As well as demystifying languages as a subject, letting parents take on the role of pupil can give them direct insight into how language teaching has changed since their own childhood.
One effective approach is to show parents how languages work in schools, getting them involved in the life of the department as often as possible.
Many Year 7 parents are used to being directly involved with school from their experience at primary level. The transition to secondary can often leave them feeling rather distanced. The languages department could help to offset the home-school gap at the most crucial moment. For example, parents could be invited to:
Their own experience of learning a language may be far from positive. As well as demystifying languages as a subject, letting parents take on the role of pupil can give them direct insight into how language teaching has changed since their own childhood. It can also help to show them how they can support their child with learning a language.
Above all, this early contact with parents builds a positive relationship between the languages team and Year 7 parents. It is natural to question and doubt things we do not understand or know. Putting in substantial time and effort at the beginning to engage with parents and show them how their children are learning languages and the benefits of language learning is worth it, as they can provide invaluable support in the home for the learning processes begun at school.
Not all Year 7 parents will want or be able to come in to observe a lesson, nor perhaps to attend a ‘Parents into Languages’ evening where they might get an insight into what is being learnt and how to support their child’s learning. However, those parents that do can provide excellent feedback that will promote the department’s strengths to SMT and the wider community through the languages newsletter or school magazine.
Use every opportunity to communicate the benefits of language learning to parents. Key messages cannot be repeated too often, although using a variety of means to share the information is desirable. For example, giving a presentation on the first school open evening for new parents is effective, and these key messages can be implicitly reinforced to parents every time a letter or postcard is sent home in praise of a child’s work, or at a special languages event where pupils show their learning.
There are many sources of information to help subject leaders and teachers promote the value of language learning. Here are just a few reasons why learning a language is a valuable part of every child’s education.
Knowledge of a foreign language is not just another GCSE grade – it is a concrete and demonstrable life skill, like being able to drive a car or touch-type, and it is a skill highly valued by employers.
Learning how to interact with speakers of other languages means you are less likely to be stuck in one mode of thinking. It can help you see things from a range of perspectives, develop your problem-solving skills, and make you more adaptable, resourceful and creative.
The ability to operate cross-culturally is becoming just as valued by employers as straight language skills.
Learning a language combines the intellectual with the practical as no other subject does. You need to be able to think on your feet, but when you can find exactly the right foreign word or phrase, you get a real sense of achievement.
Languages are very sociable. If you enjoy being with people and communicating with them, the chances are you’ll enjoy being able to do this in a foreign language too.
Today there is a global market for jobs. It is not necessary to be completely fluent in a foreign language to be an asset to any potential employer. Knowing how to meet and greet people from other countries and cultures is a valued skill.
There are many opportunities to travel or work with organisations abroad where some knowledge of a foreign language is a clear advantage.
The range of combined degrees and further education courses involving a language is limitless – from Accountancy with Russian to Theatre Studies with Italian. Many universities even offer funding for students to continue or extend their language knowledge by travelling or working abroad during the vacations.
It can also prove useful at times to promote language learning for its transferable skills, i.e. the way in which the skills learnt in language lessons transfer to other curriculum subjects and can improve overall academic performance.
One of the most obvious and persuasive of these is memory. Putting forward the languages department as an ambassador for memory training gets the department noticed at whole school level, but is equally beneficial in responding to parents who question the value of language learning when presented with the more common rationale.
Language learning is a great way for training memory. Languages teachers may well be experts in teaching memory strategies without realising it, but it makes sense for the languages department to be explicit its contribution to this aspect of cognitive development, particularly as good memory skills are so essential for other subjects and as a life skill.
Languages departments can seize the initiative here by:
It makes sense if language trips are not advertised to parents simply by sending a letter home.
These are a natural winner with most parents and a strong selling point for any school. However they are also a cause of parental anxiety, particularly in the first two years of secondary school. It makes sense therefore if language trips are not advertised to parents simply by sending a letter home. If parents are invited in as the exchange or trip is launched and teachers give engaging presentations about the opportunities, (using the occasion to reinforce the key messages about language learning at the same time), parents are much more likely to be reassured and allow their child to participate. A positive trip abroad, particularly an exchange visit, will send a very powerful message to parents about the value of language learning.
Here are some more examples of how you could help get parents interested in your language offer.