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On the teaching of languages to seven year olds

And yet our govt wants kids to be mistaught a foreign language from the age of seven. ( Yes mistaught – as in most primary schools none of the teachers can speak any foreign language, yet alone teach it to the whole school. )

This is one of Gove\’s worse ideas.

I\’m afraid that I have to disagree with the shed dweller.

I think the teaching of language to seven year olds is an absolutely fabulous idea. Grammar, vocab, spelling, pronunciation: I cannot think of a better preparation for the life ahead.

We could start with English…..

50 thoughts on “On the teaching of languages to seven year olds”

  1. Primary school teachers constantly teach subjects they don’t know. It’s the nature of the job. Why should languages be any different?

  2. Language teaching in most countries (including UK) is rubbish and does a very good job of turning students against learning any foreign language unless they really have to.

    Teaching grammar and reading (of the foreign language) in the early stages is equivalent to teaching the science and jargon of lower limb movement as it applies to football before allowing students briefly out onto a soccer pitch with extreme oversight.

    At some point the last 60 years of linguistic and neurological research might actually be acknowledged. Language is predominantly an ‘instinct’ as much as lower limb movement is.

    Just taking that single fact into account should revolutionise language teaching.

    This ‘initiative’ reeks of failure and idiocy.

  3. @Doug
    Which is why introducing a second language as early as possible is a good idea. Half my friends’ children are bilingual 3 year olds and they have no problem with it at all. Of course they’re learning their other language in the same way they learn English and since they can’t read or write yet the opportunity for messing it up is reduced….

    Introducing formal lessons in a second language at 11 strikes me as doomed to utter failure: the precise moment when the brain’s capacity to learn languages is reduced and the self-consciousness of the child is at a maximum. Brilliant.

  4. There are a lot of immigrants in the UK: it’s hard to imagine that there’s a school in the country that couldn’t readily find a native speaker of some foreign language who’d be willing to come in and teach it for a few hours a week.

    But of course, when Gove says he wants foreign languages taught in schools, he has some particular languages in mind: according to the BBC “Under Mr Gove’s plans, primary schools could offer lessons in Mandarin, Latin and Greek, as well as French, German and Spanish”.

    What’s the aim here? I can’t think of a justification that would apply to all three of Mandarin, Classical Greek, and French.

  5. Latin would be fine. The teacher of basic Latin only needs to stay one lesson ahead of the class, as he or she is unlikely to be rumbled by native speakers.

  6. I can’t see any reason why a foreign language needs to be part of the national curriculum. It might be interesting or fun, but so are lots of other things.

    Practically, knowing a foreign language just isn’t that useful. I know people say “well, you might get a job that needs it”, but where will that job be? Paris? Berlin? Tokyo? Shanghai?

    Leave it up to the schools. If the school wants to teach the kids some Klingon or Cherokee then fine. If they want to teach them how a car engine works, also fine. A lot of primary education is just about making stuff interesting for kids.

  7. Anon, I beg to differ.

    I dropped out of French at 14 (in 1988), believing that I’d probably never need any other languages other than a smattering of holiday chit-chat. Despite working only in the UK, having some language skills would have definitely helped when I was working in a European technical support centre for IT security products – we were supporting people buying the products we sold in countries from Scandinavia, Western Europe, Southern Europe, and some Eastern European states. These days, that company is owned by Japan’s NTT, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re getting some business in South-East Asia too.

    Yes, English is the language of business, but all other things being equal, a customer will prefer a company who can support them in their mother tongue.

  8. Problem is that you need to have your foreign language at a pretty astonishingly high level before it is of much use professionally. However the investment required to get to that level goes way beyond what would be required to get to, say, degree level in any other subject.

    Now if you make that investment and then go into some specific language-related job such as translation (I know because I used to do that) you find the pay is atrocious because for all of Mr Head-of-CBI’s wibbling about Brits’ nonexistent language skills, his members are still happy to use a cut-price Indian because they do jobs quick and cheap, but rather badly.

