Spanish Immersion Experience in Northern Ireland

Author(s): Andrea Cochrane
Institution/Organisation: Belfast High School (UK)

1. DESCRIPTION OF THE SUCCESS CASE

1.1 Scope of the initiative


This initiative of a Spanish Immersion weekend has involved three schools in Northern Ireland and pupils at Sixth Form level ( ages 16-18) The core schools are Grosvenor Grammar and Belfast High School and other participating schools have included Our Lady and St Patrick’s College, St Malachy’s College and Larne Grammar. (The educational structure in Northern Ireland, one of the four countries forming the United Kingdom, is very similar to that in the United Kingdom as a whole. However, selection at 11 is more widespread and there are fewer non-selective/comprehensive schools).


1.2 Range of languages studied


The Language focus here is Spanish but we have heard of a similar initiative with other languages.


1.3 Learning outcomes


The learning outcomes are that pupils will have an increased level of understanding of spoken Spanish and that their own level of fluency will have improved. Our main goal is to improve pupils’ confidence when speaking Spanish.


1.4 Practical realisation


The project involves a group of five teachers from three different schools, two Spanish teaching assistants and four learning support assistants. We stay the weekend in an educational resource centre which is in the grounds of a local folk museum. The key principle is that Spanish will be the language of communication at all times. A timetable of activities is based around 5 tutorials which are led by the staff. These are interspersed with social activities and some work related learning. Other activities have included: ice breakers, films, board games, a table quiz, songs, a treasure hunt, dance, a short religious service and an activity where pupils have to invent a product and present to the judges to win a prize. There have also been visits by chief examiners and higher education representatives with their students.

2. BACKGROUND TO THE INITIATIVE

2.1 Context


Spanish is usually the second foreign language in Northern Irish schools although this is changing. The original idea came from an Education and Library Board activity (Education and Library Boards are administrative units for the different regions within Northern Ireland) which was then reinstated by the two key schools involved. While some students find it possible to travel to Spain on exchanges and study visits of one type or another, this is not feasible for many students and this initiative thus complements the studies which are undertaken in school. It also serves to underline the importance of Spanish as a spoken language and a means of communication, thus motivating pupils to continue with their language studies.


2.2 Strategic goals of the initiative


The key goals are to promote fluency in the language and to enable pupils to see Spanish as a means of communication rather than just something they learn in a classroom. We also aim to provide some cultural awareness and, of course, enjoyment.

3. SUCCESS INDICATORS

Success indicators have included

4. SUCCESS FACTORS

The two main schools involved fully back the initiative and part subsidise it using their Specialist School funding (Specialist School funding in the UK is granted to schools to help them develop their particular area of specialism). Some previous participants have returned to the schools as learning assistants both in a paid and voluntary capacity. We have just completed our third year of the initiative.

5. LESSONS TO BE LEARNED

We have seen improved results and increased motivation; for example, in one centre the pupils who had taken part scored significantly higher than others in the official exam.


5.1 Lessons to be learned at institutional level


We carry out an evaluation process each year and we act on this and have made changes such as the activities involved and facilities on offer. There have been extension possibilities of perhaps a day’s immersion or perhaps taking the enterprise related activity and using  it with other year groups.


5.2 Broader implications


Offering pupils an immersion experience allows them to really use the language as a means of interaction which then makes it an authentic means of communicating with each other, staff and visitors. It permits learners who live at some considerable distance from the target language community to experience a sustained period of language immersion.