Teacher Talk

Paul Harrison is head teacher of Teesdale School and a linguist. He has contributed to the Nuffield Languages Programme and is on the steering group of the Regional Languages Network - North East
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To what do you attribute the decline in the number of secondary school children taking up foreign languages?

To what do you attribute the decline in the number of secondary school children taking up foreign languages?

Last year the Government made languagesoptional again. Here in the North-east we've witnessed a further drop from 55.8 per cent down to 46.9 per cent in the proportion of students learning at least one foreign language. Also, learning a foreign language is difficult. A student who might achieve a grade D in French at GCSE might get a C or B in Art. Success in school league tables is measured by exam performance and schools are under pressure to improve grades - they can do this by dropping "harder" subjects. The cost to the economy from the lack of foreign speakers is significant.

How can you encourage children to take up foreign languages?

You have to engage the children: there is a whole raft of games to be played in language learning, and the focus has also to be on speaking. It is essential that students have a grasp of the grammar to write and speak correctly. It comes down to the quality of teaching, and in the UK there is a shortage of good language teachers.

What is the role of technology in teaching foreign languages?

Interactive white boards, computerised language labs, CD-Roms and video conferencing links can be real assets when used properly. Technology helps make learning fun and relevant. For example, children can be given the task of finding out what the weather in Paris is today. The web opens up a vast new range of resources.

Why is greater importance given to foreign languages in other European countries?

Youth culture is predominantly in English, giving teenagers an incentive to learn our language. Other European countries are positive towards learning foreign languages, whereas in the UK we suffer from parochialism, assuming everybody else will speak English.

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