gives children with SEN and the gifted and talented a chance to work together. I also hear the sceptics’ myth that ‘the children can’t even get to grips with English yet – what’s the point of teaching French?’ Well, the strand in the Framework in which the children explore their ‘knowledge about language’, gives them the additional benefit of a crash course in meta language and linguistics. The amount of talk where children link French linguistic features with those of our language is colossal, proving it’s all worthwhile. In today’s job market, where business is played out on an international stage, the ‘intercultural understanding’ aspect of MFL teaching is invaluable, and provides children with an empathy and understanding for other cultures’ views and activities.

The benefits of MFL for the children far outweigh our reservations about fitting yet something else into our busy days

Boarding the MFL train

Even members of the management team can be encouraged to board the language train with the promise of school awards and recognition for the work they have done. We recently gained a British Council’s International School Award, which recognises efforts to create international links and celebrates international activities carried out in school. A certificate in the school entrance and a logo on a school’s headed notepaper is a great incentive!

Play on strengths

The logistics of a new subject don’t have to be difficult – just play to the staff’s strengths. In our school, teachers with other curriculum strengths cover my class while I take their children for French. It means that the children benefit from quality teaching from someone with a passion for the subject, and we get to teach things we enjoy too – who could ask for more?

The benefits of MFL for the children far outweigh our reservations about fitting yet something else into our busy days. We should see past our own language and our own country, and give children a fresh outlook on life. Who knows, it may just awaken confidence, achievement and a wider perspective on life in our children – something we’re all fighting for every day!

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