I was pleased to learn this week that ASCL is supporting the 1,000 words campaign, which calls for individuals, educational organisations, employers and organisations to commit to the aspiration that everyone should have at least 1,000 words in another language. It’s a great idea, although I’m not sure that this alone will transform our economy. Maybe a change of economic policy too…
However, it’s not quite as hard to achieve as some might think. When vocabulary lists for GCSE first came out, they had 2,000 words in them. If you listed all of those that are cognates, you’d find that it probably accounted for about half I would imagine. So, if we wanted to make this easy, we could go down that route.
The benefits are obvious, and not necessarily economic. If you can get children to understand how much our languages have in common, they understand that it’s because we have such an intertwined history. If we didn’t, we’d have totally different languages, and this supports understanding of cultural difference and commonality, so we’re now into SMSC and RE.
It’s also a useful way into etymology and this can really support literacy across the curriculum. By getting children interested in words and their origin, they’re seeing them in a much broader context and develop a better understanding. If you study Punjabi, which I did briefly, it’s amazing how quite a lot of their vocabulary links in too, and if you look at the numbers 1-10 across Indo-European languages, they’re very similar.
Interestingly, to be able to count to a million, you need to know 31 different words in Spanish and English, but only 25 in French, according to my calculations, but I’m happy to be corrected. So we’ve got numeracy in there too, in addition to literacy, history and geography.
Of course, we used to do a lot of really good stuff like this 20 years ago. It was called Language Awareness and, at the school where I was teaching back then, each Key Stage 3 year group had a two-week module where MFL and English delivered this together. It’s very much part of what ASCL and Peter Downes have been advocating as a primary MFL curriculum through the Discovering Languages project. If only politicians and policy makers hadn’t messed with things over the last two decades, this project’s admirable aims would possibly already be reality!
My entire Year 8 Spanish class have just taken the pledge. 38 school weeks, two lessons per week, 13 words per lesson, one every four minutes. Piece of pastel.
MFL, the ultimate cross-curricular subject, and the only one you really need on the curriculum…