    Conversely if you do some other job where foreign language is a useful but not essential skill (I know cos that’s what I now do), it gets more interesting. I’ve found British employers could not care less that I am functionally bilingual in German and have business-adequate Italian. With my German employer, I do get a little more recognition and a little more money for it, but not enough to repay the investment.

    So the reason not to teach kids languages is that actually the market does not care for it much. So atrociously-translated manuals for white goods (and everything else) will remain the norm.

  9. James V, you’re too negative about what your German and Italian language skills have brought you. Your options and chances of chatting up girls has been much increased.

    If we stick to Europe, you’ve made great choices in terms of numbers who speak English but who will appreciate you speaking their language (German , Swiss, Austria) and a large country where a significant number don’t speak good English (Italy).

  10. You’re all missing the point that for most of these kids English is a foreign language, and teaching it to them is a good idea.

  11. Well yes, Tim was making some such point. But of course for most children in the UK, English is not a foreign language, but one they speak natively and fluently.

    A case can be made that children should be taught some standard English dialect in addition to, or instead of, their native dialect. Or that children should be taught formal grammar. Or that more emphasis should be put on teaching standard orthography and punctuation. And if Tim chose to make the case for one or more of those things, I suppose commentators would comment on it.

    What’s missing in all the harrumphing on this subject is any statement of what we are trying to achieve and why.

  12. @Helen

    No, it’s not a good idea if it turns kids off a foreign language at an early age. My point is that these lessons will fail precisely because they will incorporate reading, writing and grammatical analysis at far too early a stage and/or in much too large amounts.

    And as you so kindly pointed out, the kids you know (and that I know) became bilingual without the initial study of reading etc.

    This initiative will teach kids to fail at languages, like most language teaching to kids.

    It makes more sense to introduce foreign languages at 11 using the present approach, as this is the rough time when kids start to be capable of analysis.

    There’s also good research that shows that there’s a minimal difference in foreign language ability between kids who start at 7 or so, and those who start at 11 when tested at 16 – using present teaching approaches.

    So not only a nice government ‘back to how we used to do things when they didn’t work then either’ but also a great ‘let’s waste money on programs that have been shown not to work’ as well.

  13. I have to say that, in one company, I managed to business quite effectively with my schoolboy French and a French colleague’s schoolboy English. We weren’t up to translating user manuals but we could sort out where we were going to see the customers and, more importantly, where we were going to eat and drink.

    I got good enough at directions to taxi drivers in Germany that they tried replying to me in German.

    And I can order wine and beer in a wide variety of languages and dialects … It all helps.

    Mind you, teaching primary school kids chat-up lines and how to order white wine in Jerez and not get sherry – i.e. the useful stuff – probably wouldn’t go down to well with the Kiddy Protection Stormtroopers.

  14. Alex B, it’s not that learning a foreign language has no benefits, it’s that the probability of benefits, relative to effort, is quite low when viewed as a native English-speaking school student. If your work is covering Scandinavia, Northern Europe, Southern Europe and some of Eastern Europe, you’re talking about learning Spanish, French, Italian, German, Finnish and Russian, and that’s assuming that you learn German well enough to make some sense of the Scandinavian and Dutch languages, along with Swiss German. That’s 6 languages, not one. That’s a lot of investment.

    If you learn just one language, then which one? Given cheap air transport, you might wind up anywhere in the world.

    Some people have idiosyncratic reasons for learning a particular foreign language, eg family members, or a particular love for a particular language area. But if you don’t have such a personal reason, it strikes me as pretty much a lottery as to whether the foreign language you learned at school will ever turn out to be pragmatically useful.

  15. PaulB – I don’t think it’s necessary for every scheme to have some universal overarching/underpinning theoretical justification and objective. In fact in education I’m convinced that doing so is likely to be positively harmful (greater chance of misinvestment, particularly overinvestment in the latest fad or the whims of changing education secretaries; the danger of consistency – if we cock something up, we screw up an entire generation). The advantage of a mishmash where schools do separate things is that at least some kids somewhere will get the ‘right’ thing, whatever that is, and since we are talking about skills likely to be useful to a minority of people rather than universal/basic ones, that’s quite enough. Since we are attempting to arm them with skills that turn out most valuable when that generation hits their economic peak in their 40s/50s we can’t claim to know for sure where priorities should lie, and some very different guesses may be plausible.

