1.2 Why learn a modern foreign language?
A modern language is unlike any other subject on the school curriculum. In other subjects – such as maths, science or history – the students are, in a sense, learning about that subject. That is, they are learning facts and skills, as well as learning how to interpret and apply that knowledge to new situations.
In a modern language lesson, the students are not learning about the language, be it French, Spanish, German or Chinese. They are learning the language itself – how to understand it, how to produce it, and how to combine elements of it to produce new utterances, answer new questions and meet new situations. They are developing linguistic competence such as developing the skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing the target language in a range of situations and contexts. They are also developing knowledge about language, such as grammar and syntax.
Students learning a language also develop other skills: they learn about cultural awareness and may develop an ability to see the world from different perspectives; they also develop creativity and problem solving as they find new ways of understanding and communicating a message. Learning a modern foreign language can also help students in the development of their mother tongue literacy skills, as well as other cross-curricular features such as numeracy and thinking skills.
Discuss with other MFL teachers that you know, their views of the nature of MFL and how the curriculum supports this view. To what extent has their view of the nature of MFL been affected by the MFL curriculum? Does a ‘communicative approach’ amount to more than just asking the way to the Post Office or ordering a round of drinks in a café? What do the students’ views indicate and what might be the reasons behind any difference between younger and older students’ views?
Referring to the statutory curriculum requirements of your nation, what do these communicate about the role of MFL in your context? What are the challenges of implementing the curriculum for MFL in your school context?
It is not always easy for MFL teachers to realise their beliefs about language teaching and learning in their school context. They may face a dilemma between their own ideal view and the reality of the classroom with many factors outside their control, such as timetable arrangements as well as statutory curriculum constraints (see Hemmings, 2006). The challenge to all MFL teachers is to engage students in the classroom and provide a purpose to their learning that will motivate them to continue studying a language for as long as possible.