A new Ofsted report has highlighted the limits of language teaching in secondary schools, according to a BBC News article.

Whilst the report said the initiative to introduce modern languages to primary level pupils was doing well, language lessons in secondary schools were described as “weak”. It further stated:

“Reading was not taught beyond exercises in course books or previous examination papers and teachers made insufficient use of the wealth of authentic material that is available to develop students’ speaking, listening, writing, knowledge about language, language learning strategies and intercultural awareness.”

From 2004 languages were no longer required at GCSE level. Since then the number of students taking a modern language GCSE has fallen from 61% in 2005 to 44% in 2010. This is unsurprising to me – I took GCSE French and was in the top class. My teacher made the effort to engage pupils, particularly in speaking exercises, but my fellow pupils rarely spoke up. French was seen as something to be endured rather than an enjoyable way to get to know another culture.

It seems the current crop of students feel the same way. There is hope though:

[Inspectors] also said pupils’ enjoyment of language learning in primaries was “clear”.

“They were usually very enthusiastic, looked forward to lessons, understood why it was important to learn another language and were developing a good awareness of other cultures,” the report said.

I wonder what is different between the way languages are taught in primary and secondary schools? From my experience I would say that a GCSE class is focussed more on learning from a textbook, with not so much emphasis on interacting with others and learning about culture. Language classes I’ve enjoyed in the past (outside of school) have engaged students through exercises such as singing and sharing food – perhaps this is something for secondary school language teachers to consider?