Dr Céline Healy of Maynooth University, Ireland reflects on how Wales could lead on language learning
How can Wales become a beacon of excellence for language learning? I’ve realised that the beacon would have to be comprised of many lights, each linked to the other, working together to create a greater impact. However, if there are key bulbs in the chain, then these are the teachers. No matter what great plans for change are in place, they will not be successful unless teachers are supported and resourced to be the best language teachers that they can be.
Teachers need CPD in advance of proposed changes being implemented, so they can be clear about the role they are expected to take, and why. It should enable them to become confident in their use of the target language and in their abilities to engage their learners in successful language learning. In this context, workshops could be planned to enable teachers to develop an understanding of the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) Companion Volume, with its vision of the learner as a social agent and an action-oriented approach. These workshops, offered on an on-going basis, would encourage teachers to consider ways of bringing the wider world into their classrooms, for example through school exchanges, the use of CLIL (content and language integrated learning), and the Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning partnership.
In tandem with these, to offer on-going support and inspiration, resources could be used to help fund Teacher Professional Networks and Communities of Practice for language teachers. There will be an emphasis on enabling collaboration between groups to ensure a continuity of approach from early years to third level. Resourcing a teacher associate to co-ordinate the planning and facilitation of community of practice meetings and professional peer support workshops could help ensure that they don’t peter out after the initial wave of enthusiasm.
And, of course, teachers need to have the possibility of improving their language proficiency through resourced language courses and stays in the target language countries. Embassies, cultural centres and higher education institutions, other important lights in the chain, can provide subsidised language and teaching methodology courses to help teachers to upskill.
Foreign language assistants
The foreign language assistant is another twinkling light in language classrooms. Providing professional development for the assistants, in advance of their working in the classroom, but also on an on-going basis, would help them to develop their classroom practice. Some joint workshops would help their co-operating language teachers to reflect on how best to collaborate with their assistants to improve their own language proficiency, their learners’ proficiency, and to increase the use of target language in their classes.
And that other sparkling light in the chain, the learners, what about them? The more exposure they have to the target language, and to a range of languages, the better. And how wonderful to be able to offer them the possibility of learning other languages from pre-school, through primary and on to post-primary. Learning languages, to develop their plurilingual and pluricultural competence, to broaden their horizons, and to help them to appreciate other ways of looking at the world. But they need good language teachers.
Initial teacher education
And there’s another key bulb: initial teacher education. The more exposure student teachers have to the target language, the better equipped they are to create language-rich learning environments in their schools. They will need to be encouraged and supported to take advantage of student teacher exchanges and to collaborate with student teachers from other countries.
Which brings me to the school management lights. Keeping management informed on current approaches to language teaching, learning and assessment, on CPD for language teachers, school exchanges and other opportunities will help ensure that language teachers have the support they need from their school to promote language learning.
As I said, it’s a string of lights linked together that will help Wales become a beacon of language learning. At the closest point, Ireland is only 27 nautical miles across the sea from you. We look forward to seeing that beacon from Wales, to help light our way forward in language teaching and learning too, and to provide light for ongoing collaborations between Welsh and Irish language teachers and their learners.