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Issue:- 7 November 2014

Wirral teacher's travels to explore best practice in foreign language teaching

CHARLOTTE Bailey, a teacher of French and Spanish from the Wirral, Merseyside, travelled to Australia and New Zealand for 5 and a half weeks on a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship (WCMT).

Inspired by a 2013 report by The British Academy entitled 'Languages - The State of the Nation', which revealed that the UK is suffering from a growing deficit in foreign language skills, she wanted to investigate best practice in foreign language teaching for young learners, whose mother tongue is English, to find out how they are motivated and engaged.

In the UK, the age at which children can opt out of learning foreign languages was reduced in 2002 from 16 to 14, which led GCSE entries to plummet. Numbers have begun to rise again as a result of the introduction of the English Baccalaureate, which favours a foreign language component at GCSE.

Since 2014, the teaching of languages at primary level is now a compulsory element of the curriculum. However, the status of languages in schools and the progression from primary to secondary are still key issues. Teaching methods and the assessment process are also integral to the debate.

Whilst on her Fellowship, Charlotte visited many classrooms, and spoke with both teachers and students, as well as to language professionals and government departments. She realised that the most successful language programs were those where students were so involved in their language learning that they were unaware it was taking place. These programs were either 'immersion' programs or examples of CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) teaching.

Back in the UK, Charlotte will be investigating ways in which she can implement some of the strategies she has seen into her own school, and also hopes to disseminate her ideas through language focused publications. 

Charlotte told us that:- "If language learning is carried out in an immersive way, much like how we learn our first language, then the most successful linguists will emerge from this process. It is time for schools to take languages on board as integral to students' cognitive development, with language programs that offer rigour, progression and real learning, in as authentic an environment as possible."

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