I’m feeling a bit frustrated. No, frustrated isn’t really the word, more annoyed.
What’s bothering me is how little importance seems to be given to learning foreign languages in the primary school system. Why oh why don’t kids start doing this in reception class?
This has been bothering me every since Helen’s last parents’ evening. Mrs Adams and I were given all the information we could have wanted about Helen’s literacy, reading and mathematics skills.
This is great. They’re essential parts of learning. If you don’t have basic reading and writing skills, well, you won’t progress far.
I know Helen studies French once a week (not nearly enough in my opinion). It’s clearly considered a very minor subject as she only started studying French in September when she started in Year Three. She is never set French homework and I’ve never seen the syllabus.
It’s an opportunity lost. All the multi-lingual people I know started learning foreign languages at very young ages.
None of the paperwork we were given during parents’ evening made any reference to Helen’s French studies. Her teacher was good enough to go and check for me, but if I hadn’t asked we wouldn’t have been told.
It seems to be a very similar story at most other schools. Foreign languages are simply a bit of an irritation, something that has to be done because it looks good. If this is the impression kids pick up at a young age, it’s hardly surprising that the Brits are so dreadful at languages.
Okay, okay, I have a slightly biased opinion. I am half-French. Even so, I was never taught the language as a child. The French I speak, I learned in my late teens, mostly by conversing with Parisians as I was a regular visitor to the city for a while.
It was the experience of having to learn a language as a teen that made me realise how important foreign languages are. When I became a father, I was determined my kids would learn French from a young age.
This, I hoped, would open the door to them to learn other languages. It worked for me. In my twenties I spent some time in Peru at a Spanish language school.
I was true to my word and have taught both Helen and Izzy French from their earliest days. I confess my efforts have been in fits and starts. Sometimes I’ve gone for a month without saying a French word to the kids. Sometimes I’ll speak to them in French every day for weeks.
Although my efforts may wax and wane, I must be doing something right. The report from Helen’s teacher was that her French is actually very good.
While that’s great news, it adds to my frustration. I wonder how more advanced her skills might be if she received more than one session a week?
The response I sometimes hear is: “Yeah, but the rest of the world speaks English.” While many people do, an awful lot don’t. Also, with Brexit on the horizon, I think it’s going to be more important than ever that our children speak foreign languages.
I don’t, however, feel that it’s given enough importance in the school system. Foreign languages should be more than a nice to have, they should be at the core of the education system.