Thursday, 14 June 2012

Do you speak ....?

The UK government has announced once again this week that all seven year olds in state schools are to learn a foreign language. I’ve lost track of how many times they’ve made that decision and then failed to carry it through. Of course, a large part of the problem is that the vast majority of primary school teachers don’t speak a foreign language either, which makes teaching one a bit difficult. Most of those who have some foreign language skills can do little more than teach the children to sing a song in the foreign language (badly) or count up to twenty (also badly). With the best will in the world it won’t work in the present situation. 

Maybe it’s time for an international initiative: one teacher from each primary school in the UK does an exchange for a year with a teacher from a school in a foreign country. The exchange teachers teach each class in the primary school for one day a week, teaching them all the usual curriculum subjects in their native (foreign to the children) language. At the same time they learn to speak their host language well enough to teach it in their home school. There you go, sorted! If only it were that simple. 

Here in Spain, people are always telling me how bad the Spanish are at learning languages. And yet they all have such enthusiasm for doing so. Small boys hear you speaking English in the street and start up conversations with you – in decent English, ok at a basic level but all comprehensible. Language schools abound, there are foreign language book clubs at the library here in Vigo and a cafe which has informal foreign language conversation groups on different evenings of the week. You pay €5 for a drink and an hour’s conversation. It’s organised by the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas, the town's Official Language School and they pay the native speaker who runs the group. It works! Is Vigo the only town that does stuff like this or is all Spain the same? 

Then there are the shop windows. El Corte Inglés has a huge Poster which declares “Summertime”. Small shops have notices in their windows saying things like, “Summer is Here!” And that’s in English not Spanish. OK, some of the shops have weird English names that don’t mean much, such as “Pull and Bear” or “Vintage and Coffee”, but even their oddity is a symptom of the interest in English. 

 I’d love to see the reaction if a clothes shop on a UK high street put up a sign saying, “¡Ya llegó el Verano! 

End note: back at the bijou residence we were told that we might have to get a new lock for the street door after the blockage the other day. This would have meant getting a new key as well so we were relieved when the locksmith managed to fix the already existing lock. However, it sticks and you have to jiggle the key around to get it turn. 

So that’s both the street door and the front door to the flat that have their little idiosyncrasies! 

Life is ever interesting in the bijou residence!

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