I moved to France with my parents at the age of nine having never spoken a word of French, I lived there for five years until I returned home to South Wales when I was fourteen.
In my primary school in Britain we never studied any other languages and I hadn’t heard of any other primary school that had. There were of course extracurricular tutors available and the rare evening classes but these were mostly for adults. My parents attended a few before we moved and found them very helpful.
When I arrived in France I started school at a tiny local primary school … there was only one classroom so we were all different ages and abilities in the same class. None of my teachers spoke a word of English so I was forced to literally read out of a French/English dictionary when I needed to speak to or understand someone. It quickly became apparent that this school was not going to be beneficial for me since I could not communicate with anyone! My parents decided to move me to a bigger primary school in a nearby town.
I started lessons in my new school and it was great – English was compulsory to all students so this meant that I could make some friends as they understood a bit of English and I was slowly picking up French (mostly swear words at this point …) it also meant the teachers could talk to me. The difference in both schools was enormous … the simple fact that in my new school the pupils had been forced to study English meant we could communicate and teach ourselves each other’s language. If English was not compulsory in the second school life would have been a lot harder, not only did it teach the pupils about a different culture and opened their minds it also made them want to speak to me to improve their English. If learning a language, such as French, had been compulsory in my British primary school I would have found things a lot easier.
Of course not every primary school pupil is going to move abroad but I think that learning a language from primary school age opens children’s minds to different cultures and ways of thinking and is a great opportunity.
How old were you when you started learning English? Do you think that learning a foreign language should be compulsory in primary schools?