Find out why teachers say Language Assistants are the single most important language resource they can employ in the classroom.
A walking and up to date dictionary and cultural connoisseur
Language Assistants are the single most important language resource we can employ in language learning.(1)
Suzanne Milne, Staff Tutor at the Educational Development Service, Angus Council found 'a walking and up to date dictionary' and cultural connoisseur in her French Assistant, Sandra Philippe, in 2012-13. MLAs allow pupils to ‘learn nuances of language as well as colloquialisms that a non-native (or UK based) speaker may not know’, remarks Rachel Eadie, Teacher at Brechin High School, Angus. They provide ‘grass roots support’ to language teachers who live and work in an Anglophone environment.
Injecting dynamism into language departments
Teachers of Modern Languages also ‘benefit from the regular contact with a young native speaker fresh from their home country’. ‘They can help with the production of texts and resources in current language and they can advise on current affairs and popular culture in their home country.’ Essentially what MLAs offer is ‘an opportunity to speak the language of instruction in an authentic way’, suggests Isabelle Gall, Principal Teacher of Curriculum at Carnoustie High School, Angus. One teacher expressed that the impact of having MLAs is wide, giving the example of an ‘enlightening’ induction to rap culture. Angela Fafalios, Head of French and Modern Foreign Languages at Roedean Independent School, Sussex, emphasises that the young native speakers can ‘make language learning more vital and relevant’ and that they ‘inject dynamism into the department.’
‘This exchange has taught us about cultural customs in Mexico. The children are now singing and speaking Spanish! We have had our eyes opened to a vibrant and colourful world of Mexico.’(2)
Having contact with a young native speaker is a source of excitement for many pupils. They ‘look forward to classes with the MLA and see them as “special” and interesting’ (Isabelle Gall, Angus). ‘They are genuinely curious about the MLA, the life they lead and the culture they live in.’
Opening pupils' eyes to different cultures
Saeeda Wilson-Andoh, Year 6 Leader and Language Coordinator at Oxley Park Academy, Milton Keynes, hosted Rubifer (Ruby) Lopez, a Mexican national, in her school from 2013-14. ‘Having Ruby at our school opened our eyes to different cultures’. It taught the pupils about the broader Spanish speaking world and challenged some misconceptions among the younger students that Spanish is only spoken in Spain.
People really do speak French, we haven't made it up
The presence of MLAs from across the world enables pupils to become more globally aware, and challenge their perceptions about who speaks the target language, and where. Charlotte Jackson, an MFL Teacher at Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School, Lancashire emphasises the transformative effect that having an MLA had on the department. ‘For the younger students it shows them that people really do speak French, it’s not just something we have made up to teach them! They are fascinated that Morgane (our MLA) is from French Guiana as they had no idea that French was spoken in South America!’
‘It is good for the pupils to see a foreign student employed in the school as it opens their minds to different cultures, as well as to opportunities to work abroad’ (3)
Strong link between the school and the Language Assistant's home country
This is particularly important in schools where few students have any direct experience of the countries and cultures where the target language is spoken. Frances Retter, Head of German at Gresham’s School, North Norfolk underlines the ‘tremendous’ impact that MLAs have and that they provide a ‘strong link’ between the school where they are working and their home country.
As a linguistic resource MLAs are integral to MFL departments. Corrine Hendry, German Teacher at Wilmington Grammar School for Girls, Kent, praises the work that Frank Ziesing, an MLA from Germany, did for the pupils. He ‘provided vital guidance for the exam classes on German idiom and grammar nuances, intonation and accent and pronunciation.
Colloquialisms, native accents and spontaneous conversation
Speaking and listening are key areas where students with MLAs are seen to excel. Conception Fernandez, Spanish Teacher at Brigshaw High School, Yorkshire emphasises the positive impact that having a Chilean MLA had. ‘It was very beneficial to have a native speaker in the school so the students listen to different accents and improve their listening skills.’ ‘We have seen a great improvement in the students’ speaking abilities from working in small groups with Vanessa (our MLA). Their confidence in their abilities has increased and they have shown the ability to sustain a spontaneous conversation.’
‘The MLA is a real living breathing link to the language’ (4)
‘They give a current view on topical issues in their country and back-up information on historical information. Ultimately, they provide a different slant on life and a fresh approach to teaching which benefits us all,' concludes Morag Allen, Teacher at Weddington School, Ayr.
(1) Suzanne Milne, Staff Tutor at the Educational Development Service, Angus Council
(2) Saeeda Wilson-Andoh, Year 6 Leader and Language Coordinator at Oxley Park Academy, Milton Keynes.
(3) Carole Martin, Head of French at Assumption Grammar School, Ballynahinch.
(4) Eirian Thomas, Head of French and Community Languages at Cathays High School, Cardiff.