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How do you offer languages at year 7? Share your experiences please!

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by gaijingirl, Feb 15, 2011.

  1. Hello all,
    I work at a language college where we have 4 languages on offer. French/Spanish/German/Japanese. With the Ebacc, increasing prior language knowledge of year 7s as well as a general re-working of our curriculum, we are looking at the way we offer languages to our year 7s.
    A high percentage of our students are coming in to year 7 having previously studied a language at KS2 but as we have an enormous number of "feeder schools" (30+ last year) - there is little uniformity in how much they have learned. A preliminary investigation has shown that a significant majority studied French.
    Currently all students learn French throughout year 7 - starting from scratch and then in year 8 they opt for a 2nd language (having had a 30 min taster of the remaining 3 on offer). In year 9 they opt to take 1 or 2 languages at KS4.
    We are looking at alternative ways to arrange the MFL curriculum - eg, a carousel system for languages in year 7 etc.
    I wonder if TES colleagues would be kind enough to share their experiences of different systems - particularly ways in which they have dealt with the ever-increasing prior knowledge of students coming up from KS2. I'd like to get an overview of possibilities and their positive/negative points.
    Many thanks in advance for any advice.
  2. Sol22

    Sol22 New commenter

    HI there

    I would not opt for a carousel personally.
    Why don't you give your children language tasters' in Year 7 and assess what options are best?
    I strongly recomment Spanish for low ability groups as it is more accessible.

    Good lucK!
  3. Hi
    You are very lucky to have such a varied offer of languages, Ic am HOD in a HIgh school and we offer French and Spanish. We study French up until February and then switch to Spanish. The kids then opt for one of them at the end of the year. It has made a great difference in terms of motivation. We help them to select the best language for them, of course. I hope this helps...
  4. What I know happens in one school, although it is a specialist languages college, is that 6 languages are offered in year 7 on a carosel: French, Japanese, Chinese, German, Italian and Spanish. The pupils spend one half term being introduced to each language. In year 8 they select which one or two they would like to continue learning.
    This really is "MFL" as they get to sample a variety of different world languages, rather than just 2 very similar Romance languages, that is often the case in most schools.
    The one-term language tasters would introduce basics such as introductions, numbers, and basic sentence structures, as well as quite a bit of the culture, so that the pupils have a really informed insight before having to choose which language to continue in depth in years 8 and 9, and onto GCSE thereafter.
    I would eventually like to offer this kind of approach if I become head of department in a specialist languages college. I would probably substitute Italian for Russian (one of my languages) so that the pupils sample a Slavic language rather than a third Romance language. Arabic would potentially be an option as it was my degree subject, but I am weary about the use of Arabic because of diglossia: qualifications are all in Modern Standard Arabic, but each country speaks a particular variety different from MSA. Teaching shopping, directions, etc. in MSA would be very fake and hardly of use to any learner.
    After a year 7 carosel, I would start the real teaching of the languages in year 8, preferably using the Michel Thomas for Schools course for those languages for which it is available, or a similar approach for the other languages.
    Furthermore, at the beginning of year 7, with all my classes, I plan to use a PowerPoint presentation I made that introduces MFL as a learning area, as well as a broad insight into the variety of languages in the world. This includes how languages are grouped into families with cousins and even sisters, how languages can differ from each other, such as by the sounds they use, word order and how speakers write down their language. Exciting examples are used (including audio-visial material) such as tones in Chinese and clicks in Khoisan languages to illustrate the variety of sounds in languages; Arabic, Russian and Japanese to exemplify writing systems; and Chinese and Greenlandic to show how word and sentence formation can differ. This part of the presentation opens pupils' eyes to the world of languages and hopefully motivates and enthuses them to want to learn MFL. The section on what MFL is helps them to understand what learning a language involves before they set out on that great task. This part of the presentation explains the different skills needed to learn languages such as speaking, writing, reading etc. as well as learning about the culture of the relevant places.
    All this, I hope, is somewhere on the way to making a strong MFL department, which really knows "MFL", and engages pupils' interest to the highest.
  5. Sol22 - I am interested to know why you would not opt for a carousel - what are the negative aspects of this? I am trying to take a balanced view so I am genuinely interested.
    We do already give language tasters in year 7 - just short one off tasters though and I'm not sure this is sufficient as many subsequently are unhappy with their choices and maybe choose the taster that was "most fun" as opposed to one they really feel suits them.

  6. judodan - thank you so much for your lengthy and informative post. I really like some of the ideas you have posted. One of the aims (for me at least) is to raise motivation in languages, which I feel is currently very low in my college. I am at a specialist languages college (although specialisms, I hear, are now to take a back-seat under the new education proposals).

