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Audrey McKie

Languages optional at KS4

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Firstly with reference to your comments about Montreal, well don't be surprised to find English speakers there as there is a huge English community! There is an English Language medium univeristy, English language schools and the English culture florishes. If you want to speak French in Canada you need to go to Quebec City or somewhere truely purely Francophone, which Montreal isn't.

Here in New Brunswick there is an interesting mix of Francophone and Anglophone and Moncton, my nearest town, is technically entirely bilingual. Very handy when shopping as all the food labels are both in French and English allowing you to pick up masses of vocab very quickly! However, you will find many Anglophones who cannot understand a word of French and yet all the Francophones speak or at least understand English. I found the same phenomenon in Rwanda which is also technically a bilingual country (in terms of European languages of course!).

The question is 'why is that?'. Is it a case of English being more useful, more easy to pick up the basics of, more heard? We have radio and TV both in French an English and French Acadian music is very popular....So is it something more political?

The French speaking people here are known as 'Acadians' who are a group of French people who moved to Canada but who refused to allign themselves either with the British or French Monarchies. They then found themselves persecuted, discriminated against and eventually deported (to Louisiana amongst other places - hence the term Cajun). They effectively have no 'homeland' as they are spread throughout Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, and so the only ties that really bind them together are cultural - their French Language, their music and Catholicism.

Bearing this in mind, why do they all speak English? maybe because had they not learnt it they would never have got jobs - in the way that most black South Africans had to learn Africaans to get anywhere in life.

And if you want to hear French spoken with a 'different' accent then New Brunswick is the place! Most French speakers sound like they come from Cornwall! and a typical greeting sounds like ' Sor- vo.....or?'!

My husband is a native French speaker and yet on Honeymoon in Nice the locals found my terrible french easier to understand than his, though they did keep complimenting 'the american' on how well he spoke French;-)

And finally, on the issue of pronounciation, people here don't know what I'm talking about when I pronounce Tomato the english way! Now, come on, if I can understand Tomato with an American accent surely they can figure out Tomato with an english one...but apparently not! This is even more bizarre considering that the french for Tomato has almost the same pronounciation as the english.....the tomato sauce thickens!

Rowena

p.s. depending on whether the station is French or English here interviews in other languages are overdubbed but you can still hear the original in the background. Now, I can cope with this seeing as my French is so basic that i can shut it out, but what if you are truely bilingual. Surely it drives you crazy having two conversations going on at the same time!?!

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Oh yes and getting back to the point;-)

When I was teaching a bottom set in the UK it was pointed out to me that thee kids would be so much better off when they didn't have to study French any more as they were struggling enough with English. I was inclined to agree. Supporting that arguement is that here in New Brunswick whilst the majority of the people are bilingual very few of them can speak both well and hardly any can write both. If anything people feel that coping with two languages means losing the ability to speak and write one language well..... Incidentally apparently New Brunswick has the lowest literacy rate in Canada.

They have French and English immersion here both in Primary and Seconday school which I think is a wonderful scheme as the language teaching does not take away time from their other studies. However, you have to be in the top part of the year to participate so the lower ability students are affectively stigmatised by not getting into immersion. Also, its expensive to run and its so difficult to find French Immersion teachers that I imagine that they aren't all perfect.

I have met a number of Anglophone students who went through the system and still can't speak or write French, but I'm sure they understand more than if they had not participated at all.

The New Brunswick system may not be prefect but I favour it over that of the UK. Starting to learn languages at an age when you are most insecure is just foolish. Languages are so stressful because you have to speak and can't hide in your books. Accents are foreign and threatening and sound downright foolish coming from the lips of a Brit. No wonder UK teenagers hate French and German.....but I doubt that they would feel the same way if they got over that hurdle earlier in life.

For as long as I don't speak French here I feel very ignorant. New Brunswickers may not speak French and English perfactly but at least they can communicate which is more than I can do! And listening to them slipping effortlessly between English and French just makes me sick with jealousy.

Rowena

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Rowena writes:

And finally, on the issue of pronounciation, people here don't know what I'm talking about when I pronounce Tomato the english way! Now, come on, if I can understand Tomato with an American accent surely they can figure out Tomato with an english one...but apparently not!

I rarely have a problem with North American English, but our relatives in Canada often fail to understand some British words I use - usually swear words such as "b*ll*cks". I find I start to drift into North American while I am in Canada, especially when talking about cars, and I'll use words such as "gas", "windshield", "fender", "trunk", etc in order to avoid having to repeat myself or translate!

