The past few years in the UK have seen a steady decline in the number of young people studying foreign languages at GCSE, A-Level and university. In other words, as soon as learning a language becomes optional, the majority of students give it up. But why, when languages offer a variety of proven benefits (see below), are they still seen as an unnecessary subject by so many? And what can teachers do to inspire their students – not only to persevere with languages, but actually to enjoy them?
A recent study by the National Literacy Trust has revealed a sharp increase in the number of pupils aged between 8 and 18 who read regularly outside of the classroom. In 2014, 41% of pupils read outside the classroom, a 32% year-on-year increase from 2013, and this is a hugely encouraging sign for literacy development.
I was lucky enough to be brought up in the geographical haven that is North Wales, and spent most of my youth walking in the Carneddau, canoeing around the coastline of the Llŷn Peninsula and mountain biking in the Gwydyr Forest. After my subsequent travels around the world, I maintain that North Wales is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to, and while many children perhaps don’t fully appreciate where they live, I certainly did. Even when other social distractions surfaced around A-Level time (Llandudno’s Broadway Boulevard), I still spent as much time as possible out and about.
Isn’t it funny how as toddlers, we question absolutely everything? At three years old, it’s all about the ‘why’. Why is the sky blue? Why does a dog have four legs? Why do I have to eat green vegetables? Why does Mummy work? We’ve all experienced this phase with a toddler in one way or another, at times finding it exhausting.
Teachers have used phonics as a method for teaching reading since Victorian times! Look at a photo of a Victorian classroom and you will see rows of children being taught to sound out letters to make words such as ‘cat’. Move forward to the 21st century and you still see children sounding out phonemes (sounds) and blending them to read (or the reverse - segmenting the phonemes and turning them into graphemes to spell).
The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and Samsung Electronics UK and joined forces to develop and launch a new app which is set to inspire a whole new generation with Shakespeare’s work. RE:Shakespeare aims to transform the way pupils experience the work of Britain’s most prolific playwright, in and out of the classroom.
Educational company Succeedin have begun running introductory workshop which allow teachers, both new and experienced, to get the most out of their interactions with young people. These workshops are delivered over four hours, priced from £675 + VAT (subject to location).
As I get older – I’m 47, and feeling every minute of it – I definitely have a sense that now is the time to ‘do it’, whatever that ‘it’ is. Having suffered a stroke not long ago helps focus the mind in that regard, as does having kids. And so I’m delighted that something came my way at work (I’m an enrichment and collaboration coordinator for an educational consortium in the Midlands) that has genuinely fired me up and made me think that I am using my time well and maybe that the slow advance to that crazily far-off retirement day, 20 years from now, can actually be a new chapter of fresh challenge and deep satisfaction.