    I am just off to google the Michael Thomas for Schools course as I have not heard of it before.
  7. Cigalou - thank you also. It is most helpful.
  8. noemie

    noemie Occasional commenter

    Personally I'm not a fan of carousels - it just never gives you the chance to get any good at a language before moving on to the next one, plus you know you're only learning on a temporary basis so there isn't a strong motivation of progressing.
    Whilst I commend giving pupils choice, beware also of giving pupils too much choice. Before I started English lessons at school I was determined I would hate it - it seemed difficult (accent-wise) and I was already learning two foreign languages, plus the English culture didn't appeal at the time, as a 12-year old. It took two years to like it, and two more for it to become my favourite language.
    Just saying...
  9. I completely agree noemie.
    There is another problem offering so many choices. What happens in year 8? You can end up in a situation where you have too few students studying each language to be able to set. Now that is fine if you want to have mixed ability. On the other hand if you direct students to a language by ability, what is the point of giving them the choice in the first place? You can also end up with lots of resentment from those students denied a free choice. I have been in that situation, there can be a lot of conflict with parents.
    Judan I have tried the whole MFL thing. You are obviously a super keen linguist but I am afraid that you will find that your average 11 year old does not share your passion. It can all be very disillusioning. I know now that you won't believe me.
  10. *judodan*
  11. Sol22

    Sol22 New commenter

    i find carousel chaotic options. children loose motivation as there is no continuity. Just imagine, you have to do French for one term and you already predict that you hate it! you will be thinking it is not worth the effort as I am not going to carry on any more.
    Rather than caroussels I have language clubs in my school. I advertise them and children do them that also gives me a chance to see who is interested in what language and whether it is an option to be included in the curriculum.

    It is all very good about giving all the options with all the languages in the world but you also need to look at what kind of children you are catering for and parents too, how you are going to achieve good results and how those children if they decided to relocate schools would be able to do so and continue with the language/s you offer in your school somewhere else.
    Mandarin is exciting and isn't Arabic an exotic language? Can your children take those languages to GCSE and get A*? Can those children take A level in those languages? How practical are those languages in the future for those candidates? It is a very wide picture you need to look at and see if those options fullfill all the areas!

    Good luck!

  12. I think with motivation and hard work any language can be taken to GCSE A*-C in 3 years. The problem, of course, is what happens to the students who are motivated to learn about Japanese culture because of manga and video games, but are much less keen on learning vocabulary; and what happens with those who could with hard work get a GCSE C in, say, Spanish, but instead chose to dabble in Mandarin, then they lost interest because of the difficulties, and thus they never achieve the GCSE C in mfl, which, in turn, means they never achieve the EBacc either. Yet the same child would have feltl angry and offended if he hadn't been allowed to choose Mandarin, which seemed so exciting at the time...
    I am much in favour of offering "exotic" languages like Arabic and Mandarin. However, there is also the issue of teachers. Most schools have only one teacher in these languages. What happens if the only Mandarin/Arabic/Japanese teacher has a car accident and goes off sick for 6 months? In London it may be easier to replace them; in certain communities it may be possible to find a temporary substitute teacher for, say Arabic, until another qualified teacher can be found. But in rural and not very multicultural areas this may pose a challenge. A pity, too... :(
  13. westnab

    westnab New commenter

    <font face="Calibri">We tried a carrousel of French/German/Spanish/Italian/Japanese/Chinese in Y7 and sadly it was a big waste of time. J&rsquo;ai zw&ouml;lf a&ntilde;os at the end of it and total confusion and low motivation for languages. Behaviour was terrible as classes had to swap teacher every 6 weeks and never got settled and as others have said, didn&rsquo;t see the point when they&rsquo;d be dropping it soon anyway. They didn&rsquo;t get enough of a taste to be able to make any real decision about which one they preferred and opted for the one where they had most fun. Not everyone got their first choice as the timetable wouldn&rsquo;t allow, so all who picked Italian were upset, as not enough did to make a whole class, and too many picked Japanese and Chinese for our staffing levels. This made the whole exercise quite pointless. When that year came round to pick options, we had the worst year ever for recruitment at GCSE. Japanese and Chinese proved far too difficult for most of our students and progress compared to the European languages in Y8 was poor. The only thing it did do, was help us shift our focus on building language learning skills and creating independent learners, but we do that now we&rsquo;ve gone back to learning one language in Y7 all the way through anyway &ndash; straight choice between French/Spanish/German that settles nicely into thirds of the year. </font><font face="Calibri">For most eleven year olds, I think it&rsquo;s the quality of teaching and the progress they feel they make that are the biggest factors in whether they enjoy MFL. The grass is always greener. Switch a student learning French, who hates it passionately, to Spanish lessons and most of the time they&rsquo;ll be pleased to start with and then when they realise Spanish lessons are very similar because it&rsquo;s still MFL, they&rsquo;ll hate that too most of the time (assuming same teacher, quality of lessons etc&hellip; and assuming there&rsquo;s no reason the student should be more motivated to learn the other language, e.g. parents&rsquo; holiday house in Spain etc&hellip;)</font>
  14. yasf

    yasf Occasional commenter

    I agree. I don't like the idea of a Y7 carousel either. I prefer the idea of offering 1 and then offering a variety of extra MFLs that can be chosen by the student in Y8/Y9 and then taken on into KS4 and hopefully KS5.
    I wonder if we haven't lost our way a bit. Surely, if possible, we should be aiming to produce some real highflyers with a healthy take up in KS5, and some even going on to do MFL at university (remember that?). A good start in Y7, when enthusiasm is high, can give an excellent base for actually learning a language. It would be a shame to waste it.
  15. lifereallyistooshort

    lifereallyistooshort New commenter

    Carousels are a bad idea for all the reasons already given. We allocate half of our year 7 to French, half to German. They have no choice in the matter. In Yr 8 they can choose to add the other language or Spanish as a 2nd MFL. This seems to work pretty well.