    There are folk who claim everyone ‘must’ learn to program computers or the national economy will fall behind, that everyone ‘must’ learn a musical instrument (often pointing to ‘personal growth’ and ‘intercultural communication’ and sometimes to studies showing improvements in other subjects – similar tactics to the language lobby), that everyone ‘must’ learn maths at 16-18 level, that schools ‘must’ teach cooking /citizenship/critical thinking/ national history/work life balance/career planning/ driving … There are a hundred and one hobby horses, all of whom have valid points to some extent, not all of which can be simultaneously implemented because there aren’t enough hours in a day! But also it doesn’t seem to matter too much if not everybody gets everything – most people will never have to write computer code or hold a conversation in Mandarin (or Latin). So long as everybody gets something, and everything is got by somebody, we ought to be ok!

    Language learning may well be devalued to some extent by advances in machine translation (currently good enough that there’s little point learning a language just to be able to read the national press, which would have been a strong reason in the past) but it’d be unwise to gamble all the chips on that. And most kids would get something out of Chinese, or Latin, or French, even if it’s different things!

  16. Teaching primary age children a foreign language is now standard here. The kids seem to enjoy it so long as it’s NOT got all that grammar vocab spelling in it.
    “I spy” and stuff like that is good.

  17. The risk of a mishmash approach is lack of continuity from primary to secondary (or for school-movers) – that would require some careful planning, no point learning French at primary if no way to carry it on post-11. But one suggestion has been for secondary schools or clusters thereof to take the lead organising primary language provision in feeder schools, including providing the staff (which eases the ‘lack of expertise’ problem).

  18. one of the key reasons for teaching languages early is that in most people the ability learn new phonemes declines almost to zero at the onset of puberty; if you haven’t been taught the French “R” or the Portuguese “oa” sound before then, then many people are simply unable to distinguish them at all as the brain doesn’t work that way.*

    Early languages are A Good Thing but it would be nice if we didn’t lapse automatically into lazy teaching of French because that’s where people go on holiday and instead gae though to genuinely useful global languages like Mandarin or one of the many Indian choices.

    *the brain’s inability to differentiate explains Mitsubishi launching the Starion

  19. Tracy: “it’s not that learning a foreign language has no benefits, it’s that the probability of benefits, relative to effort, is quite low when viewed as a native English-speaking school student.” Yes, spot on. JamesV’s point was also very good on this. Specifically, it is very difficult and requires massive investment to achieve functional fluency in a language *academically* – and worse still, (a) it is relatively easy to achieve through alternative, upbringing-related roots (e.g. having a parent who speaks it, or spending a substantial part of childhood abroad), (b) even achieving this may not prove particularly useful (uncertainties of career trajectory, the fact that English is already a global language, increasing power of machine translation etc).

    There’s a lot of trendiness (and growth) at the moment in Mandarin-teaching, for instance, on the grounds of it being a “language of the future” (Russian and Japanese were too, once). But to achieve a useful level of Mandarin you’d have to expend a mindboggling amount of effort in doing so, while it remains a crapshoot whether it actually *will* be useful to you. And there is a very substantial British Chinese minority who speak all manner of Chinese dialects already, so it’s difficult to see where your competitive advantage would lie (especially if you had to study Mandarin at the detriment of other subjects, e.g. if your university degree specialises in it, at the obvious opportunity cost). Doesn’t mean nobody should learn Mandarin – I’m sure it’s a mind-developing activity that kids could find engaging if taught well, it may make them see the nuances of their own language differently, the improved cultural understanding of a major world power could prove handy, and so on – but one shouldn’t have too high an expectation of its benefits (which seem likely to me to be similar in scale for most people to what they’d have got out of taking Latin, but somewhat different in type).

