To get Britain’s next generation fluently conversing in a second language we must adapt our methodology of language learning. In 2014 the government outlined a new initiative to achieve just that. Now it is down to Britain’s teachers to deliver this ambition.
What’s the big plan?
A reshaping of the modern foreign languages GCSE has resulted in a new set of expectations for students. It is hoped that the new course design will equip students with the ‘ability and ambition to communicate with native speakers in speech and writing’. By developing confidence in the student’s communication it is expected that the student will be able to express ideas spontaneously and fluently in their second language.
There isn’t much time.
The government’s ambitions have left teachers with little time to facilitate this transition. Within two years students will be sitting the new language exams. In these new assessments the student will be expected to take part in a spontaneous ten minute conversation.
While this new style of assessment will hopefully result in a higher level of fluency amongst students, it also means that the student will not have due time to prepare a pre-rehearsed monologue. The differences between the necessary skills involved to enable a student to hold a fluent and reciprocal conversation as oppose to memorising a speech are stark. These are skills that will need to be developed in the classroom in good time before the assessments. Specifically, in order to achieve this, the learning attitudes and methodology must be developed.
The future of language teaching
With the dwindling numbers of newly qualified teachers with language based degree qualifications, Britain is struggling to meet these new language expectations. The situation is especially challenging in primary schools, where in a quarter of the schools it was found to be the case that no members of staff held a higher qualification than a GCSE in languages. This means that teachers are comfortable to teach common topics such as birthdays and colours, but are less confident when it comes to developing complete sentences.
So the question of how to develop students’ ability to converse fluently in a foreign language remains to be answered. Fortunately, the answer is easy. Foreign language assistants are a simple and efficient fix to the issue of language fluency. Providing students with the opportunity to develop confidence and skills by conversing with a native speaker is essential to the issue of language fluency.
Language assistants can provide an authentic experience of what it is really like to take part in a reciprocal and fluent conversation – they are better equipped to promote a proactive methodology for language learning. Furthermore, their ability to embed conversations within the cultural context of the countries where the language is spoken equips students with the knowledge and confidence to apply their skills practically – an essential quality both in students’ assessments and within the employment market.