To learn a language is to have more than one window to look at the world. This Chinese proverb certainly rings true for us here at St Gwladys Bargoed Primary School where we are embracing language learning as a Lead Multi-lingual Primary School.
Working in the South Wales valleys in a Community First area, we have learners who may not have visited Cardiff, let alone England or even further afield; therefore, we feel that it is incumbent upon us to provide learning experiences that bring the world to our learners. The What Matters Statement 1 ‘Languages Connect Us’ of the Language Literacy and Communication Area of Learning and Experience has very much become our mantra; to embed in our school a creative and proud identity that welcomes diversity.
Integral to our delivery of International Languages, was first making sure that our learners have a strong sense of their Welsh identity and pride in their community. As part of the enquiry question: Who do you think you are? learners learn that it is far from a straightforward question as they have to really grapple with their understanding of identity. In this enquiry, learners go out into their locality and look at census data, maps and photographs to give them a good understanding of where they live now and in the past. We also look to provide learners with meaningful ways to explore topics such as migration, hiraeth and cynefin. Through learning about their heritage and their current community, learners try to make sense of who they are and their place in the world.
We know that fostering a sense of pride in our learners’ heritage, whether the same or different to their peers, is important. When introducing International Languages, therefore, we knew that we needed a clear picture of our school community so that our curriculum delivery could celebrate and reflect our families. One of the first things we did was to audit our school population to find out the range of languages spoken and reach out to families in our community to share their cultural identity with us. We discovered a range of languages spoken in the homes: Turkish, Polish, Chinese, Greek and Sinhalese and we were delighted to hear from parents and older siblings offering to teach language patterns and see presentations about their culture that were shared in class assemblies. We have a teaching assistant from Lithuania and another from the Philippines, who enrich learning in a similar way as they share aspects of their language and culture with the school.
To build capacity in our delivery, we also know which members of staff have higher qualifications in Languages. Our Head teacher, a linguist herself, makes sure that during the morning she visits classes to say, “Bored da blant”, “Bonjour les enfants”, “Buongiorno bambini”, “Guten Morgen Kinder” reinforcing correct pronunciation and consistency through the school. Our staff are committed to the delivery of WM1; and are willing to give things a go, seeking support from expertise where necessary. We have staff who have completed Open University courses to develop their French and all our teaching assistants have completed training in Welsh and used language apps as part of their professional learning in lockdown.
Introducing International Languages has not felt like a big shift for us in our practice. With over 70% of pupils entering Nursery with communication skills below those expressed in the Progression steps, we have always placed great emphasis on the acquisition of language. Our Early Years practice is filled with story and song preparing our learners’ ear, voice and brain for language and this approach to language learning has stood us in good stead when implementing a multilingual curriculum. We build on our existing practice, learning key vocabulary in other languages through songs and games and have found that our pupils love to try out new words and find language learning fun.
As our feeder Secondary school offers French, we have decided to adopt French throughout the school and ensure that we have clear progression in this area. However, it is important to us that children do not learn languages in isolation but as part of a rich learning experience.
It is important to state here, however, that we do not limit ourselves to learning just French, as we know that language learning is much more meaningful when it is put in context. Therefore, if our theme supports another language or there is a significant event, we make sure that we adapt our planning and explore that language and culture.
As with everything we do, we find the best ideas come from our learners so it seemed only right to let them drive the agenda for International Languages. Therefore, we established a Pupil Voice group of Language Ambassadors including pupils from Years 4-6. They are a very proactive group whose ideas form the action plan we have in place for the year, which in turn they review during their weekly meetings. They have been very successful in raising the profile of International Languages, creating a buzz for language learning through posters, competitions and games in the playground. In fact, they had such a wealth of ideas that last year we decided that we needed to give them a bigger platform and that was how we came up with the idea of having an International Languages week in the Summer Term.
For that one week in the Summer Term, each classroom was transformed and learners were fully immersed in a different country’s language and culture, really helping us to realise our vision of bringing the world to St Gwladys. The countries were decided upon, depending on the links teachers and pupils had in each year group. For example, Year 6 “flew” to France and the teacher from the comprehensive school worked with learners providing a good transition opportunity. Year 6 also conducted a video call with our link author who lives in Brittany and discussed what life was like living in France and similarities between Breton and Welsh. Year 4 had a link with a school in Cyprus and a parent who spoke Greek, so they focused on those countries. We also reached out to Routes Cymru who sent language students to work with classes and exchanged ideas with our Language Ambassadors.
During the week, it was important to us to immerse learners in their focus country, while also being mindful of trying to avoid stereotypes. We also reached out to external providers to enrich our learning experiences: a highlight being a Hindu priestess who lives in Cardiff, spending the day with Year 3 immersing them in the culture of India and even enacting a Hindu wedding with the children for their parents to see. Each class welcomed parents in during the week and we had very positive feedback from parents who enjoyed seeing the learners so enthusiastic about their learning.
Involving all stakeholders has been crucial in developing our curriculum for International Languages. Another good outcome for us has been working with our cluster schools to develop a scheme of work for language learning based on ‘La chenille qui fait des trous” – the French version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. This book was chosen as it was familiar and accessible to pupils and provided the opportunity to learn basic vocabulary such as days, food and numbers. For older pupils, the scheme of work also allowed them to adapt the story and then read it with younger learners in the school. Our aim was to provide teachers with a resource to kick start their language teaching so that they could have a go without feeling that they had to plan and resource lessons. As LL&C Leads, we were mindful that some members of staff could feel that it was another thing to add to an already very busy timetable.
We recognise that we are on a journey with International Languages and still have a lot of work to do; however, it is a journey we are certainly enjoying. We love the creativity that learning about language and culture provides and the windows to the world it can open for our learners.
Sarah Kaveney, Leader of LL&C at St Gwladys Bargoed Primary School