  20. Why bother. Siri will be doing all the translation the next generation will need.

    “Siri. Where is the benfit office?”

    “wo ist der Vorteil Büro?”

  21. At best, the state of language teaching in Britain will be enough to get you into trouble ordering a beer and packet of crisps. (What is the German for crisps? Exactly!)

    If you want to stand the SLIGHTEST chance of using, say German, for your proffession, or whatever. Forget it.

    Next time you meet a teacher of German, ask them about “Fachdeutsch”, or “Amtsdeutsch”.

    THAT can only be learned by living here for MANY years. And you will NOT get a job outside of the production line in some back street pizza factory here, without learning it.

  22. MBE#16: according to your logic, only some schools should teach mathematics, because few of us use maths in our jobs.

    I have no objection to a mish-mash of languages being taught. But I do think that there should be a coherent justification for adding a compulsory subject to the primary school curriculum.

  23. Nah, technology will sort it; speech to text+google translate+text to speech+ 3d printed custom bluetooth earpiece = simultaneous translation in any language suppported by your smart phone. All long before the 7 year olds graduate. Bit like the ‘progressive ‘ parents that made their kids learn Japanses 25 years ago. Spoken in one country. Moved onto Mandarin, spoken in 5. As opposed to English spoken in 115 countries.

  24. I love the idea of teaching grammar to kids, especially if you could teach it properly, so they could analyse the grammar of their own dialect and correct the next BBC play that gets Yorkshire or Scouse wrong.

  25. I enjoy the astonished response I get when I observe that it would actually make more sense for Welsh to be taught as a second language in the UK. (That includes some Welsh speakers who give the impression they might not like to lose a private language.)

  26. When I was about ten or so and my sister was five-ish our family moved to Spain for two years. Within a couple of months my sister was fluent in el lingo (of course only to a standard of a five year old…). After 2 years out there she was totally fluent (to a standard of a seven year old), shrill and talked at the rate of a hundred to the dozen but had the advantage of going to school there, where Spanish was not taught… Within a month of returning to Blighty she had forgotten how to speak Spanish (and English to a certain extent).

    Get ’em while they’re young and keep it going to stop it leaking out again. I suppose that means sending the kiddies away for about twenty years but if that’s what it takes…

    Apologies for that pointless ramble, just practising. No one actually reads these comments do they?


  27. It doesn’t make any difference whether languages are taught in primary or secondary schools. The way we teach them is crap. We teach living languages as if they are dead ones. Not surprisingly, it kills them.

  28. “MBE#16: according to your logic, only some schools should teach mathematics, because few of us use maths in our jobs.”

    That’s somewhat unfair, since I explicitly distinguished between basic/universal skills and more specialised ones that we don’t need everyone to be proficient in. But even so, your comment is not a million miles from the mark.

    At post-16 level, for instance, some educational institutions do make some form of maths education compulsory, while the majority don’t. The way that applied mathematics is taught at A-level is prototypical mishmash – some schools only teach statistics modules, others only teach discrete/decision mathematics, others only teach classical mechanics, some teach a combination thereof. Would be interesting to know whether this makes much difference (are those who do mechanics more likely to go into engineering, or likely to be better attuned to it? are those who do discrete mathematics, mostly modules about algorithms, more likely to go into computing?) but at any rate it doesn’t appear to be a disaster, and certainly it wouldn’t be possible for all A level students to study ALL applied maths options – and for budget/staffing reasons it makes sense for schools to specialise in one or two branches, just as language teaching has to.

    Finally I’d note that, if you accept the distinction between more abstract “mathematics” and more practical “numeracy”, then a divide already exists in terms of student experience, even if it’s not so much school-to-school variation. (Though schools with specialist maths status, are more likely to teach GCSE Statistics or GCSE Additional Mathematics, or FSMQ Additional Mathematics, which have more resemblance to A-level.) Students who sit Foundation level papers don’t really experience “mathematics” in that stricter sense. And there have been proposals to split GCSE Maths into “Maths 1” and “Maths 2”, in a similar way to the language/literature split for English, with the aim of differentiating between the “basic skills” and “proper maths” elements.

