8th July 2017
Writing: Laura Webster (Year 12)
Photography: Goethe Institut
Language learning figures across the UK are in crisis, with recent figures predicting that 40% of university language departments will have closed in the next 10 years. The decrease in students pursuing languages to degree level is possibly a result of making GCSE languages non-compulsory which means students are losing interest in languages sooner. Though MFL language learning at GCSE was made non-compulsory, the governmental gaze has turned towards primary schools. The intention of the government’s move was to inspire children to get into languages at a young age, but a lack of MFL speakers in schools has proved problematic.
The go-to language for many schools is French. The age-old link between the two nations and the relatively high number of basic French speakers makes this the obvious choice for many schools, even if there are so many other languages out there. This is where Mrs Whittle and the Goethe Institut come in. Teaching primary schools students needs to be engaging, interactive and easily accessed. Over the past five years Mrs Whittle and a colleague at the Goethe Institut (Germany’s worldwide cultural institute) have created a huge, free, online resource base for teaching materials. There are four volumes of resources, one for each of Years 3 to 6. Years 1 and 2 feature Felix Frosch and Franzi Ente (a frog and a duck) as the main characters of the resources, which range from animated songs to interactive activities. Years 3 and 4 feature Karla and Kai (a cockroach and a maybeetle) who narrate material more suited to more advanced German learners. This wealth of easily accessed materials is being used more and more in schools across the UK and are also being used as far afield as Australia.
The UK has a fairly poor reputation in other countries for its language learning and though English is such a widely spoken language, it’s vital that we don’t just let others do the learning. It’s not hard to find the benefits of learning a new language in a biological sense: learning a language doesn’t just allow you to communicate but it develops new neural pathways and is highly effective in keeping the brain active (as well as drastically increasing your likelihood of bonuses in the workplace). Inspiring the next generation of linguists is vital and thanks to dedicated teachers like Mrs Whittle, German can find a solid place in primary school teaching and take us into an uncertain but exciting future.