Languages and Music at school

When you add up the amount of time kids spend learning languages in school wouldn't you expect your average 14 year old to be able to hold a simple conversation in at least one foreign language.   There's got to be something wrong with the way kids learn languages in this country - my daughter does pretty well academically but if she had such a limited grasp of any other subject I'd be looking at moving her to another school - the teacher assures me she is doing OK in French so it must be that the whole year has learnt naff all.

And what is the point in music lessons - I'm all for learning an instrument but has anybody ever learnt anything in a school music lesson ?  



  • Yes I'm not saying it's just about academia - the opposite in fact it seems to me languages are taught in a very academic way but don't produce language speakers - exactly the same as they were 30 years ago when I was at school.     If language lessons aren't about learning to speak the language then what are they for ?

  • Music, if taught properly, can benefit everyone whether you learn an instrument or not. Even if it's just the skill of being able to listen carefully to what is going on around you. A balanced curriculum is very important, and there are subjects which might not seem to have an immediate benefit, but without them our education would be lacking. Music can be taught in so many ways, and it has many aspects. There is the creative aspect, there is the performance aspect (which amongst other things can help you learn how to present yourself), there is the social aspect, and there is of course the mathmatical side. Like all subjects, I think it very much depends on the school, teacher and pupil as to whether there is any benefit. I didn't learn a single thing in my geography classes, partly because I wasn't interested, partly because the provision wasn't the most stimulating. I wouldn't argue however that it wasn't worth teaching, I was just unlucky.

  • I disagree.   Is there really a creative aspect or a performance aspect to music if a kid can't actually play an instrument ?   You may as well give kids who can't read or write a pile of letters and tell them to make words out of them.  If you want to teach kids how to perform or present themselves then things like drama or just arguing points in class in different subjects would seem far more effective.   

    Yes poor teaching can kill any lesson - but that doesn't mean a good teacher can make teaching anything worthwhile.

  • What about the listening aspect? I think a lot of school music lessons (rightly or wrongly - that's another argument) are divorced from the actual reading of music (unless you play an instrument, and that is covered during those lessons). A lot is taught by ear, a lot of schools do a lot with percussion and singing.

    Just wondering why in particular you think music isn't a worthwhile thing to teach? Has there been a particular experience for you? I really genuinely want to know. Music is such a part of my life I can't imagine that it wouldn't even be briefly touched on in education. It's given me so much more than the actual ability (ish) to play an instrument. I can honestly say that I wouldn't be the person I am today if it wasn't for the musical elements in my education. I would however probably be better paid, working in the music industry is not great for the salary!

  • My children are both attending a Gaelscoil, whereby they learn all of the usual primary school subjects, through the medium of Irish. It is a system that works incredibly well, and the children are all bilingual by the age of five. Many go on to get their Irish GCSE at age 11, which is a real confidence booster for a child about to attend secondary school.

    There are so many benefits to learning in this way. One is that, if a child is bilingual at a young age, they are far more receptive to learning a third or even fourth language when they are older - the pathways in the brain are already in place, so to speak.

    Perhaps that is what the government had in mind when they announced that all primary school children should be learning a second language; but I am not sure just how effective it will be as a "lesson" as opposed to the system of total immersion that is used in the Gaelscoileanna.

    As for music lessons in school, I think a well rounded individual deserves a well rounded education, with time given over to aspects of life such as music and art. If nothing else they introduce a level of enjoyment to school for many children, that they just won't get in the same way from maths or history; and why shouldn't a child have fun at school?

  • Oh and Popsider, your daughter might be much better at French than you realise. Holding a conversation is one of the more difficult aspects of learning a language, as it requires the confidence to be able to speak with a natural flow that might only come with many hours of practise - the student needs to be actually "thinking" in French.

    Maybe your daughter is much better at reading and writing in French than in speaking it, which is the case with many language students.

  • OK on music I'm not anti kids learning music - all my kids are learning instruments outside of school - and I regret not learning an instrument when I was younger (though I did have a brief spell of learning the bass guitar).   The same with appreciation of music - that can enrich your life - I accept that.   I just don't see it as something that really fits in with a school curriculum taught in the way we teach in UK schools.  

    Ultimately if you are learning music I think you should be learning how to play music - there may be other benefits to music lessons as there are to all subjects - but it it's a music lesson it seems to me that you should be learning how to play music - or I suppose these days to create music in some way.   I know in my schooldays that wasn't the case and talking to my kids I suspect it still isn't.   I'm sure 30 years ago my music teacher would have given the same spiel about the benefits of music in the curriculum but they'd have been wrong.  

    I'm not someone who thinks school shouldn't be fun - but neither does school have to do everything.  My eldest actually gave up a lot of her outside interests when she started secondary because she has to leave home at 7.45 to get there, gets home at about 5 and has over 10 pieces of homework each week which she spends far too long on - she is too knackered to go to guides which she gave up and she also gave up the flute and which she also played in a local music group.   So really I think it can be the opposite - by trying to have a very broad curriculum all they've done is limit her musical ability and appreciation, and limit her social life.     

