The Liverpool experience: learning the lingo across the curriculum

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The Independent Online

Liverpool started its early years languages programme three years ago, with five primary schools teaching French to years 5 and 6. Liz Kelly, from Liverpool's Local Education Authority, says: "Initially, a primary language advisory teacher and a foreign language assistant did the teaching, but the class teachers watched and started to team teach after a while." The initiative caught on: Liverpool now has a full-time advisory teacher and three language assistants covering 40 schools.

As part of its aim to become a premier European city, Liverpool is also creating nine language primary schools, three each teaching in French, German and Spanish, taking its total spending on primary language teaching to £233,000 a year. Children will receive three half-hour sessions a week. Again, the aim is to train up class teachers, who are present for the lessons and have a separate 45-minute staff lesson once a week. "We will also fund them for any training they want," says Kelly. "Quite a lot are doing GCSE or attending courses at university or abroad."

She admits there are issues of secondary transfer, but believes it will become easier as a critical mass of children develops. "We have a firm commitment from secondary heads to put the children from the specialist schools into separate classes and teach them where they left off. For the other 40, it is a bit more difficult – some will be put into separate classes and as more primaries come online this will become more feasible."

All the schools teach completely through the medium of the language, and reinforce language learning across other subjects. "So whatever we are doing in mental maths, for instance, we might repeat in the German lesson, or do the same story book in literacy hour in foreign language," says Kelly. "We've also done PE and football training in another language."

More important, the children enjoy it, she says. "Often boys at secondary level deliberately anglicise every French word in as strong a Liverpool accent as they can muster, but those from the project have a great French accent, and they are so enthusiastic it infects the other children. It makes languages cool."