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                  PRIMARY SCHOOLS

Theme 12: L’enseignement des langues

Venue: Reims – France
Dates: 12.03.2007 – 16.03.07
Working languages: French and English

Organisers: ADNOT Christian/ RENAUD Philippe – Inspection
académique de la Marne, 1 bis Avenue du 18 juin 1940


AMOROSO Antonio              IT
ASHTON Geoffrey              GB
BENGY Ebru                   TU
HALLUM Aud                   NO
SIEDLECKI Janusz             PL

Rapporteur: NESBITT-LARKING Nicholas

                       GROUP REPORT: Reims 16th March 2007

This visit brought together a group of educational professionals
from seven European countries with a shared interest in the
development of the teaching and learning of MFL in primary
schools. A full and varied programme provided participants with
the opportunity to find out some aspects of the delivery of MFL in
primary schools in the department of Marne and other regions of
France and discuss, both formally and informally, how the theme is
being addressed in the country of each participant, and in

         what are the common goals (the shared vision)?
         how do we identify and share best practice?
         what are the challenges in effective MFL teaching at
          primary level and the possible solutions?
         what are the strengths and weaknesses as perceived
          in each country?

The study of a foreign language has been obligatory in cycle 3
(CE2, CM1 and CM2 - 8 to 11 years) for 1 ½ to 2 hours per week
since 2002. The curriculum is based on:

   Communication centred learning activities
   Regular exposure to the language and methodical
   Cultural understanding and the international dimension – e.g.
    contacts with schools abroad

  The Common European Framework of Reference for
  Languages (CEFRL) has been adopted and the expectation is
  that pupils reach level A1 by the end of cycle 3.

  In the département de Marne, parents can choose between
  English and German for their children as these are the
  languages that are studied at the colleges. The majority opt for
  English, but if 8 or more opt for German a course is run.
  Languages are delivered by a variety of personnel:

      Primary class teachers who have taken an upskilling
       examination called “habilitation” which is henceforward
       going to be necessary to deliver languages – this has
       impacted on 27 staff this year;

      Visiting teachers from the colleges or lycées (junior and
       senior high schools);

      Foreign language assistants

      Visiting staff with good language skills (often native
       speakers), but who are not qualified teachers, paid by the
       Inspection de l’Academie de Marne

Many schools use published packages such as Jellybeans
(Nathan) to deliver English, supported by other materials.

The challenges facing the department de Marne, such as teachers’
linguistic skills and confidence, financing and disseminating best
practice, are shared by many of the participating countries and are
addressed in section 4.


Whilst each participant’s country has developed different systems
of education, few of which are as centralised as that in France, the
common aspirations are to help children at the primary level
develop good linguistic communication skills, an awareness and
understanding of different cultures and positive attitudes to
language learning which they will take forward to the secondary

The amount of time dedicated to the teaching of languages varies
considerably from one country to another and, within those
countries from one school to another. In Italy, for example, three
hours per week are dedicated to language teaching from the age
of 6, whereas in England most schools delivering languages find it
difficult to find the 60 minutes recommended in the Key Stage 2
Framework for Languages
There are considerable differences in the initial and continuing
training of teachers in each country and who might then deliver
languages. In some countries, particularly Spain, languages are
delivered by a teacher with a language specialism. In others, such
as France, teachers will at least be expected to have upskilled on
a recognised course, “habilitation”, before they are allowed to
teach languages. In Italy and England, many non-specialists are or
will be teaching languages and, whilst they are encouraged to
upskill, many have yet to start this process. The participants
identified both pros and cons to non-specialist class teachers
delivering languages. The class teacher can deliver languages on
a regular basis so that a little is done each day and integrate
languages into other curricular areas – e.g. daily routines,
instructions, PE, simple numeracy. The class teacher is also
uniquely placed to make links with other curricular areas as
appropriate, for example comparing the native language with the
MFL being learnt. Some participants had concerns about non-
specialist teachers modelling poor pronunciation and lacking the
confidence and, still worse, the conviction to teach languages well.

