Issue date: 03 October 2002
Primary school children in around ten Bristol schools will get a ‘flying start’ in learning Spanish thanks to an initiative by the University of the West of England. This novel idea recognises that Spanish is actually one of the most widely spoken European languages, with up to one-quarter of the world’s population speaking it as their mother tongue.
UWE’s project involves designing and delivering an intensive course for teachers to enable them to teach Spanish to children aged between seven and 11. Irene Wilkie, who is Associate Head of Languages and Linguistics in UWE’s Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Social Studies, has been awarded £7690 by the Nuffield Language Programme to carry out the scheme.
According to Irene, introducing children to foreign languages from the age of seven has already been shown to be a success. “With the right approach, children find the lessons fun, enjoyable, and are less inhibited about trying to speak another language than when they are older.”
The project builds on the success of a pilot scheme when Irene used puppets, games and songs to teach Spanish at a South Bristol primary school last year and other UWE languages staff carried out similar projects in French and German.
“We had some very positive results from the pilot scheme,” said Irene.
The scheme has the support of the Spanish Embassy and was inspired by the Nuffield Languages Inquiry. Among the inquiry’s main findings were that the UK needs further competence in modern languages, as well as French. It also pointed out that there was no UK-wide impetus to enable children to start languages early, despite evidence that introducing languages only in secondary schools meant that children often lacked motivation.
The first phase of the project has already started, with original course materials being written and produced. This will be followed by intensive after-school teacher-training sessions, by UWE and Spanish Embassy education staff, delivered in centres local to the schools. As well as language training, the project will set up partnership links with primary schools in Spain so that materials and e-mails can be exchanged. A network will enable the teachers to be supported after the course is over, and a report on the project as a whole published to encourage other clusters of schools to pursue the idea.