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Netflix and skills in English don’t add up

Re: Teaching languages in France (November edition). Until last term my wife (a UK national) was an English teacher in state collège in the Gers.

What Alex Taylor was advocating for children to learn English fluency seems ideal, however I heard daily from my wife about the admin reality.

Her rectorate decided that Spanish would be taught in parallel with English, as an experiment. For example, when learning “a table” the kids would also see and learn “una messa”. Admirable, you think.

Yes, it created more teaching posts for the Spanish teachers and put pressure on English, Latin and Occitane teachers who were fighting for their lost teaching hours.

English was put on the back-burner because “it is easy”, the other language teachers would say, just give them a video and chill out.

But we all know that English is only deceptively easy until one screws it up.

The motivated children are overwhelmed as to what is expected from them and the unmotivated ones make the classroom hell.

I don’t have a solution but here is my experience.

I was a secondary mod guy who emigrated to work in Bremen as a guest worker  many moons ago. They gave me a two-year contract with a proviso that I take and pass a German exam after two years in order to have a full-time contract. They gave me a “one to one” teacher to help.

My teacher quickly realised that I did not know, from a grammatical point of view, my own mother tongue. She made me dissect English literature and taught me English grammar in German. Once I mastered it, it was just a case of building up my vocabulary. I’m forever grateful to that teacher.

The German company then seconded me to France. I found French orthography and pronunciation more difficult, but my German grammar lessons provided a basis to become relatively competent in writing and conversing.

It’s obvious that Germanic speakers like the Dutch, Scandinavians and Germans grasp English faster due to similarities in structure and pop culture. Latin speakers master homologue languages faster than the northerners.

What counts at any age is: motivation, basic grammar grounding and social insertion ... not Netflix.

Jim Scott, by email

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