What's the best way to teach languages?
How do students best pick up languages? Martin Williams talks to academics, teachers and multi-lingual speakers to find out about the science of learning a language.
Alex Rawlings was a language teacher's dream. He fell in love with languages when he was eight and learnt Greek, then German, then Dutch.
Now, an undergraduate at Oxford, he is the UK's most multi-lingual student, speaking 11 languages. So what's his secret?
"I remember seeing people on the beach in Greece when I was a kid and not being able to talk to them," says Alex. "I thought it'd be nice to be able to talk to anyone in the world in their language. That has always stayed with me."
Such enthusiasm is rare: a report by the British Academy this year found there was a growing deficit in foreign language skills. Increasingly, children are choosing not to study languages beyond the compulsory stage - and only 9% of pupils who take French GCSE progress with it to A-level.
"We're failing to inspire people," says Alex. "I had a mix of good and bad teachers - the most inspirational ones just focused on giving you the confidence to speak. Then I'd pursue it outside the classroom: I would watch films, find out new words and read things."
Language pedagogy has come a long way since the days when repetitive grammar-translation methods were regarded as the only way to learn. Today, task-based approaches are widespread in British schools, emphasising communication and the practical uses of language.
For Christelle Bernard, a French and Spanish teacher at St Gemma's High School in Belfast, these methods of teaching allow her to cast aside the textbook whenever she can. "You need a little bit of grammar, but my approach is much more topic based with as little grammar as possible," she explains.
Read more... (The Guardian - 14 May)