Thursday, March 08, 2007

Modern Foreign Languages

The English are notoriously bad at learning languages, or perhaps we are just bad at teaching them. I have an 'A level' in French, which equipped me for reading Baudelaire, Moliere, Racine and Hugo but didn't help me to converse in French restaurants and shops. 'Hasta luego' is just about all I remember from Spanish 'O level' days but ask me to sing Little brown jug or It's a long way to Tipperary in Latin and I'm still word perfect. That's because my Latin teacher was a 4'10'' terror! Fifty years on, I can recall every moment of my first Latin lesson, I always learned my vocabulary and did my homework on time and the worst day of my life was when I only got 98% in the 'mock' 'O level' exam and had to face the wrath of that teacher.

Successive governments have introduced initiatives to improve language learning in our schools; note, learning and not teaching. The latest idea, to drop French from the curriculum and introduce Mandarin is as potty as all the other schemes we have had over the years. Children don't learn a language because it might possibly be useful to their careers. They learn when they are immersed in it and because it is useful now. There are two ways to ensure success: employs lots of 4'10'' terrors or put a language assistant in every school i.e. a native speaker of the language in question, not necessarily a teacher, who will converse with the pupils.

My husband is using his newly acquired free time to brush up his French and is attending evening classes whereas my MFL learning is via blogosphere: I'm learning Transatlantic English. Yesterday I discovered 'druther' and 'schlep'. I am eagerly awaiting my next lesson!

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