    It would certainly be a shame if some students taking only Maths 1 miss out on the realm of higher mathematics, which they may have found more stimulating than basic numeracy, and could have led them on to various exciting careers. But if it ever happened I’m not convinced it would be the end of the world, and certainly most people get by in life without it. I’m sure their lives would be more enriched and their prospects enhanced if they knew more about it, but as zealots of all subjects point out, there is always an opportunity cost to not pursuing their subject of choice.

  29. As a disclaimer, my rather skeptical viewpoint about most elements of the curriculum is substantially influenced by (a) the fact that a lot of what I have learned has had minimal practical value to me, and other people I know have done perfectly well without it, and (b) my belief that much of formal education, especially qualifications, is really about “signalling” rather than “skills”…

    (good intro at )

  30. It’s a sad state of affairs that I actually have more faith in allowing the Education Secretary, whoever he may be, complete freedom to bend the curriculum to his whim, than to handing it over to the educational establishment.

  31. If every single Dutch and Scandinavian schoolkid can speak near-native English by the age of 16, why can’t we do it here? The way they do it is by watching subtitled American sitcoms, and compared to the drivel on British TV, there must be some interesting French/Spanish programmes that we can show. We spent most of French lessons watching the Taxi series and so forth.

  32. Well one advantage of teaching a language to kids is to demonstrate to them that it’s not really all that hard. So if in the future they had an opportunity to work in another country they could think to themselves, well I actually enjoyed language X in school, so language Y should’nt be too difficult.

    I came to Spain without a word of Spanish, and can now natter away to the locals and more to the point, do business without much difficulty. And despite what someone said about being incapable of picking up phenomes past age 11, I can trill my R’s, expectorate my J’s and nyenye my Ñ’s like a native. Because we are born with the enormous advantage of having English as our mother tongue, lets not be lazy buggers about learning other languages where they are useful.

  33. MBE: the point is that if there are skills worth developing at primary school level, we should try teaching them to all children.

    In my view it is a good idea to teach primary school children a foreign language, and it doesn’t much matter which language it is so long as there’s a competent (near-)native speaker available to teach it. This is because learning a foreign language teaches one something about the nature of language, and builds confidence in one’s future ability to learn something of a new language when one finds a need for it. And it’s easier if one starts young.

    That’s not to say I agree with Gove. His inclusion of Latin and (Classical) Greek shows that he doesn’t know what he’s trying to do, he’s just a reactionary.

    John: Dutch schoolchildren learn English because they want to and they’re exposed to it a lot. The advantage of speaking the world’s dominant language natively is that you don’t need to learn a foreign language, and the disadvantage is that you have little incentive to learn a foreign language.

  34. Learning a foreign language is probably part of the future political plan.
    As the government phases out the native English they will need to have an intermediate phase as the replacements come in.
    So speaking broken foreign will be ok until you are no longer necessary.

  35. Finally I’d note that, if you accept the distinction between more abstract “mathematics” and more practical “numeracy”, then a divide already exists in terms of student experience, even if it’s not so much school-to-school variation.

    Back in days of yore, when teaching up here in the frozen north was running by teachers rather than failed-teachers-turned-politicians, we had two relevant O-Grade exams – Mathematics and Arithmetic. The latter was compulsory – along with English and was the first exam everybody took. It was excellent. It ensured that every school pupil was at least taught basic numeracy (and the vast amount got a qualification in it) and the brighter pupils got a relatively easy exam to help them through any “stage fright” they might have. It has, of course, long gone …

    As the government phases out the native English they will need to have an intermediate phase as the replacements come in.

    I know this was written at booze o’clock but, seriously?

  36. @John Malpas,

    but what is the future indigenous language of the scepter’d isle? Urdish? Punmali? Polish/Gangstarappa creole?