The choice of language(s) to be studied, and how it is arrived at, is
also an area of some difference. In most countries other than
England, the most popular foreign language is English. In several
cases, including the department of the Marne as mentioned above,
parents can choose, from the available languages, which language
their child studies. In Spain, this means that if just one child’s
parents opt for a given language, this must be catered for. French
is by far the dominant language in England, where schools are free
to choose which language/ languages to deliver. Most schools
make this choice on the basis of the language skills of existing
staff and which language is delivered at local secondary schools.
Whilst parents’ views may be canvassed, there is no guarantee
that their child will be able to take the language of their choice.


  The Common European Framework of Reference for
  Languages is seen as a positive step in a Europe wide
  understanding of levels of linguistic competence, even though it
  may take some time to be understood by all interested parties.
  Further suggestions for common resolutions of challenges at
  the European level are:
      To conduct an evaluation of languages at European level
       to inform future planning;
      To organise the training of teachers more coherently
       across Europe with common expectations;
      To expand the language assistant scheme so that EVERY
       primary trainee has the opportunity to spend some time in
       a primary school in another country – this would also
       benefit the host school with the services of a native
       speaker for some time;
      To increase opportunities for teachers to attend training
      Disseminate good practice more effectively
      To support student exchanges between countries.
      To promote the study of more than one foreign language
      Adequate resourcing: financial, training


There was widespread agreement that methods, which encourage
real communication with a wide range of stimulating activities and,
where possible, multi-sensory experiences, enhance enjoyment
and effective language learning. Children should have regular
opportunities to:

   sing, which can also address intercultural understanding;
   perform role-plays and drama;
   move – e.g. in activities such as playground games, PE and
   listen to native speakers on CD, DVD, the INTERNET etc. as
    well as their own class teacher;
   have maximum opportunity to play with sounds in the target
    language and talk for real communicative purposes;
   play games which encourage the use of the target language;
   compare their own language and culture with that of the
    target language;
   progress from word to sentence level and be aware of their
    progression – e.g via the Junior Languages Portfolio and
    the CEFRL
Pupils’ learning and progress are hindered when they are not
engaged in meaningful communicative situations and there is a
lack of variety in the teaching method so that pupils lose
concentration and, ultimately, motivation.

There is no doubt that best practice will keep children engaged in
their work and will contribute to their motivation and success. This
occurs best when the materials used are colourful, interesting and
involve children in a wide range of activities that cater for different
learning styles. In particular, where the start of lessons involves
very quick, sharply focused work that encourages recall of
previous work, it is possible to maintain a pace that helps to keep
children involved and engaged. This was seen in some of the
French schools in Reims that used materials and methods that
appealed to the children. Some of the materials were based on
popular culture, to which the children could relate, e.g. The
Jellybeans. These included real situations and places that the
children would hear about in everyday life. The materials were
colourful and appealing and involved a comic strip style that the
children found appealing. However, from speaking to some of the
users it would appear that one of the weaknesses of such
published materials is the lack of opportunities for writing. This
would need to be recognised by the teacher and further
opportunities given, although the introduction of writing needs to
be handled well as too early an emphasis and dependence on the
written word can lead to poor pronunciation. Unfortunately, in
common with teachers from England there is a danger that the
published materials may be used by the teacher as a resource
without supplementing them. Some teachers want an instant
solution particularly when they lack confidence in the standard of
their own foreign language proficiency.

To keep children involved is always a challenge and the most
effective work may be maximised by teachers working with groups
of between 12 and 15 students. This was seen to work more
effectively with groups in France where the classes were split for
activities with l’enseignante itinérante working with half of the class
while the other children worked with the class teacher using ICT
facilities. When compared with the work of a class of 26 children in
another school this limited the number of children who were bored
or distracted. However, this requires budgetary and human
Repetition and revisiting is an essential feature that enables
children to reinforce previous learning and to learn new words.
This was observed in activities where children interacted with the
teacher to label objects on the whiteboard and was also a feature
of songs that helped the children to use the words correctly
through repetition and chanting. It was obvious that the children
managed to remember previous work through singing and
chanting. This is a very important feature of effective early
language learning. Rhythm and rhyme are central to language per
se and also to any given individual language and can contribute
not only to a child’s cultural awareness, but also phonological
development in the target language – e.g. consider the
characteristic phonemes in these well known children’s songs and

Sur le pont d’Avignon …
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall …
Alle meine Entchen schwimmen auf dem See …

Good practice also includes the teacher using the target language
confidently for instructions wherever possible. This was effective in
the French schools, where some teachers said they try to use
these throughout the day thereby increasing the children’s
exposure to the target language and using the language for real

Effective questioning that encourages practice and reinforces
previous learning is important. However, it is also important to give
opportunities for children to develop answers through opportunities
to build up their responses from experience. This needs teachers
who can anticipate and plan the opportunities for more open types
of questions and who have sufficient understanding and
confidence in the target language.

