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Back to School: Celebrating Languages Week

Back to School: Celebrating Languages Week

If you work with children, you might have noticed there was a big emphasis on language learning last week. Monday, 26th September marked the annual European Day of Languages (our client Memrise definitely didn’t let that one slide), and many schools across the country decided to turn the day into a week of linguistic festivities.

As a languages graduate, I may be slightly biased, but I truly believe experiencing different cultures and tongues is one of the most valuable lessons you can learn in life. And in the shadow of an imminent Brexit, it’s the kind of vital skill that can bring us together with our neighbours and make the UK less insular. Yet this year we saw another huge slump in entries to A-level French (-6.4%), German (-4.2%) and Spanish (-2.7%), marking the continuing decline of language learning across the nation.

So last Friday, I was packing up my bag and heading back to school to see if I could pique current pupils’ interest with something a little more unusual as part of The PHA Group’s Development Day scheme – Japanese.

Isabelle goes back to school

My stage was The St Lawrence Academy in Scunthorpe, and I was armed with only a PowerPoint presentation and my wits to keep 140 children aged 11-15 entertained – luckily, the exoticism of Japan did a lot of the groundwork!

We went through the basics – greetings, numbers and self-introductions (not to mention a few rounds of bingo!) – but perhaps the most important message I, along with the staff at the school, wanted to impart was about what Japan is like as a place, and what the Japanese are like as a people.

Generally speaking, people don’t learn languages for the sake of learning itself – they do so because they want to understand something or someone – so a large part of each lesson was focused on the why. Why should I care? Why do I need Japanese or any other language for that matter? Why Japan?

It’s not the first time I’ve taught a taster session – as part of the Japan Foundation’s JTS Programme, I’ve visited several schools over the past few years – but it always strikes me how challenging a role teachers have, particularly in languages. They’re tasked with inspiring the next generation to pursue knowledge where the application or transferability isn’t immediately apparent, and the rewards in a distant hypothetical future.

So it was fantastic to see a Languages Department truly thriving despite the current political and educational backdrop, and especially in the Yorkshire & Humberside region, where only 45 percent of students took a language GCSE in 2015 (compared to 64 percent in inner London). When I arrived, the department was looking for a ‘Languages Assistant’ – a student who would attend open evenings as a languages advocate, stay behind during breaks and after school to help prepare collateral, and generally help rally the linguist troops – a big responsibility and a lot of extra work, but they’d already had 66 applications.

But we’ll need many more schools like The St Lawrence Academy if we’re to turn the tides, and more professionals willing to show pupils where a degree in languages can take them if we don’t want the UK to retreat from the global arena.

If you want to volunteer, why not get in touch with a local school? Or join a group like the Japan Foundation, the Polish British Integration Centre, Caabu or the catchall Association for Language Learning?

An inspiring day with Beth Tweddle at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

In order to launch Young Enterprise’s new and exciting Fiver Challenge initiative, we took to the ArcelorMittal Orbit in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park with Britain’s very own Olympic hero Beth Tweddle and a group of very excitable year six students.

The new Fiver Challenge, supported by Virgin Money and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, is all about introducing enterprise into primary school education and encouraging children to get creative and work hard towards achieving their goals.

Beth Tweddle launches the Fiver initiative at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

It was for this reason we thought Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, an area once crammed full of sporting legends and that remains a spot of great memories where world records were broken and dreams met, made the perfect location for the launch. The ArcelorMittal Orbit, in particular, is a beacon of inspiration for young people and a reminder of Britain’s success in the London Olympics 2012.

The weather was in our favour and after a quick photo shoot with the pupils from St Mary’s Catholic Primary School, a wad of fake five pound notes and the gymnastic legend herself; Beth showed the kids a video of her astonishing achievements, leaving everyone amazed, before we headed up the Orbit for a Q&A session.

With a bird’s eye view of the Olympic Stadium in the background, Beth asked the children what they planned to do with their five pound pledges before revealing what she was going to do with hers – promote that five of her iconic leotards (three of them signed) were going to be put up for auction on the Young Enterprise eBay page in order to raise money for her chosen charity, Alder Hey Children’s hospital in Liverpool.

There seemed to be a common trend amongst the children with the majority of responses revolving around food businesses, including fruit kebabs and cakes!

We wish all primary school children taking part in the competition throughout the month of June the best of luck and look forward to seeing what wonderful ideas they come up with.