  37. PaulB: There are two benefits I can see to studying mathematics for years.
    Firstly, it means you get years of practice at basic arithmetic, which means it will get well-engraved into your brain. There’s a fascinating book by Dan Willingham called “Why Don’t Students Like School” that includes a chapter on the relationship between how much algebra you remember and how far you got along in maths classes. People who stopped with one algebra class forgot rapidly over the years, people who had kept going on to advanced calculus didn’t forget their algebra, even 50 years later.

    Secondly, mathematics opens doors in the future, I’ve had several friends who’ve had to change their subject areas at university because they didn’t have enough of a maths background to follow the courses they wanted to do. (And yes, people change their mind all over the place, one of my parents’ friends left school at 15, got a job at the Post Office, and then a year later was so determined to go back to school he sold his motorbike to fund it, and got a degree in chemistry).

    So maths is different to languages.

  38. PaulB – my problem with the idea that ‘if there are skills worth developing we should teach them to everybody’ is its sheer impossibility.

    Firstly because LOTS of skills are worthwhile developing, far too many to achieve them all. How many virtuoso violinists have we lost, because nobody taught them violin? How many extra opportunities in life would have come your way if you spoke fluent Japanese since childhood? What in life do we miss out if we can’t bake, paint, sing, strip an engine, write our accounts, ride a horse, make a movie, write a computer program or learn elocution?

    All of these activities are clearly worthwhile. I’m glad that all of them are experiencd by at least some youngsters. But I have picked each example in that paragraph deliberately; in every case I have come across at least one evangelist for the cause, certain that not only is their skill worth learning, but that its unique benefits are so great that EVERY child should develop it. Many of these folk run charities promoting the cause, lobby the government, a full spectrum of worthy do-goodery. But there are not enough hours of schooltime for all their wishes to be fulfilled.

    Secondly it’s difficult-to-impossible to determine definitively what skills are most worthwhile. Partly subjectivity comes into play (how do we rate academic skills vs ‘life skills’, or more vague ‘spiritual development’? The way the latter is defined in the curriculum is surprisingly skills-based btw, presumably because there would be little agreement on how to make it content-based). Partly uncertainty (which language will be most useful in 30 years? Is it more important for most people to be expert users of computer applications, or to be able to create their own?). And then the general crapshoot of life, that different things will turn out useful for people on different lifepaths.

    Given that we’re all bound to miss out on worthwhile things, it seems sensible for people to learn at least those things that would otherwise most greatly curtail future options – eg basic skills in maths, English, IT, some personal and interpersonal skills (teaching ‘resilience’ is a big buzzword at the moment).That still doesn’t solve problems like the virtuoso never-got-to-play-the-violinists, which seem to me entirely insoluble. But so long as enough people do get a chance so as to provide us with the next generation of violinists then the social downsides are limited. So long as everything gets done by somebody, and everyone gets something (including some kind of universal ‘core’), it can’t be too disastrous.

    I suspect the same is true of languages. The investment required to make them deeply valuable is so large as often not to be worth it (especially if you already speak the world’s dominant language and have been born into the world post-BabelFish). But I’m sure kids get something worthwhile out of French, Chinese, even Latin (different things for sure, and I’m not sure their values are commensurable).

    On maths – I came across an article by a mathematical evangelist who thought everybody should be taught maths up to calculus. He felt that this is one of the most easily accessed topics where hints of the deep power and beauty of mathematics could be seen. For him it was the moment maths ‘clicked’ and the point of all that boring, pointless algebra became clear. Anyone who didn’t perceive the unique and compelling wonder and discipline of higher mathematics, had this pitifully mistaken outlook simply because they had been deprived of the opportunity to glimpse it by a syllabus that prioritised the dull, worldly and practical over the beautiful and abstract. They thereby missed out on great career opportunities and a deeper insight into the world around them (God being a beetle-lover second and mathematician first). Such critics should first go and learn more maths; once that has blown them away they would join the ranks of the converted.