There are potential difficulties in France and other countries for
non-specialist teachers delivering a foreign language. In particular
there is a danger that poor modelling of pronunciation will be
copied by the children. This is recognised by teachers who are
honest enough to recognise the problems. However, this should
not deter non-specialist teachers from developing their own
language skills as they deliver languages to their pupils and using
a range of resources with native speaker models of authentic
pronunciation, as effective communication and developing an
appreciation of the languages and cultures are more important in
the initial stages.


Teachers need support, starting at national (and European) level
and then devolved to regional and more local levels. In France it
was evident that a commitment exists to develop foreign language
teaching at all levels. In other countries schools are at different
stages in the development of Modern Languages teaching in
primary schools. The challenge is to provide sufficient training
opportunities for teachers who feel confident to deliver this
important initiative with all its immense implications for the future of
Europe’s children.

The following were cited as the perceived strengths and
weaknesses by each participant of his/ her country’s system:

    Spain – Children start languages at 6 and can start as early
     as 4. There is also a very favourable pupil/teacher ratio of
    Poland – Good initial training for MFL teachers, although
     continuing professional development is less well organised.
    Norway – An early start is made to language learning and
     this is mainly oral work. The class teacher is also the English
     teacher. Pupils are motivated and enthusiastic.
    Italy – The amount of time dedicated to language lessons (3
     hours per week from 6 years old).
    Turkey – Excellent teaching of grammatical structures.
    England – Excellent ICT facilities with most primary schools
     now having interactive whiteboards in all classrooms and
     pupils having ready access to computers. Flexibility in terms
     of how languages can be delivered, supported by guidelines
     in a national Framework for Languages.

   Spain – The majority of teachers use traditional methods
    which are not sufficiently interactive.
    Poland – Group sizes are too large and teachers are
     overstretched, sometimes teaching in 2 or 3 establishments,
     and are consequently tired and lacking enthusiasm.
    Norway – There is only one lesson per week (In classes 3 –
     4, 6 to 10 years old)
    Italy – The relatively poor language skills of the teachers.
    Turkey – Lack of opportunities for pupils to use spoken
     English. Funding and inefficiency in terms of getting
     resources from the ministry.
    England – Relatively poor language skills of most primary
     teachers. Insufficient input in initial teacher training.


The visit provided a valuable opportunity for the participants to
reflect on the theme away from the demands of their busy working
lives. The group has functioned well as a team using the well
planned social opportunities to continue to discuss the themes of
the day in relaxing and convivial settings. Everybody has gained
new insights into many aspects of primary language teaching and
links have now been established for ongoing dialogue and support,
for example to quickly find out by e-mail what is happening in other
countries with CEFRL or if any other participant knows of a good

It has been a privilege to participate in this visit in the beautiful city
of Reims and to have had the chance to see so much of its
stunning architectural and historical heritage as well as the
surrounding countryside. We would like to thank the following for
having made this such a memorable visit:

The pupils and teachers of all the schools we visited:

Maison Blanche
Beauséjour, Tinqueux
Ecole de St Thierry

Mme Thiery, Inspectrice pédagogique régionale
Bernadette Aubry, Directrice d'IUFM
Christine Gonzalez, Directrice de l'école maternelle Marcel Pagnol
Mairie de Reims
Our three fantastic guides Michel, Véronique and Guy
Leandro Berra, sculptor
Students and staff of the restaurant au lycée Gustave Eiffel

Jean-Christophe Malet, secrétaire de la permanence langues

And last but not least, Christian Adnot, inspecteur de l’éducation
nationale, and Philippe Renaud, conseiller pédagogique des
langues vivantes, for having conceived and organised this valuable

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