I have a friend in Montreal, an ex-pat Brit whom I have known since my schooldays. He runs a small business in downtown Montreal. He speaks pretty good French, and he claims that this gives him an advantage in business, as French-speaking customers appreciate dealing with him in their own language.

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Having been in Canada for over a year now I find that I am trying to speak three languages - British English, Canadian French and Canadian English which is quite different to American English. For example, Canadians spell English pretty much the same way we do - Programme, Centre etc etc however there are so many American words entering the Canadian language that I have to keep correnting myself according to who I am speaking to

To a friends here

"So, you like my pants, I bought them in the mall. Yeah, there were ten bucks off. Sure, I'll show you where. We can stop for a coffee"

To a friend from England

"So you like my trousers, I bought them in the shopping arcade. There was a ten dollar discount. Of course I'll show you where. We can stop and have a nice cup of tea"

;-)

Needless to say i usually come out with a total jumble of trunks/boots, gas/petrol, sneakers/trainers, cookies/biscuits (another almost french word they dont understand!) and no-one has a clue what i'm talking about!

I think Graham has made the crucial point here. French speakers are grateful when people speak french to them. English speaking people expect others to speak English

Rowena

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>When I was teaching a bottom set in the UK it was pointed out to me that thee kids would be so much better off when they didn't have to study French any more as they were struggling enough with English. I was inclined to agree.<

I don't. There is so much good practice worldwide when it comes to teaching modern foreign languages to those with special educational needs. If you look at my bibliography at

http://www.specialeducationalneeds.com/mfl/biblio.doc

you will find over 1200 references reporting this good practice. Indeed, some dyslexic learners perform better in a foreign language such as German or Spanish than they do in English with its opaque spelling system.

Bilingualism isn't a liability. It's an asset in a world which is predominantly multilingual and multicultural.

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OK, I'm not pretending to be an expert on languages, and maybe some students may well find French or German easier than English. I'm just glad I'm not the person who has to persuade them to try:-)

I agree that being monolingual these days is a total disaster and envy all the bilingual people here. That said my husband is an Engineer, bilingual and generally very bright and yet he consistently flunked all of his French and English classes at university and makes mistakes constantly in both languages. I do sometimes wonder if it might be nice for him to feel confident in one language rather than shakey at two.

A Ugandan colleague of mine could speak 5 languages but felt that he could not confidently make a speach in any one of them.

Maybe I'm clutching at straws to make myself feel better ;-) but has any research been done regarding whether constantly using two languges means that you use a very simple, limited vocabulary in both rather than enriching just one. Or is it just engineers:-)

Also a good friend of mine who is fluent in French only learnt the language properly later in life when she moved to France. When she spends time in France she says that she 'loses' her English and vice versa. Is this a phenomenan limited just to people who learn languages or can it affect people who grow up speaking both but then spend time in a monolingual region?

Rowena

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Rowena writes:

Maybe I'm clutching at straws to make myself feel better ;-) but has any research been done regarding whether constantly using two languges means that you use a very simple, limited vocabulary in both rather than enriching just one. Or is it just engineers:-)

I cannot point immediately to research results, but there are many bilingual people whom I have met who function perfectly well in both languages with a full vocabulary in both languages. Conference interpreters have often had a bilingual upbringing and they have to be equally competent in both languages.

Rowena writes:

Also a good friend of mine who is fluent in French only learnt the language properly later in life when she moved to France. When she spends time in France she says that she 'loses' her English and vice versa. Is this a phenomenan limited just to people who learn languages or can it affect people who grow up speaking both but then spend time in a monolingual region?

I've only experienced "loss of English" once, when I returned from a six-month period as a student in Germany. On my return to England I found myself hunting for English words on occasions, but it didn't last long. Bilingual people are so used to "code switching" that they are sometimes unaware of which language they are using. A German friend of mine was trying to hold a conversation in German with my wife, who does not speak German. I had to intervene and point out to my friend that she was speaking German! I speak fluent German myself, and I have found myself recalling conversations I have had with bilingual friends, but I could not remember in which language they took place even though I could clearly remember the topics of the conversations.

A psycholinguist can probably shed more light on these fascinating phenomena.

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The local university here offers a degree course in Translation. Bearing in mind that half the province is bilingual and grew up speaking both French and English you would think that most people would be capable of translating but very few actually manage to get onto the course.