    Now for languages - well sorry but I can't get past the fact that 3 years of lessons plus what they did at primary it's a poor return if hardly any of the kids can hold a basic conversation.  I hear what you say about reading skills but I reckon I can speak more after listening to a cd language course in the car and I haven't spent 3 years on it.  It's just poor - you wouldn't accept it from other subjects - there has to be something going wrong as you go abroad and they typically have better language skills than our kids.    You talk about immersion in a language at a young age - maybe something more radical along those lines is what is needed - I'm not a linguist - how do other countries do it ?

  • E mmyE mmy ✭✭✭

    I honestly believe that we start teaching languages too late in the UK. Children need to start young and they can pick it up very quickly. In several european countries - parents send their children to different language nurseries to allow their children to pick up a second/third language (e.g. french/german/spanish).

    A friend's youngster is 6 and can already speak 3 languages fluently. That's how it should work (in my opinion)

  • I was about to say something very similar to Emmy. When we teach kids in school a languges a lot of the there brain has already developed so they are trying to think in a different way and it simply doesn't work. The UK is behind almost every other euopoan country in this regard.

    As for if it's inportant or not we are lucky in that most places in the world will have english speaker's in it. The worlds changing the uk isn't as much so if we want to keep the position we have internationally we need to be able to adapt and being able to talk and more inportantly understand other countries we need to be able to speak there languges.

  • In subjects like Music and Languages, it isn't particularly the subjects you learn that matter (Obviously we all need the obvious Maths and English) it's more about the ability to take in new information, process it, and to use it correctly that is the lifelong skill.

  • Total immersion is definitely the way to go - my kids started at 3 in a SureStart group and by the age of five had started learning Spanish - through the medium of Irish, which is incredible. I don't know how other European countries do it, but I do know that the Isle of Man was interested in copying this method of teaching in order to try to preserve the Manx language, which was in danger of dying out.

    Just out of interest, does anyone think that people in the UK have neglected language education because the rest of the world has been so good at English al these years?

    Is there an attitude among some English people that the rest of the world should speak English if they want to do business with us? Like an old colonial thing?

    I was in Spain once and had to queue behind an English gent who would not accept his change until the young Spanish shop assistant pronounced the numbers correctly, in English. It was horrible - but perhaps he was just a very old fashioned man with very out dated ideas.

  • E mmyE mmy ✭✭✭
    EKGO wrote (see)

    In subjects like Music and Languages, it isn't particularly the subjects you learn that matter (Obviously we all need the obvious Maths and English) it's more about the ability to take in new information, process it, and to use it correctly that is the lifelong skill.

    But if you start earlier - it's a lot easier to pick up. I also think it's a lot about what you're able to do. I've been living in Europe for the past 5 years and although a lof of people may not have a natural flair for languages - they still can speak 2/3 languages without too much difficulty. In Britain - we're lazy about teaching foreign languages to our children and it shows.

    When I first moved to Belgium - I went to a children's birthday party (8 year olds).... the kids could already hold a decent conversation with me in English (their parents were all flemish speakers so no real excuse to speak English at home). I was utterly amazed. 

  • I do think classroom music could be better taught.  We seem a bit scared of teaching the (slightly dull) technical stuff which would help people really understand music.  Teach students to read music and teach them about chords/keys, etc., then you can help them understand the similarities and differences between various pieces and genres so much better.  Otherwise it's a bit like expecting people to understand maths without making sure they can do basic arithmetic.

  • we sgould stop all the3 writing of languages in school for the first few years of learning a language.......

    it should all be about speaking the do not teach a baby to speak by making them write the words......teh speech comes first the written language latter.....

    in the weklsh schools  the 3/4 yr olds come in with the majority having limited half way through the nursey year there is no english being spoken in the classroom.........the children can do all their lessons and play in welsh......

    they then pick up other languages easier.

    i agree that starting languages in a comp school is a bit pointless.unless you make it all fun and spoken from the beginning when they start.

    my only problem with welsh is that their is 2 different GCSE' for those in welsh school and one for those in the english speaking school...............the first one is marked and is a tough like an english exam............the second language one is just like a foreign language ...a basic grasp is needed........

  • i definitely think they have to start learning a language earlier and concentrating on listening and speaking. but no-one is ever going to get that much out of a language studying it only in class for 2 or 3 lessons a week. especially when only focussed on getting a pass in the exam.  

  • Learning is all very personal, isn't it?  So many people, including many otherwise enlightened ones, still believe that there is one way to teach, and one way to learn, that everyone can learn everything...

    What use is the teaching of languages and music in schools?  What is the point in Maths learning?  Calculators, tills, petrol pumps, satnavs, computers, they all do the work for you.  Okay, if you really like maths and want to become an engineer or something then you could just learn it at home from your parents or a tutor, because the vast majority of students will grow up to never need or use it, and the vast majority of adults are useless at it anyway.  In Spain they can offer change in a second language, but here cashiers can't even figure it out in English!  There must be something wrong with the way we teach maths in this country.  What a waste of time!

