Modern languages in a primary school setting, oui ou non?

Modern languages in a primary school setting, oui ou non?

For many children, learning a modern language is not a lesson they are challenged with until they reach secondary school. But at Barrow Hills School, an independent co-educational prep school for children aged 2 to 13, being exposed to the words and sounds associated with a new language begins as early as the nursery years.

Technique tactics

Naturally, when working with very young children, teaching techniques need to be adapted to match capability and care is taken to avoid confusing children, who at this early stage in their learning journey, are still developing skills in their mother tongue. 

Popular choices

In terms of the most popular modern languages to introduce within the primary school environment, French and Spanish tend to dominate. Both languages are considered sufficiently mainstream for children to appreciate their relevance, for example, many parents may elect to holiday in either France or Spain, providing the child with an opportunity to experience the language at first hand.

Benefits of a modern language

Outside of the clear advantages of being able to communicate with these ‘holiday friends’ what are the benefits of a young child learning a second language?

Teaching a modern language extends to introducing a child to cultural differences. For example, learning how Christmas is celebrated in France and in other countries. Children are fascinated by this phenomenon and interested in finding out more, indeed, frequently these sessions pave the way for wider discussions. What’s more, getting to grips with another language can actually help them make good progress with the finer points of their first language.

And what of the longer-term employment prospects for the multi-lingual child? Post Brexit, the position is unclear as to what the future holds in terms of the working opportunities throughout Europe, but regardless of this, seeking a job abroad is always going to appeal to some young people. One could argue that the UK’s exit from the European Union could signal an enhanced need to focus on the importance of a second or third language. Being able to offer fluency in another language may open more doors and help to oil the wheels to secure a visa. Perhaps of equal significance is how learning a second language demonstrates to a prospective employer the ability to understand and appreciate cultural differences.

Future language options

Looking to the future, what are the emerging languages that we can expect our young children to be learning? Mandarin is a language that is ‘emerging’ but in truth, regional location will more than likely dictate what other languages may be offered and these are often related to the different communities represented within the school.

Whatever language is chosen, it is likely to provide a good foundation for extending a child’s fluency in further modern languages later on. 


*This is a collaborative post.

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