Perhaps the translators for conferences came from a certain, more educated background, as well as being brought up bilingual. Here, where it is effectively the norm, I can't imagine our bilingual roofer translating at a conference!

I think New Brunswick is an interesting example because people from all walks of life are bilingual and not just those from families who took the time and care to make sure their children spoke more than one language.

On a different note, to get a job with the Canadian Government i.e. well paid, you must be fluently bilingual in French and English. This has caused some contraversy because perfectly capable people are turned don't because their French or English is not quite up to scratch. Our current Prime Minister is an Anglophone who, to me speaks great French, whereas the previous one, Jean Cretien was a bilingual Francophone but blundered his way through many speaches in English and became the butt of a multitude of jokes as a result. I doubt the same jokes were made about him by French speakers. Perhaps the current Prime Minister, Paul Martin, is mocked by the population of Quebec.

I find it interesting that intelligence is so often preceived via a persons ability to express themselves clearly to the extent that our ex PM was considered by many a Buffoon even though to have got where he was he can't have been.

Whilst working in Rwanda I stated that my students inability to pass exams had nothing to do with their intellegence and everything to do with the fact that they couldn't speak, read or write english! My programme director replied that they can't be very bright if they can't speak the language they are supposed to be studying in. A statement I found disturbing.

In the near future I am going to be tutoring kids who have recently arrived in Canada as refugees or the children of economic immigrants. They are decribed by the school boards as being 16 but having the ability of an 11 year old. I would rephrase that to say 'perceived abiliy'.

Rowena

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Just anecdote: I left England for foreign parts 30 years ago because of the foreign languages provision at the school at which I was teaching at the time. I was teaching history and French at a comprehensive school in Hampshire. The school was strictly streamed -- 2A1 was the top stream, followed by 2A2, 2A3, 2B1, 2B2, and 2B3 (the "special ed" class). I'd been teaching 2B1 French for the whole year. We'd worked hard, the kids and I, and they'd really made progress and had begun to develop some quite good communication skills. I was quite proud, and, as we all know, pride comes before a fall!

At the beginning of June, we had a staff meeting to discuss the timetable for the following year. I looked at it and raised my hand to ask a question:

"Excuse me, Headmaster, but there appears to be a mistake. I can't find the French class for 3B1."

"No, that's right. They're going to do Gardening instead."

"Oh, you mean that they'll choose between French and Gardening?"

"No, that's a B stream. They don't have the intellectual capacity to learn a foreign language. They will do Gardening instead."

"But if they don't have the intellectual capacity to learn a foreign language on 3rd Year, what have I been doing teaching them French all this year?"

"Mr Tribe, you obviously don't understand the Comprehensive Idea."

"Well, clearly not, Headmaster. Perhaps you could explain."

"It's all about equality of educational opportunity. We gave them the opportunity to learn FRench for two years. Now they're going to do Gardening. If they want to learn more French, they can go to the Technical College after they finish here."

I went home that night, took out my trusty TES and applied for 36 jobs. The first firm offer I got was from an international school in Tehran, and I've been overseas ever since...

I trust things have improved since I left...

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Rowena writes:

The local university here offers a degree course in Translation. Bearing in mind that half the province is bilingual and grew up speaking both French and English you would think that most people would be capable of translating but very few actually manage to get onto the course.

I have worked as a professional translator (German-English) and I continue to take an interest in translation, especially in the ICT tools that are now available to translators, e.g. “Translation Memory” tools that remember documents that you have translated before and that can patch in whole chunks of translated text where the archived source text matches the source text of the document you are currently working on. It’s a great system for producing updates of technical manuals and for official documents where there’s a lot of repeated standardised language. The EU uses a version of the TRADOS TM tool. It can save up to 80% of a translator’s time. You can read about this kind of stuff at the ICT4LT site in Section 3 of Module 3.5, Human Language Technologies: http://www.ict4lt.org/en/en_3-5.htm

Mike writes:

I trust things have improved since I left...

No, it’s probably a lot worse now that no pupil HAS to study a language beyond the age of 14.

Another anecdote: When my daughters were at school I had a running battle (I was a parent governor) with the headteacher over timetabling. One example: My elder daughter wanted to do Electronics, which was timetabled against Typing (that takes you back a few years!) which was taught at the local tech college. When I queried this, it was clear that the headteacher perceived Electronics as a boys’ subject and Typing as a girls’ subject. My daughter chose Electronics, and I bought her a keyboard skills program that ran on our ancient Commodore computer – which brought her typing skills up to scratch (and mine too). My daughter was the only girl in two 25-pupils set studying Electronics. She got a good CSE pass and found later on that what she had learned was highly relevant to her current occupation, namely running an electronic-based graphic design business.