    Mandarin can be done after school. It is hard to get the top grades in Mandarin at GCSE because there is still a disproportionate number of native speakers sitting the exam, so grade boundaries are tough. Also, anyone who knows anything about Chinese knows how much additional work is required to master the written language. Not being phonetic, pupils have to in effect learn 2 languages - one spoken, one written.
  16. Whether offering a series of tasters in year 7, or offering second and third languages in year 8 onwards, after a year of studying one language, I still think the range of languages offered needs to be widened. Too many schools offer just French-German-Spanish, when there are over 5000 languages in the world. I know 99% aren't useful to British people, but there should be more to MFL than just French, German and Spanish. I know there is a problem with staffing lesser-taught languages, but I know some schools at which teachers have been made to learn another language such as Spanish when they originally taught French and German. MFL teachers are linguists so should be able to learn any language, be it Spanish or Japanese. Furthermore, if these languages are taught more often, over time, there will be a greater uptake at university level of students learning such languages, rather than the majority of languages graduates having studied Spanish or French. Spanish was once not commonly taught, but it is increased and now the number of Spanish graduates is probably overtaking German. If this is the case, this could be the same with Chinese, Japanese etc, if only these languages are encouraged in schools.
    As for the so-called difficulty situation of these languages, it is all about using the correct teaching method. Languages from different languages families require different ways of being presented to learners, depending on their structure. Chinese, Japanese, Arabic etc, cannot be successfully taught using the same pedagogies used to teach Romance and Germanic structures. And since many teachers only know and are trained in Romance and/or Germanic language pedagogy, they see languages such as Chinese, Japanese and Russian being too hard for pupils. French has a very deep phoneme-grapheme writing system but it is still popular.
    There are many pedagogies out there suitable for particular languages; teachers just need to research these, and then offering a greater range of languages becomes less of a problem. I believe languages teachers should always be looking for new and innovative pedagogies all the time. It shocks me when I hear of MFL teachers who have never heard of the Michel Thomas for Schools courses. The Michel Thomas Method is one of the greatest language pedagogies so I would have thought more teachers would have heard of it after researching how to improve their teaching and their pupils' learning.
    What I think would be an idea is for schools to offer only one Romance language, and replace the other with another world language. I often see complaints of not being able to fit a fourth language into the timetable along with Fr/Ger/Sp, so why not just get rid of French or Spanish? Keep one and replace the other with Chinese, Russian or something?
    The government and businesses are wanting graduates in more languages than just French and Spanish, but I still believe schools are not doing enough to promote these lesser-taught languages, and are put off by the "so-called" difficulties. There is a way to most things; schools just need to find these ways to overcome such problems, rather than just giving in and sticking or reverting to Fr/Ger/Sp.
  17. westnab

    westnab New commenter

    Judodan, you obviously feel very strongly and are really passionate about bringing other languages on to the curriculum because of the love you have for all the different languages you speak and that's fine. However,
    Is this the best way to promote language learning? Should teachers with very questionable subject knowledge be teaching it? If they have been forced to learn a knew language (whilst teaching full-time obviously) are they going to have the same passion for it as the ones they speak well and where they are familiar with the culture of the relevant countries? Mastering a language takes years when you are not living in a country where it is spoken.
    Exactly. So if teachers have been made to learn Japanese on the job, they're hardly going to be experts in the best way of teaching it if they only learnt how to teach French.
    I do agree with you about offering more than Romance languages. I've never understood schools which make students do French and Spanish.
  18. westnab

    westnab New commenter

    *new* tut tut!
  19. I agree. I don't really like the idea of teachers being forced to learn a new language on the job, but I mentioned it only because I know it happens. I prefer the other option of encouraging more learners with aims of becoming language teachers to study less mainstream languages at university, so that eventually there are more teachers coming through the system who can confidently and successfully teach languages other than French and Spanish.
    I've noticed more and more MFL PGCE courses offering languages such as Chinese and Japanese in recent years, which is a good thing. If a prospective teacher speaks a language well, but say has a degree in only French,they should be encouraged to still specialise in their non-degree languages as well. I know PGCE providers allow this if you can prove you speak a language well. I got on a PGCE course to specialise in French, German and Russian, but my degree was actually in Arabic. There is only one provider for PGCE Arabic I believe.
  20. londomolari

    londomolari New commenter

    And that's just what the teacher is thinking!

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