At previous schools where I have worked, Modern Foreign Language (MFL) lessons in the Early Years have been disconnected from classroom learning. MFL lessons have involved a foreign language teacher coming into a class during a 30 to 45-minute time block, delivering a teacher-led lesson and leaving. This teacher-led lesson, as lovely and entertaining as it may be, usually has no connection to what has been happening in the classroom, and once the MFL teacher leaves it is forgotten by the students because they have no further exposure to the concepts learned until the next lesson. Is this the most effective way for students to learn a foreign language? In my opinion, no. Is there a better way? Absolutely, and the solution only requires that mainstream and MFL teachers communicate and work as a team! Below are some suggestions that could easily be implemented:
a) Team Planning/Access to Planners: Including an MFL teacher in unit planning is the best way to let them know what the focus of upcoming lessons will be so that relevant connections can be made. For example, if students will be learning about modes of transportation in their native tongue, the MFL teacher could focus on similar language. If team planning is not an option due to conflicting schedules, simply sharing planners with the MFL teachers in advance will also work.
b) Daily Foreign Language Exposure: Although the MFL teacher may not be present, simple things can be left for mainstream teachers to incorporate into their daily activities. For example:
c) Linking to Play-Based/Inquiry-Based Curriculums: Even if you are following a play-based or inquiry-based approach in your Early Years classroom, the above ideas can still work but this involves the MFL teacher being open to the fact that not every class in the Early Years program will be learning about the same topics at the same time. It will also involve the MFL teacher being open to incorporating materials and spaces in the classroom as part of their lessons, limiting the amount of teacher-led activities, and developing projects for the students that tie into what they are interested in. For example, if the students are interested in ocean animals, the MFL teacher can:
d) Meeting Curriculum Objectives: While the main focus of the MFL teacher is evaluating the students on their language skills, it is helpful for them to be aware of other curriculum objectives being met in the classroom. For instance, an MFL teacher may plan to teach students how to count to 20 in the foreign language, while students aren’t able to do so in their native tongue. Student learning is advanced when a MFL teacher is aware of and can connect to curriculum objectives in other subject areas, as this exposes students to the same concepts multiple times. This will also help to prevent situations where students are forced to struggle with concepts they aren’t ready for.
Creating a meaningful Modern Foreign Language experience for students in the Early Years is easily achievable with a little teamwork and transparency, and the impact on students’ learning as they make connections between the foreign language and their native tongue will be worthwhile and rewarding!