Jackie Rayment, a modern foreign language adviser at Herts for learning, looks at some of the ways modern language assistants can benefit UK schools and their pupils.
If you have ever learned a second language, you will no doubt remember the feeling of satisfaction that came when first using it naturally with a native speaker: perhaps it was the time you made a joke or helped a tourist in the street.
Many of the changes in the curricula of the UK in recent years have been aimed at producing a generation who are able to use the target language in communication.
One way schools can really help pupils to make progress in listening and speaking is to employ a modern language assistant who comes from a country where the target language is spoken. I have seen them draw tentative language learners into using the target language, almost without the learners realising it.
Here are a few ways modern language assistants can be of use to pupils in UK schools.
1. A cultural resource
Language assistants can share experiences and stories of life in the country where the target language is spoken. By inviting students to compare their experience of life in the UK with that of the target-language country, modern language assistants can play a significant role in giving students an understanding of other cultures. They can also help connect UK schools with partnering schools and organisations in their respective countries. Pen-pal projects and student exchanges often arise out of this.
2. A source of spontaneity
The ability to speak with confidence is emphasised in the English curriculum and Scotland’s curriculum. However, opportunities for spontaneous talk in the classroom are not always available. Other than helping pupils produce, prepare and practise dialogues, modern language assistants can help students participate in more authentic exchanges. Examples include meeting and greeting students, and conducting classroom business using simple expressions in the target language. These exchanges mean that students get to use the target language for real communicative ends and build their speaking confidence in the process. At secondary level, you can also use modern language assistants for mock interviews.
3. A way to help disadvantaged pupils
Modern language assistants can lead small groups or one-to-one sessions, on behalf of the teacher, with disadvantaged pupils who lack confidence with languages. (Find out how the pupil premium can help fund schools in England to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils).
For students who do not have the opportunity to go on holiday in a foreign country, a language assistant might be the first chance for them to talk to a native speaker and close an opportunity gap with more well-off peers.