Learning a Foreign Language

English is now so widely spoken that some people adopt the attitude that there is no need for us to learn foreign languages. This is an arrogant point of view, and one that will not endear us to local people in countries we travel to. Being able to make yourself understood in a foreign land is a rewarding experience, and holding a conversation with people whose mother tongue is different from your own will foster greater understanding of other cultures and ways of life.

It is never too early for a child to start learning a foreign language. Three is an excellent age to begin a little formal language learning, but even before that, exposure to songs, games and perhaps television programmes or DVDs in a foreign language can start to train the ear of a child and make the process a more natural one. At an early age, learning should be made fun and enjoyable by using different media in a relaxed atmosphere.

Most good bookshops now stock a selection of picture books to introduce a child to the basic vocabulary of languages such as French, Spanish, German and Italian. Sometimes packs of flashcards can be found, and these are useful as the basis for games. There is also a DVD entitled 'First Fun with French' which is an animated cartoon centring on the life of a family with children. Reviewers on Amazon's website suggest that it can be of interest to children aged between eighteen months and four years. The DVD is also available in a Spanish version.

Slightly older children could benefit from the interactive DVD 'French Premier'. The 'Basics' section introduces shapes and colours, the alphabet, counting, telling the time, and the calendar. Vocabulary topics include food and drink (where you can make your choice from a menu), parts of the body, rooms and furniture, buildings and signs, and a French atlas. Interactive multiple choice quizzes provide an opportunity for self-assessment, as do the more advanced audio tests.

Songs are an excellent way of reinforcing language learning. Rote-learning has become particularly unfashionable recently, but anyone who has learned the French version of 'Head, shoulders, knees and toes' is unlikely to forget the words for those parts of the body. A huge repertoire of children's songs is available at the website www.momes.net They are organised by theme, and some are accompanied by music. The website is aimed at native French-speaking children and has a forum where learners can practise conversing in French once they have a degree of fluency. As they become more proficient, they can try reading stories in French on the same website.

I feel that one of the biggest mistakes our country has made in the past is that pupils have not begun learning a foreign language until the age of eleven, whilst children as young as five are learning languages in many other countries. When foreign languages ceased to be compulsory for GCSE, many pupils opted not to continue to study them. I wonder how many will regret this decision in later life; I have had quite a few adults who have come to me for French tuition, wishing that they had made more of the opportunity to learn the language when they were at school. Soon it will be compulsory for primary school pupils to learn a foreign language, and this earlier start may make it easier for some children. Meanwhile, I would encourage parents to give their children a head start and put them on the road to speaking at least one foreign language from an early age.

This article was written by Elizabeth Allen who teaches French and English. Elizabeth holds a B.A. (Hons) Degree and a Diploma in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Elizabeth also studied French with the Open University. From 1986 until 1999 she taught English Language and Literature in Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt. During her final year there, She was Head of an English Department for eleven- to fourteen-year-olds.

To contact Elizabeth visit www.allen-tuition.co.uk or call 023 9245 0410.


Your Views

Posted by:
Gloria Kopp

Posts: 1



Foreign Languages

"It's never too early for a child to start learning a new language" is so true. The advice I'd like to give is to engage kids in language learning using interesting techniques. For example, recently I've suggested my students to take part in writing competitions and they seem excited. At first I suggested to apply for short essay contest here - http://ukwritings.com/writing-contest - and I cannot wait to see the results and see how it will effect learning process.

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