    The zealot was wonderfully enthusiastic, full of brilliant anecdotes and examples, and deeply in love with a subject that clearly deserved to be loved. But his argument would be less completely barking mad, had he at some point familiarised himself with a Year 11 bottom-set. The reason these sixteen year olds are so disillusioned is unlikely to be because they can’t find the area under a parabola by integration, and more to do with still being stuck finding the area of a rectangle and being taught to count up all the squares (‘length x width’ being considered too hard for them, since they don’t know their tables). These kids don’t all get sent to some kind of retard farm after leaving school, many end up in surprisingly gainful employment. Their lives might prove more fulfilling with a dab of algebra, or the lightest sprinkling of calculus, but somehow I doubt it. That doesn’t mean the evangelist wasn’t 95% correct – higher mathematics can be fun, elegant, stimulating, a good discipline in its own right yet vitally useful in a wide variety of applications – but his conclusion that all should, must, learn calculus was faulty to the point of absurdity. The reasoning of zealots of other subjects seems to suffer from similar flaws: the perspective of the passionate, whose entire experience of life is shaped by the topic they wish to inflict because they can’t imagine how anyone could possibly cope, or live meaningfully, without it.

  39. MBE: you misquoted me, does copy and paste not work on your computer? Or do you find it easier to argue with a straw man?

    To address your surviving points: at primary school level, we don’t need to teach everyone everything, we need to give everyone a chance to discover what talents they’ve got. A teacher could have found out that I had no potential to be an excellent violinist by trying to teach me to sing. Or they could have found out that I had the potential to be competent but not outstanding at Japanese by trying to teach me French.

    I don’t say that learning Latin is valueless. But the argument for teaching a foreign language to seven-year-olds is that at that age they learn new languages more naturally than when they’re older. Whereas the argument for teaching Latin is usually that practising formal grammatical parsing develops logical thinking, a quite different thing.

  40. When I was about 7 I was taught French by a non-French-speaking teacher, using the Bonjour Line course. This listen-and-repeat audio-visual course required little or no French speaking on the part of the teacher, but required him to explain the vocabulary and grammar (in English) as it was presented.

    I live in France now, and this course remains the foundation of my French skills.

    I think that learning a foreign language (as part of a balanced curriculum) at age 7 is a fabulous idea.

    Incidentally, in the French language courses that I currently attend, the lack of understanding of English grammar is a stumbling block for many younger participants.

  41. How amazing that not one comment mentions the fact that people who regularly use more than one language develop Alzheimers, if they do develop it, around 4 years later than monolingual. Anyway, my Russian opens new cognitive and experiential worlds to me, which are inaccessible to others. Fancy not being able to read Pasternak in the original! You can’t translate poetry.

  42. Hello!
    My name is Lisa Allan and I am a KS1 primary school teacher. I am currently living in Spain, where I have been teaching in various international schools over the past 5 years. I speak a very good level of Spanish and am now wanting to come back to the UK to teach in the Somerset area.
    I have been doing some research on the internet to see if I could combine the idea of teaching at primary level whilst teaching children the spanish language…and somehow specialising in spanish. Please if anyone has any further information/contacts or advise for me?
    Thank you so much
    ………..and my opinion – languages rock!!!

  43. Ouch! I am really hurting from having read so much nonsense and ignorant comments…You Brits are the only Europeans that DO NOT find it important to learn a second language…
    Canada has done a lot of research on this topic of bilinguism. So you do not need to re-invent the wheel…Check them out…A child should ideally start at 4 months old, since children learn sounds NOT words…
    Grammar should only start much later as it normally puts kids off for being boring and complicated… I know what I am talking about as my Sons grew up quadrinlingually in South Africa: German (attended the German School), Portuguese(that me), English and Dutch dialect also known as Afrikaans as they later would (are) studying in Holland. BUT when I tried to convince them to learn French the formal way when they were 13 yrs old, it only lasted 1 school term…
    they hated the formal way of learning a language.SO definetly something is wrong with the pedagogical methods…
    It has now finaly been recognised scientifically/academically, that the earlier a child start the better it is; also the NEURONS in the brain respond and are better developed in bilingual kids.

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