Scottish Languages Review Issue 15

Issue 15 - 01/04/2007

In this edition we start off by featuring early language learning from three different perspectives. Helen Shanahan reports on an action research project in her French club class where she was trying to increase her own use of French with her young charges. Although her research was conducted in England she took inspiration for her project from the Walker Road Initiative, which showed that even very young learners can cope with much more foreign language input than anticipated.

Still staying with early language learning, Lorraine Sweeney discusses two different models of teaching modern languages in the primary class: delivered by the class teacher – which she terms the ‘generalist’ or by a qualified teacher who only sees the class once a week, in other words a ‘specialist’. Lorraine has first-hand experience of both models so feels in a strong position to argue that the first one has more advantages.

Finally, Elaine Pasternak provides a detailed account of how early language learning has been implemented in her own local authority.  This is a very valuable contribution because it allows readers to have greater insight into the many considerations that have to grappled with in order to implement an authority-wide language policy.

The theme of language learning & teaching in China as opposed to Scotland, which was begun in our last edition, is continued here.  Yimei Li, a teacher of English who is currently spending a year in Scotland as a Comenius Language Assistant, gives an account about the differences of teaching/learning a modern language in China and in Scotland.

Moving to the secondary sector, Hannah Doughty reports on a Scotland-wide survey which investigated the ways in which pupils in their third year of secondary schooling think about their future career aspirations and how they relate these goals to language learning.  One of the encouraging findings from the survey is that schools can make a difference.

Some possible ways in which schools can market languages to their pupils through cross-collaboration with colleagues in further and higher education are highlighted by Murray Hill. He also calls for increased political activity on the part of teachers. Murray speaks from experience, having collaborated himself with secondary schools on the award-winning Languages Work! events, and more recently having lodged a petition with the Scottish Parliament calling for a step change in language strategy.

Sustaining Use of the Target Language: One teacher’s attempt to implement a strongly communicative approach during French Club sessions

Helen Shanahan, Independent Language Consultant

In this study a language teacher with a general Primary background, undertook a process of action research, in order to increase her use of the target language in French lessons. Initial attempts to implement this more strongly communicative approach, within the context of Middle school Modern Foreign Language (MFL) curriculum provision, were unsuccessful. Consequently, the teacher focused on the more favourable setting of an extra-curricular French club, which she ran on behalf of a private sector organisation within a Local Authority controlled primary school.

Twelve strategies were taken from a Scottish study into early partial immersion (EPI) education and implemented in this French club setting, with eleven children aged between five and seven. The teacher monitored her practice over four sessions, responding to colleague observations over the first two sessions and analysing transcriptions from two further, tape-recorded sessions. Pupil responses to this more strongly communicative methodology were also monitored in order to establish the suitability of this approach with young children.

The results of the study show that the strategies have helped the teacher implement this approach successfully.  However, the relative contribution of each strategy and the practicability of sustaining use of the target language all the time are brought into question.  Also, this study would need to be replicated within the context of Primary or Middle school MFL curriculum provision, in order to establish whether the success of the current study can be partly contributed to the favourable teacher-pupil ratio and pupil motivation within the club setting.

The study also confirms the findings from the field of research into teacher cognition, that the knowledge, beliefs and attitudes of language teachers have an impact on their practice. Importantly, the dissemination of best practice from Scotland into the English context strengthens the case for such groundbreaking initiatives, such as the Scottish EPI study. 

Download full article as PDF - Sustaining Use of the Target Language

Modern Languages in the Primary School: The Generalist versus Specialist Debate

Lorraine Sweeney, St Elizabeth’s Primary School, Hamilton

This article explores two models of teaching a modern language in the primary school.  In the ‘generalist’ model the primary class teacher is also the (trained and qualified) modern language teacher whereas in the ‘specialist’ model a teacher with specialist knowledge in the modern language (ML) teaches the subject in isolation to another class for a specified time.  The author argues that the generalist model is the more effective of the two and that primary teachers should receive proper modern language instruction during their initial training period.  This would also help them to meet the requirements of the proposed curriculum changes envisaged by the Scottish Executive as detailed in their policy document ‘A Curriculum for Excellence’.

Download full article as PDF - Modern Languages in the Primary School: The Generalist versus Specialist Debate

Early French Programme in East Renfrewshire Council

Elaine Pasternak, Education Support Officer, Modern Languages & International Dimension

In East Renfrewshire, children learn French from their pre-school year and throughout primary school. The roll-up/roll-down began in Session 2002-03, when some schools started to teach the first topics to pupils in P4 or P5 instead of waiting until P6, as in the original MLPS model.  This was dependent on the number of teachers trained in a school and was achieved more quickly in smaller schools as larger schools had to wait until they had sufficient number of teachers trained to deliver the programme. At the same time, children who were in their pre-school year in session 2002-03 started the Infant French programme.  By August 2005, the process was complete.

Download full article as PDF - Early French Programme in East Renfrewshire Council

Teaching English in China / Teaching Chinese in Scotland

Yimei Li

Yimei Li, is a teacher of English in a city called Simao, located in the state of Yunnan Province in the southwest of China, currently teaching Chinese at St. Ninian’s High School as part of a project with the British Council.

Download full article as PDF - Teaching English in China / Teaching Chinese in Scotland

S3 Pupils’ Career Aspirations and Views on Language Learning

Hannah Doughty, Research Fellow, Institute of Education, University of Stirling

This article is a shortened version of a report produced for the Scottish Executive Education Department (Doughty & McPake 2005) , based on a questionnaire survey of S3  pupils across a sample of Scottish secondary schools, which explored pupils’ career aspirations and how these related to their views on language learning.  The responses of S3 pupils are significant because as part of proposed educational reforms pupils in this year group will have a greater say in their subject choices.  The findings indicate that pupils’ career preferences are gendered and strongly influenced by portrayals of particular careers in the media, but that individual schools could also make a difference.  The article makes a number of recommendations to help support language teachers and other stakeholders in giving appropriate advice to pupils with regard to the long-term benefits of language learning. 

Download full article as PDF - S3 Pupils’ Career Aspirations and Views on Language Learning

“All Aboard the Eurostar, but ‘Mind the Gap’…!”

Dr Murray Hill, Programme Leader for Languages, Aberdeen Business School, The Robert Gordon University.

This article discusses the role of cross-sector collaboration in the promotion of foreign languages in Scotland, taking forward ideas highlighted in a presentation given at a national conference in November 2006.  It considers the obstacles to foreign language learning during the transition from secondary school to university against a back-drop of serious decline in foreign languages uptake at ‘Higher’ grade in Scotland. The author cites the value of cross-sector initiatives such as the EuroAward winning Languages Work! conferences and highlights other collaboration and lobbying opportunities for linguists and non-linguists.  It is argued that urgent action is required to ensure that a proper languages learning interface between secondary school and university is developed to allow Scottish students to benefit fully from European education mobility schemes.  Noting recent developments from the Scottish Executive such as ‘A Curriculum for Excellence’ and the consultation on a ‘Strategy for Scotland’s Languages’, the article concludes with a call for a Languages Charter which would enable Scottish students to compete effectively in a globalised world where employers and researchers increasingly tell us that ‘English is not enough’.

Download full article as PDF - “All Aboard the Eurostar, but ‘Mind the Gap’…!”

University of Strathclyde Education Scotland British Council Scotland The Scottish Government
SCILT - Scotlands National centre for Languages