Tongues untied

Language-learning software has proved popular with children at a Midlands prep school and extended the range of languages available

Pupils at Fairfield Preparatory School, part of the Loughborough Endowed Schools, have benefitted from a progressive teaching approach when it comes to learning languages. Children begin learning French in reception. Spanish is then introduced at year five and German at year six. They are taught in a way that encourages them to engage with languages by speaking, writing, reading and listening. They also participate in role-play where they can use language skills in different situations, such as buying and selling food and drink in a French café and by taking part in a German fashion show.

Fairfield pupils are also given the opportunity to explore additional languages less frequently taught in schools using specialist computer software called EuroTalk. These include Japanese, Chinese, Telugu, Russian, Latin and Italian – all of which were chosen to challenge and stimulate young children.

The software combines visual and verbal memory in a technique known as ‘dual coding’, which has been proven to improve information retention and the rate of recall. Instead of simple word repetition, children are shown a word in a foreign language and its corresponding image. By encouraging them to learn the word in the context of its visual marker, the memory is transferred from short- to long-term. Modern foreign language staff are always on hand to help encourage the children along the way.

The software provides pupils with a game to cement this new language knowledge in their memories and allows them to enjoy recalling the words. The interactivity, combined with a sense of enjoyment and encouragement from teachers and those around them, strengthens the child’s retention of information and improves their learning ability.

Lisa Izard, language teacher at Fairfield Preparatory School, says: “The great thing about teaching primary school-aged children foreign languages is that they have a natural ear for them and aren’t afraid to make mistakes. At a young age, they’re more interested in having fun with the sounds of the language and absorbing information, so it’s the perfect time to introduce them to what we think of as more difficult languages.

“Children naturally discover a language that suits them, and the wide range we have available at the school ensures that every pupil has the opportunity to enjoy a language and its benefits.”

Maha, aged 10, has relished the freedom to choose whichever language she wants to learn. “The games make it really exciting and I always want to beat my high score. Languages is definitely my favourite subject, especially German,” she says.

One of Fairfield’s most successful linguists, Yash Suribhatla, speaks nine languages and recently won EuroTalk’s Junior Language Challenge, beating more than 1,100 other under-11s in the UK. Yash enjoyed working through the languages available to him at Fairfield and used his knowledge of Italian, Japanese and Somali to win the national title.

Commenting on the future of language teaching, Lisa Izard says that she would like to see more schools using technology to support their offering of a wider range of foreign languages: “We’re all aware of the importance of French, Spanish and German, but pupils can really benefit from learning languages which are completely different and exciting. With all of the technology and software available now, it makes absolute sense for us to use it to inspire a love of languages and foreign cultures amongst young children.

“I would urge schools to follow our success and be brave enough to teach languages outside of the traditional field, reaping the benefits for children, teachers and parents alike.”

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