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Sorry, wrong URL! The ICT4LT URL is:

http://www.ict4lt.org/en/en_mod3-5.htm

I should have checked this first.

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Sorry about the long absence... I have been busy at work trying to understand how I was going to be able to justify my post next year. The new idea is to teach Languages together with a more practical and /or more popular subject such as IT, Leisure and Tourism or Business Studies. I feel cheated.

The other option would be to teach other subjects as non specialists. I know that it happens more often than we think, however, I would feel really bad teaching anything else than what I have been trained for because the techniques, although similar are different. I don't think I'd be doing any kid any favour by teaching something badly.

Chin up, it's nearly Friday!

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Sorry about the long absence... I have been busy at work trying to understand how I was going to be able to justify my post next year. The new idea is to teach Languages together with a more practical and /or more popular subject such as IT, Leisure and Tourism or Business Studies. I feel cheated.

The other option would be to teach other subjects as non specialists. I know that it happens more often than we think, however, I would feel really bad teaching anything else than what I have been trained for because the techniques, although similar are different. I don't think I'd be doing any kid any favour by teaching something badly.

Chin up, it's nearly Friday!

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The effect of the government's policy is just what modern languages teachers predicted. Have a look at this depressing article in The Guardian Online (5 Oct 2004)

http://education.guardian.co.uk/egweekly/s...1319291,00.html

The points that struck me most were:

1. The sharp dip in the number of pupils taking a GCSE in languages.

2. The contradictory statements made by Stephe Twigg, MP.

3. The hypocrisy embodied in the word "entitlement". "Entitlement" is now a worsened word in my eyes.

4. The clear evidence that it is more difficult to get a good grade in modern foreign languages than in most other subjects, which leads headmasters into enouraging subjects other than modern languages in order to improve their performance tables stats.

Stephen Fawkes of ALL sums it up:

"Only last week, Denis MacShane, the minister for Europe, was talking up the value of modern languages, while the DfES is effectively sidelining them. It's hard to see the government putting its hands up and admitting it got it wrong, because that's not what governments do."

On the positive side, it appears from the article that The Guardian's reporters read or get to know about messages in the Lingu@NET Forum. As the article puts it:

"After the publication of the AQA GCSE results this summer, an online modern languages forum for teachers went white-hot. ' Has anyone out there had a disaster today with their GCSE results cos we have?' was one posting."

You can read all about in it the Lingu@NET Forum archives:

http://www.mailbase.org.uk/lists/linguanet-forum/

I would like to see this forum go white-hot in a similar way. Someone in government circles might actually listen to us if we create enough noise!

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One of the things I really took exception to in the Guardian article Graham referred to was the implication that all that was needed to get more pupils to study MFL was more encouragement from teachers and parents. That's a very easy way of evading responsibility in my view.

In my experience it is the 'structural factors' which play the most important role in education. If, for example, a pass at GCSE in a modern foreign language was a requirement for a university place (as, I understand, are passes in Maths and English), then the numbers of GCSE entrants would shoot up overnight.

This doesn't absolve teachers of all responsibility, of course. In Sweden the previous government came up with this great reform of sixth-form colleges, one of whose effects was to make the average grade for all subjects the deciding factor in gaining a place at university. Since grades in French and German were generally lower, this resulted in a dramatic decline in the numbers of sixth formers studying French and German … which fed through to the universities, resulting in a dramatic decline of MFL students … which led to closures … which led to a virtual disappearance of teacher trainees wanting to be teachers of MFL …

However, at the same time, much of the teaching of German in particular was stuck fast in the driest and least effective grammar-translation methodology (lists of prepositions that take the Accusative case, and all that rubbish). I've often had to gently enquire of university teachers of German who it was that trained all these teachers in schools who fail to enthuse their pupils and deliver first-year students of such poor quality to the long-suffering academics (yes, it was those same long-suffering academics!).

So, to me it looks as if there's a double-whammy here: if your teaching in MFL is way below standard, then the minute the teaching environment becomes hostile, MFL dies off suddenly and dramatically, in much the same way that someone suffering from starvation will be killed off by a cold virus that an otherwise healthy person would hardly notice.

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