Parlez vous…Anglais?

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What with summer coming up and holiday season approaching, I wanted to touch on the subject of speaking other languages. English people are renowned worldwide for being awful at speaking any other languages, and lazy when it comes to speaking them and I think this is such a shame. We are all guilty of the classic ‘they speak English there I’ll be fine’ when going to another country, but I think a lot of it is about how languages are taught. Learning foreign languages is well embedded in the curriculum for primary schools, but in secondary schools it is so inconsistent, and many schools just can’t afford to hire the language assistants. I was lucky enough to go to a school that specialised in languages, so for me doing a language was compulsory. In year 7/8 we did a term studying French, Spanish, German and Japanese then chose two to carry on. I went for Japanese and French. After year 9 I dropped French and continued Japanese until GCSEs. Surprisingly it went really well and I got an A!

At A Level I didn’t do any languages because I changed school and they didn’t offer Japanese, and I hadn’t studied high enough in French. However I did study English languages, which really highlighted the flaws in how English is taught at a primary school level, and why English speakers struggle because of this. When being taught a foreign European language, it tends to be taught logically with nouns, then verbs, then verb conjugations etc. However when English is taught is very different to this. There is much less order and structure. Some teachers choose to teach children how to write with phonemes, some teachers chose to teach led by the children’s vocabulary needs: e.g. the child asks them how to spell ‘horse’ because they want to write ‘I have a horse’. All this generally leads to quite a confusing language acquisition, with children having little knowledge of the sentence and word formations and why these rules apply. We just do it!

It wasn’t until I went on to do an open unit in Spanish alongside my degree in my first year with this knowledge that I really noticed how much I struggled. Somehow I managed to struggle through and get a 2:1 but lord knows how! I was completely clueless and it felt like every time the teacher asked me for an answer to a question I got it wrong. Everyone else in the class seemed soooooo much better. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t really have that knowledge of European languages at GCSE and A Level. As you can probably guess, Japanese has evolved out of a VERY different grammatical structure. So dear people who’s language I absolutely butcher: please hold tight, I promise I’m trying!

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