    Don't even get me started on English Language or Literature, History, Geography.  What about PE??!!  What do they learn there?  A third of 11 year olds are overweight or obese!

    I don't know anything about teaching.  I know a fair bit about my own learning, and I enjoyed music and languages at school.  I do know that if I didn't enjoy something, I pretty much couldn't learn it.  Really, what was the point in Latin??  I came out of school not speaking any second language, but nowadays I can order dinner and do my shopping in French, find directions, and generally get by.  I have listened to language courses, but if I hadn't learned shopping lists in school I'd be lost for hours looking for things in the Hypermarkets.  So there was some benefit to the method, if not immediately.

    The difference has been mentioned, it's getting to actually speak.  I learned to speak another language starting after university, and am now fluent.  Bilingual.  In adulthood.  Because I had to speak that language, barriers came down in my head, and suddenly using schoolboy French wasn't anything to worry about.

    My children are bilingual from toddling.  Their vocabulary is not as complete but their pronunciation is much better, accented naturally.  They both went to school in Wales, and started learning Welsh in primary from four or five years old, but in an English medium.  They're still learning Welsh, they know some - they're both secondary now - but they can't speak it at all.  French though, well the older started learning that in secondary, and can hold a basic conversation, do shopping, get directions.  He's no better at French than many of his peers, but he's much better with French than Welsh.  Both of my children dislike Welsh.  They can't see the point.  (Even as a patriotic Welshman myself I'm beginning to agree...)

    I don't believe that being bilingual automatically makes it easier for you to learn other languages.  I've met bilinguals who were crap at both languages.  But I do believe that if you achieve success in that second language it can overcome barriers to learning others if that is what you are interested in, and that counts for adults as well as children.  I also don't believe that adults are worse at learning languages, but I do believe that children are able to mimic without embarassment - a huge advantage for learning orally.  If adults did that they would also learn languages very well.  Remember, it takes many years to learn your first language, and some people don't even manage that to GCSE standard.

    I do believe that the more that you learn the more capable you are of learning.  So learning music for the sake of music may not be worthwhile if you are not to become something in the music world, but it may be helping to open your mind to many other subje

  • [Cont.]...but it may be helping to open your mind to many other subjects, simply by providing another bit of knowledge in your brain, another hook for your memories and imagination.

    (Didn't realise it got cut off for being too long without warning you!)

  • Emmy - I agree, I think we start learning languages far too late in this country. Also, what would be wrong with getting the kids interested in music or films in another language instead of teaching them how to strike up improbable conversations with people in swimming pools*? I work for a European company and a lot of my colleagues say that watching things like Friends and listening to US/UK music when they were growing up helped improve their comprehension of English and gave them a level of interest in learning it beyond an hourly class twice a week.


    *my colleague brought in a 'learn English' textbook for beginners with the standard phrases such things teach you to say, and illustrated examples. One of the pictures was people in a swimming pool doing the whole "what is your name" "where do you live" level of introduction. If a strange man came up to me at a swimming pool and started asking me where I lived, I'd be a bit disconcerted image

  • RicFRicF ✭✭✭

    Music and learning to play instruments. Sheer inate ability is what counts here. You can practise all you like but it won't make the slightest bit of difference if you aren't born with the music gene. Why do you think some people can just play. Just show them where to put their fingers and away they go. 

  • RicF wrote (see)

    Why do you think some people can just play. Just show them where to put their fingers and away they go. 

    i'm sure all the ladies can relate to that.

  • RicF wrote (see)

    Music and learning to play instruments. Sheer inate ability is what counts here. You can practise all you like but it won't make the slightest bit of difference if you aren't born with the music gene. Why do you think some people can just play. Just show them where to put their fingers and away they go. 

    Which came first, the music, or the music gene?  Which evolutionary disaster meant that pianists arose to prominence?  I presume this isn't a gene we share with any other mammal, or did the banjo playing marmosets die out through inbreeding?

  • I'm pretty sure there's some research which suggests that if you do 10,000 hours of practice you will play an instrument well.  I suspect that talent is what takes you from playing well to playing brilliantly after the 10,000 hours.  If you look at the finalists in any major music competition (say BBC Young Musician) most of them started young and practise a lot.  None of them picked up their instrument a few months ago.  To my mind it's more that if you like something, you don't notice so much that it's taking work and effort to improve. 

  • I would agree with that. I have a natural ability for languages and was fluent in French in school. I was turned down for the German course because the teacher said I was only in the B class for Latin and would never learn German. I am now often mistaken for a native speaker - I learned German by living in the country, reading the papers, listening to the radio,watching TV, and talking to people. I really think it's an innate ability, my OH has lived here as long as I have and still has very rudimentary German languge skills. Everybody has different abilities - I am the first to admit I'm hopeless at maths, science and any kind of practical skill. OH is able to make and/or fix anything, something I cannot do at all.

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