Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
Image of Hilary Wilce

The Quandary - 04 Oct 2007

Our children are moving to a primary school that gives children a taste of many languages. What about their French?

Hillary's Advice

With the wisdom of hindsight, I would say there are two areas where parents need to stay firmly on top of children if they donít want them to miss out forever, and these are in learning a musical instrument and acquiring a language. In general I am against this kind of pressured parenting, but these skills need hard work and persistence to acquire, and both have a kind of hump which children really have to push themselves over if they are to enjoy the rewards of proficiency on the other side. Parents need to be on the case to make it happen.

I know the same could be said, perhaps, of maths and science, but the truth is, if you suddenly decide you want to become a doctor at 30, you can sit down and learn what you have to, but learning a language and an instrument are both so much harder without the flexibility of youth.

I also share your concerns about dabbling in languages, in fact Iíve never seen the point of children learning languages such as Arabic and Mandarin except as an interesting, intellectual taster, because it seems to me that it must be almost impossible to get to any useful level of proficiency through the brief sessions offered in primary school.

Check very carefully to see what your childrenís new school does offer. It may be that it keeps up some focussed French, alongside other languages. If not, and if you can afford it, get a tutor. It would seem terrible to loose your childrenís learning and enthusiasm for acquiring another language because of this change of location.