Foreign languages: how to teach them in KS1


It has been almost a decade since the teaching of foreign languages ​​became a statutory requirement at Key Stage 2. However, since 2014 this has not translated to Key Stage 1.

The benefits of learning a second language are well known. A report published by University College London in 2019 found evidence that language learning can positively enhance creativity, and in 2004 American Researchers Helena Curtain and Carol Ann Dahlberg found that learning another language can improve knowledge of English structure and vocabulary.

Thus, nothing prevents key level 1 teachers from introducing certain language elements into their classes. It might seem a bit daunting at first – especially if you don’t speak a second language yourself – but there are some quick things every teacher can implement.

Use the languages ​​of your class

In many classrooms there will be children with English as an additional language. If they feel comfortable, you should encourage them to share their native language with their classmates. They could respond to the register in their own language, count aloud during math tasks, or even share their own songs or rhymes in front of the class.

If children are unwilling to share their mother tongue, their non-participation should be respected.

In monolingual classes, there are many resources that can be used to share languages ​​in a pleasant way with the class, such as listening traditional tales Where songs in foreign languages.

Include the whole class – and you

Multilingualism should not be limited to children who have an additional language, but should be an aspiration for all children – and all adults.

If you don’t speak a language yourself, take the opportunity to learn alongside your students.

Modeling your thinking and internal dialogue during this learning process can be very powerful. You should also allow children who excel in languages ​​to model their thinking and support your peers and yourself.

Talking pliers

Making languages ​​visible in every classroom is a great way to support learning too – and talking pegs are a great way to do that.

Recordable Talking Clips are pegs with a 10 second recording function. Children can easily be helped to record and then lock messages onto the pegs, or parents can be invited to school to share their languages. Alternatively, in monolingual classrooms, pickets may present recordings of the the Internet. Each peg has a touch button to play the recording.

Initially, the language should be kept simple and children should be encouraged to listen to the recordings as much as they want, to immerse themselves in the sounds. Language production or imitation is excellent, but teachers should be aware that children, just as when learning their own language, have a period of listening and playing with sounds.

Focus on exploration

Whether you’re focusing on a single language or asking children to compare and contrast the sounds of different languages, be sure to have fun and exploration as the goal.

In the first case, concrete nouns work well, like “pencil” or “book”. However, moving forward, with careful planning and explanation, children may enjoy exploring the sounds of more abstract ideas.

Conversations around the pronunciation of the word and its cognates in English are great ways to engage children – for example, nuit: nuit (French), noche (Spanish), Nacht (German), nacht (Dutch), natt (Swedish, Norwegian).

You can also explore if there are “memory hooks” to help you remember words.

For example, the number seven in Mandarin Chinese, /qī, (pronounced chee) sounds like a mixture of cheese and tea; so encourage children to imagine the seven dwarfs, eating cheese and drinking tea. Quick Mandarin Chinese by Earworms has other great examples.

For older children, watch word root can be appealing because they come from Latin and Greek, and appear in many European languages. For example, the prefix mal-, meaning something to do with “wickedness”, appears in English, French, Spanish and Italian.

Encourage discussions about culture, as well as language

Kids may also want to talk about their cultures as well as their language, and here grow bags are a great tool.

Each week, a child could be named to take home the special cultural bag and fill it with items that represent their cultural background. Students can include recipes, pictures, clothing, and stories.

Care must be taken that culture is not seen as something that ‘others’ pose, and only for speakers of languages ​​other than English. For some students, their culture bag may be filled with football tickets, a picture of a pie, and a football scarf because that’s what their family does together on weekends.

For more ideas, the non-statutory document Key Stage 2 Framework for Languages contains two sections, Language Learning Strategies and Language Skills, which provide an excellent starting point for designing activities for young learners.

Dr Elizabeth Malone is Head of Primary Education at Liverpool John Moores University


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