Schools' experiences

Read real life accounts on the benefits of hosting a Language Assistant below, and learn about their long term impact in schools across the UK.  

 

City of Edinburgh invest in Language Assistants to support innovative Scottish government legislation

Schools in Edinburgh are implementing the Scottish government’s new education policy  with the support of Language Assistants in the classroom. With the 1+2 language policy,  students must learn two languages in addition to English, providing a unique approach to language learning in the UK. 

As a result, local authorities are using additional funding from the Scottish government to support the ‘1+2 languages model’, recruiting Language Assistants and making them accessible across their network schools.

Creating authentic resources for the classroom

Language Assistants have used their expertise to produce educational resources by bringing an authentic experience of the language and culture. As a young person representing their home country, Language Assistants are invited to produce culturally relevant reading materials and record audio guides to support learning of French, Spanish, German, Italian and Mandarin. 

In the City of Edinburgh, the assistants are contributing to the development of exciting new primary materials to support the new policy. The multimedia resource will not only provide authentic audio and images to engage students, but will also support teachers who are new to language teaching. The resource covers French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Mandarin and will be used for pupils  aged 3 to 12. Since the 1+2 model is running until 2020, the resources will have long term impact for years to come. 

Introducing a project initiative

Traditionally, teachers have used assistants to support exam preparation and oral practice. With the support of British Council Scotland and SCILT, Scotland’s National Centre for Languages, the role of Language Assistants extends far beyond the classroom. They are encouraged to deliver projects to make language learning relevant and engaging for young people. Their projects have impact across the whole school community.

Anne-Lise, French Assistant at Broughton High School brought ‘French culture alive for her students’ describes teacher Mika Bosphore. She found that teaching languages was more effective through cross-curricular activities and collaborative learning:  ‘I built up most of my work as an assistant on those two concepts. This is how drama, music, dance, and arts became tools, if not the basis, of most of my projects. It is a blend of feelings and reflections on how artistic expression is key to the pupils’ academic and personal development. She worked with eight pupils aged 13 to 16 on a performance called “Cendrillon et le petit bonnet phrygien” (Cinderella and the little Phrygian cap). It was written by Anne-Lise herself, taking inspiration from the Cinderella fairy tale and based on the era of the French Revolution.  The play went on to win first prize at the Rencontres Théâtrales, the annual school drama competition organised by the French Institute in Edinburgh.

Wendy Boyd, German teacher from the Royal High School explains that her Language Assistant, ‘sparked students’ interest and motivation in learning German by developing a cross-curricular drama production of Snow White, involving the art club making the sets and music departments providing the score. She raised the profile of modern foreign languages across the school community.’ This highly successful production went on to win the overall prize at the Goethe-Institut Fairy Tale competition. 

Promoting language learning at an early age for future employability

By introducing two additional languages to pupils from an early age, the Scottish government is changing the perception of language learning in the UK. As the job market is moving from local to global, they recognise the ability to communicate in another language as a key skill that everyone needs across all industries and sectors. 

Ann Robertson, Education Support Officer at City of Edinburgh and former Head of Languages at Gracemount High School (and French Language Assistant) reinforces this: ‘It is estimated that 75 per cent of the world’s population are at least bi-lingual whilst in  the UK, we are  estimated to be 95 per cent monolingual. Our learners will walk into university classes and job markets with peers from all over the world.  Ensuring our students have second and third language skills ensures that they have the skills they require for today’s and tomorrow’s world.' 

It is exciting to witness this new investment from the Scottish government, ensuring  success for young people in a globalised and multi-lingual world.

 

Belfast school opens its doors to Language Assistants for a fifth decade

Language Assistants at Methodist College have inspired generations of students and sparked a strong international ethos across the school community. Head of German and former English Language Assistant, Olivia Moore, tells of the benefits of hosting this year’s French, Spanish and Austrian assistants and why language learning would not be the same without them.

Speaking practice in the classroom

The Language Assistants focus their efforts on AS and A2 students, working in small groups or on a one-to-one basis. Olivia encourages the assistants to bring a flavour of their country and culture into the classroom, breaking away from the traditional approach to oral practice and putting nervous students at ease.

The core exam topics are addressed through discussions on contemporary culture, ranging from music and TV programmes to national festivities, such as German Carnival. ‘I often hear students talking enthusiastically to one another about what they’ve been taught’, says Olivia.  Their receptiveness signals the assistants’ ability to motivate, and bring a fresh perspective to language learning.

An infusion of authentic language and culture

The assistants run lunchtime clubs for younger students and cross-curricular activities in geography and history classes. They organised quizzes on their home countries to celebrate European Day of Languages and the Austrian assistant led conversation practice to prepare students for an exchange trip to Germany. In the past, they have also supported students entering French and German debating competitions.

On the international stage

The assistants are encouraged to attend open evenings for prospective students and their parents to ‘demonstrate the school’s strong commitment to language learning’. But their impact extends far beyond the foreign languages classroom. A long line of assistants has contributed to the school’s success in securing the British Council International School Award for the last nine years and in establishing school partnerships through Connecting Classrooms and eTwinning.

Olivia points out that replicating the same learning environment without native-speakers in the classroom would be impossible. ‘During preparation for exams, students regularly seek the support of the assistant over the teacher. They ask them for advice, work hard to learn new expressions and demonstrate an ambition to achieve fluency’. At a time when language learning in the UK is diminishing, there can be no doubt that these students’ enthusiasm speaks volumes.