What to do if your children hate languages

Do your children hate languages?

We generally aren’t keen on languages, and that has trickled down into GCSE choices, which no longer include a compulsory foreign language. Linguists are rare at A level and University language courses are closing. Because English is the global language of the moment. Duh? Why should we bother, blessed as we are. Let them do the legwork.

Credit to the Department of Education, they have got much MUCH better at teaching languages. The focus is now on practical communication and fluency over obsessive accuracy, for example. Our textbooks are more visually appealing and full of enriching cultural insights.

girl learning languages at the laptop

But it ain’t good enough, clearly. 50% of state school children take a language, although it’s 84% in the independent sector. And you wonder, of those, how many choose willingly, or are in schools that insist on it. Because, let’s be frank, GCSE Anything is pretty grim.

What can we parents do to help the next generation feel confident in a foreign language? Listening and reading come easier; it’s the ‘productive skills’, namely speaking and writing, that are the most challenging, because you have to come out with it all by yourself.

1 – TRAVEL (skills: listening, speaking, reading)

Travelling to a country which speaks the target language has to be the best start, with the family at first, to encourage the child to overcome the crippling embarrassment of speaking another language worse than a native 2 year old. Seeing the language as useful, real, and as a means to better enjoy a holiday, will help associate it with good memories. Offer inducements: ‘I’ll take you to Paris for the weekend if you…’

2 – MUSIC (skills: listening, speaking, reading)

Enabling your child to get access to songs in genres they like will help them identify with the target culture, and reading and singing along with the lyrics will introduce them to more natural phrases spoken by their generation. Otherwise, they will sound like a textbook. Spotify would be brilliant as it suggests similar tracks, and provides the lyrics, so they can build playlists effortlessly.

3 – SUMMER COURSES (all skills)

Expensive, and for more independent KS3 children, they offer morning lessons which will include writing skills, and then afternoon activities which promote speaking with new-found friends from all over the world. The trips and free time will deepen their knowledge of the culture and appreciation of  the region. The risk is they all slip into English. Ask the school for recommended providers, previous parents will have given them feedback.

4 FOOD – (reading, speaking, listening)

Either get cookin’ at home, or find a restaurant serving food of the target culture, and specify you wish to sit at a table served by a native speaker when you book. Warn that there will be no afters unless the whole ordering process is conducted in the target language by ALL members of the family. 🙂 At home, use incentives: ‘I’ll get you a croissant and hot chocolate if you…’ (It’s French for ‘dunking biscuits in tea’).

5 TUTORING – (speaking, writing)

Speaking and writing are the most neglected skills  in schools because they are just too time-consuming to monitor and assess, so a tutor is your only resort. But not as a last minute solution, it has to be a gradual process. They will keep the fires burning between holidays and help with nerves by prepping specifically for the exam. Don’t employ a French national; due to their education system, they prioritise accuracy, which will inhibit fluency.

6 LANGUAGE EXCHANGE/ HOMESTAY (speaking, listening)

Again for older kids, it can go very well or spectacularly wrong if the families are incompatible. We all have a horror story to tell, either our own or hear-say, of families who never bathed, or never ate vegetables or had a pervy uncle… Doubtless there are reputable companies, so do your homework.

In summary

If your kids hate languages, the crux is to find enjoyable opportunities OUTSIDE the classroom, because, no disrespect to the teaching profession, the Curriculum kills motivation in many pupils across many subjects. Factor in the possibility of strikes,  or one too many sarky / supply /  joyless/ teachers… So get creative and give the next generation the tools to connect more deeply and meaningfully with their counterparts around the world. Because they’re worth it!


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