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Language teaching report recommends focus on everyday vocabulary

21/11/2016 Joanna

A new study has called for teachers of modern foreign languages to adopt a new focus on everyday vocabulary in order to improve attainment among pupils working towards GCSEs.

The Teaching Schools Council's Modern Foreign Languages Pedagogy Review has raised concerns that only one-third of pupils at the end of key stage 4 are currently achieving a GCSE in languages at grade C or higher.

Moreover, many are giving up studying languages when they reach the end of key stage 3, with less than half of students entering a languages GCSE. Often, this is occurring because pupils do not enjoy the lessons and feel they are not making progress.

According to the report, this may be because many language courses are organised around themes - such as leisure activities, the environment, or home and family - that can result in an overly specialised choice of vocabulary, with rarely-used words prioritised over common phrases. This can lead to pupils realising that they cannot say or understand basic things in the language, resulting in disillusionment.

As such, the analysis called for pupils to be given more extensive training on the basic building blocks of language, and how these are used by native speakers.

Ian Bauckham, who chaired the review, said: "This report recommends direct, sequenced teaching of vocabulary, grammar and phonics, planned practice leading to fluency and accuracy in use, and horizon-widening subject matter.

"It also lays special emphasis on high quality subject-specific teacher training and development."

The report recommended that schools devote two to three hours of curriculum time per week to modern foreign languages, as avoiding lengthy gaps between lessons can help pupils to retain knowledge better.

Teaching languages in three blocks of 40 to 60-minute lessons per week would allow enough time to cover material including recapitulation, new vocabulary and practice and usage sessions, according to the review.

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