Kecskeméti Református Általános Iskola

Author(s): Ildikó Szabó
Institution/Organisation: Kecskeméti Református Általános Iskola (HU)

1. DESCRIPTION OF THE SUCCESS CASE


1.1 Scope of the initiative

 


1.2 Range of languages studied

 


1.3 Learning outcomes


1.4 Practical realisation

 

 

2. BACKGROUND TO THE INITIATIVE 

2.1 Context

 

The traditions of language learning at primary and secondary level-the languages most frequently taught, approaches to language learning

According to a recent survey (Europeans and their Languages, 2006), 24% of European citizens have acquired their first foreign language in primary education, 59% of them in secondary, 17% in vocational education. In Hungary 34% of the citizens have acquired their first foreign language in primary, 45% in secondary and 8% in vocational schools. These data suggest that in Hungary foreign language teaching and learning is very influential and important in primary education.

In the second half of the 1990s, several researches have shown that a new, varied language teaching system has developed in Hungary, ensuring several ways of learning a foreign language. In 2000 a survey showed that foreign language competence in those grades (6th, 8th and 10th grades) that are to be assessed according to the law, met the reqiurements, standards and aims defined in the National Curriculum. This fact proves that language teaching in primary education in Hungary is efficient.

There are great individual differences in foreign language competences. One of them is the difference in achievements in different languages. Since there is no compusorily taught foreign language in Hungary, students and their parents can choose the language they want to learn. Hungary does meet the EU priority to provide a wide selection of languages in primary education. Students can choose to learn English, German, French, Latin, Italian and Russian in primary schools. However, this variety is guaranteed only in bigger towns. In most schools English and German are taught, and these are the languages students can choose from. As a conclusion in Hungary at the moment the free choice of languages means the choice between English and German. More than half of the students in primary schools decides to learn English.

Analysing the motivating factors for choosing one language or the other, in primary education many times the choice is not voluntary or conscious. About half of the students in primary schools do not learn the language they want to, but the one that is offered by the school. If there is no teacher to teach that language or there are not enough students choosing that language to form a group, students have to learn another language. The more educated students’ parents are, the more conscious their language choice is. Moreover, there are great differences in the circumstances of foreign language learning depending on the choice of language. Students learn English for a longer period of time, in higher numbers of lessons and they are much more motivated than those who learn (or have to learn) German. This difference can also be noticed in students’ achievements. 65% of students learning German did not choose this language voluntarily. Since English has a higher prestige among students, those who choose this language are usually the ones who have better achievement at school. Therefore they are the ones who continue their studies in more prestigous secondary schools, in the secondary grammar schools. As a summary we can state that students with better socio-cultural background can choose the language they want to learn (and it is English) and they are more likely to continue their studies in more qualified secondary schools. This fact also raises the question of equal chances in language learning.

Motivating factors in language learning tend to become practical and related to professional mobility; whereas intrinsic motivation (getting to know foreign cultures and nations) is descreasing. In Hungary students in the last grade of primary education (grade 8) prove to be highly motivated.

The attitudes and degree of openness of the community to language learning, and / or to the learning of particular languages

Although foreign language as a subject is introduced in primary schools in the 4th grade (age of 10), early language learning is becoming a priority. The number of students taking part in early languae learning has increased by 10-15% in the last 20 years, and now about one third of students in grades 1-2, and more than half of them in grade 3 learn one foreign language at school. (A second foreign language is learnt only by 1-2% of students in lower, and 5-7% in upper primary section. It means that only the most outstanding students with motivated parents learn two languages in primary schools.) The Ministry of Education clearly defines the aim of early language teaching: besides improving comprehension and speaking skills the most important aspect is to develop a positive attitude towards learning a language. Mainly well-qualified parents insist on their children’s early language learning. Although we would expect a correlation between the facility of early language learning and the type of the settlement, there is no big difference between towns and villages in this aspect. In Budapest, the capital, 62% of children learn a language in grades 1-3, in small towns this rate is 50%, in villages 43%. The reason why small settlements and schools introduce foreign language as a subject in the 1st grade is that they want to keep these students and be chosen by the parents instead of a school in a bigger town.

As early foreign language teaching is getting more and more popular and wide-spread, those who are excluded get into a disadvantageous situation. This group of students mainly live in small settlements and their number is 40% of this population.

Based on the previously mentioned facts, the length of the period of foreign language learning is also very varied. As a conclusion, we can state that in primary education most students learn one foreign language for a longer period than the one described by the National Curriculum. This favourable situtation is due to the fact that schools want to meet parents’ needs who want their children to start learning a language as soon as possible. It also includes extra financial support from local municipalities and schools. According to the law a student has to have 984 foreign language lessons during those nine years of compulsory foreign language learning. Practically, most students have more lessons than this number. This number is much higher than in most EU countries. However, the Hungarian students’ achievement is not better than the ones in other EU countries. This fact shows that classroom work is not efficient enough in Hungary. Some researches have shown that in primary schools frontal work dominates, rarely can we see group or pair work activites. Many times grammar-translation method and drilling exercises (reading aloud, translation, grammar exercises) are relevant instead of watching videos, acting out situations or communicative activities. The situation is a bit better in English lessons where usually all the four skills are developed; in Geramn lessons it is not the case. Primary school students do not use the target language in a language lesson only during the classroom activities.

A special feature of the Hungarian foreign laguage teaching is that students are put into groups. Students with similar achievement form a group. Usually groups of better students have more lessons in a foreign language. It leads to the fact that the better ones get better, and the ones with originally lower achievements are neglected.

Although there is a legal background now to ease the transition between lower and upper primary grades, nothing like this can be seen between primary and secondary education. In Hungary students can continue their studies in eight-grade or six-grade secondary schools as well, which means that they start a new type of school at the age of 10 or 12. In these cases students have to meet the challenge of totally different teaching methods and learning atmosphere. Teachers in secondary schools tend to ingnore what and how students learn in primary schools. This tendency also can be noticed in four-grade secondary schools. About two-third of students restart learning the language they have learnt in primary schools in secondary schools. Most of the students have claimed that the level of foreign language teaching is too low in secondary schools comparing it to their previously acquired knowledge. There is a lack of continuity in foreign language teaching methods and programmes in secondary schools. Although students learn the language for 5-8 years when they enter secondary schools, many complain that they have to start from the beginnings.

Even the marks students get prove that secondary schools do not take students’ previous knowledge into consideration. Students usually tend to get lower marks in every subject in the first term in secondary schools than they did in primary schools. The only exception is foreign language. This fact shows that secondary schools introduce foreign language from a starter level, and do not build on the primary achievements.


2.2 Strategic goals of the initiative

 

3. SUCCESS INDICATORS

 

4. SUCCESS FACTORS

 

5. LESSONS TO BE LEARNED 

5.1 Lessons to be learned at institutional level

 

Introducing early language teaching was a good decision. The number of applicants to the school has increased since there is such a high demand for learning L2 in Hungary. Both students and the teaching staff value the inititave. However, we have to look for a better timing for the project. Our experience shows that instead of the afternoon activities ones in the morning would be more effective. Therefore we are to shift them and incorporate them in students’ lessons in the morning. It means that 15-minute sessions are included in Maths, Science, Art and PE lessons in L2. This change requires a higher number of qualified teachers.


5.2 Broader implications


Our intitative is good example of an informal way of language teaching. As we know, young students are highly motivated to learn, and we take advantage of this fact. By creating a relaxed learning atmosphere, we make students confident in L2. They are not made aware of the fact that they learn; they seem to pick up the language without realising it. No direct teaching of grammar or vocabulary is involved. The teaching material (songs, rhymes, TPR activites) meet the interest of this age group. Since they like playing with their peers, we let them do it in L2. They are very creative, so they can draw, cut and stick, colour following instructions in L2. This way the students’motivation for learning an L2 is enhanced.

The real success of the initiative is that students do circle games in L2 in their free time in the school yard and greet their teachers in L2 even outside the classroom: Grace and Peace.