Teach languages in the primary way!

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This year we are creating a series of blog posts to explore FAQs from our Primary Languages Network schools. In this post we begin to address the frequently asked question above. Just what does primary language teaching look like? Let’s start from the beginning.

Firstly, you may like to spend 10 minutes listening to this podcast. An informal discussion between two practicing primary languages’ teachers and myself. Emilie is a native speaker,primary French specialist and Joanne is a primary teacher with an MFL specialism: (listen below)

1.Create a learning environment where every child feels valued and a “citizen of the World”


In primary schools we can celebrate diversity in the whole school community through cultural assemblies, practising simple greetings from around the World, exploring and learning about songs and stories from other cultures.

We can look for similarities and differences and enjoy the language learning knowledge and skills of children with home languages. We can help open the door to the wider world for children who have limited experience.

A very practical primary launch to language learning is to create a corridor display, where children can introduce themselves and where the whole school can be proud of the shared and welcoming primary language learning enviornment in school.


2. Bring the target language country to life

It’s so important to see what the children know or not even be aware that they know about the target language country. It’s equally important to look for the similarities and the differences and celebrate these.

Find opportunities throughout your teaching to highlight links to the target language and the country/ies. For example highlight stories that are internationally loved (e.g. The Hungry Caterpillar or the Going on a Bear Hunt). Watch out for cartoons and characters from films and stories that children both in your class and in the target language country like.

Introduce the children to the food and festivals of the target language country/ies and build meaningful and age-appropriate visual displays to celebrate the target language, its culture and the country.Make with the help of your class a pictorial knowledge map for example to gather this knowledge as a display


Share the children’s explorations of the target language country and culture with your wider school community and celebrate the language and the culture of the country. Take advantage of the positives of the internet and Google Earth and then use of APPs to capture what you explore and learn.

The clip below would make a great addition to the intranet and welcome video in your school foyer

3. Educate the ear

Take time to play sound and action games to reinforce good pronunciation. Use techniques that you may already use for sound-spelling practice in Literacy . Revisit, repeat, build confidence in all your learners.


Use the internet,visitors from the community or your native speakers to introduce the children to the sound of the language or to reinforce pronunciation of core language.Go back and use resources more than once, tweaking the activity or adding challenge as you go. Remember children like to progress and they also like to start from a familiar and secure starting point. Don’t rush.


4. Start simple.

Primary languages is about all children growing in confidence and being keen and able to develop their own language learning skills and to want to explore languages further.

We really don’t know which language they may need in the future when they are adults.

Start with a song and a game and a focus on greeting each other for example. Primary colleagues reading this will know that eye contact and speaking out loud can in itself be a challenge for some young learners. Celebrate both the small and the big strides forward.

Don’t be afraid of repetition and for example singing the same song again and again over a period of lessons.

Build language learning into your classroom routines - why don’t you sing the songs as you line up outside to come in from outdoor play or PE or greet each other in the morning or after lunch in the target language?

5. Let the children explore

Primary languages means that we can make small steps forward into big and exciting challenges.

Look at how these two children are really focusing on a very simple paper counting board game with their German numbers 1-10. so much more is taking place than just counting in the target language. Rigour and pace in primary is not always about teacher led class activities focusing on core language. Keep it exciting, age appropriate, challenging and always a wonderful language learning adventure!

6.Think of primary approaches to learning

Primary approaches to listening,speaking , reading and writing really start in the primary classroom and with approaches that experienced primary colleagues use to explore all subjects.Literacy and natural links to literacy are very apparent when teaching primary languages. Yes, children may have their “French” thinking heads on for the lesson but the links can still be made , for example make the links with questions to the class : “Do you remember yesterday when we were looking at nouns….” or “Can we think of ways we use to try to remember our spellings?”.


Our Spanish stretchy balloon, to practise reading colours and sound-spelling is a primary favourite. It’s primary focus is sound -spelling. It engages children with memory skills and word association.It leads beautifully into our magical air writing and our special imaginary balloons in our favourite and least favourite colours. All part of the Y3 Autumn 1 Scheme of Work too.


Keep speaking “primary”. It’s not all about dialogues although as the children progress you will want to build their ability to talk about themselves and ask questions of others. For example, here we are using the class Numicon to speak aloud in pairs our French numbers and colours in the target language.

Reading and writing need to be “primary” in approach and expectations.

Keep these tasks purposeful and be mindful of all your learners and their needs.

We like to encourage children to be language detectives and to solve puzzles and find solutions. what is appropriate with Year 3 children may not be well received by beginners in Year 6 and consider also the audience.

Think about how can you pitch the activities appropriately for the age ,stage and interests of the class you are teaching primary languages. For example our superhero work goes down well with all ages and stages:

And when children make mistakes, especially when they are thinking both creatively and using the written target language, be primary in your approach to corrections.

Share ideas anonymously from work the children have created (see below) and use back in class to discuss options and choices. For example in this case,your follow up lesson could include “language detective” work using vocabulary reference tool ( bilingual dictionaries/ online tools) to check spellings of nouns- as a class, in groups or pairs.


Provide models of language as display to support your classes with target language and spend time in DT or Art creating with your class primary appropriate interactive displays and working walls.


Indeed just as you would be in other primary subject areas, be the facilitator of learning. Remember your primary learners are being encouraged to become independent and creative. Let them lead and share when appropriate.

Sometimes small steps forward provide giant all round learning gains.

Sing a song in French and revisit the months as in the example below and your class grows in confidence, has fun, practises memory skills, works as a team, follows the rhythm and beat and tune etcereta, etcetera. It’s not all about the new content acquisition.

Link your learning to the school calendar.

Why not revisit numbers and colours and link them for example to Autumn and harvest time?

Here are our two most recent seasonal specials blog posts to help you do this: Autumn language learning (numbers and colours), Autumn maths and fruit and vegetable harvests


Make purposeful links across the whole school curriculum.Begin to consider some limited cross-curricular links. Above we have seen how we can focus on colours in sound-spelling,speaking, games, reading , writing.

Now, here is an example of how we can make the link to Art . Picasso, faces and colours. It’s still all part of our Primary Languages Network Year 3 Autumn 1 focus on colour.

7.What will the “primary” teaching and learning look like when we progress from beginners and word level activities?

Last year we kept a running record for most of the year of work facilitated by primary languages teachers and produced by primary children , in KS1 and particularly in KS2. When you have time and are ready to move on, take a look here:

Making progress blog post series 2018-19.

And finally,remember if you are network members, then using our Click2Teach and BeCreative Schemes in French,German and Spanish you will be guided to teach appropriately for the age and stage if the primary learners.

You can also access advice and support from our Network Manager,Catherine.

Contact her here. Get in touch

Not a member yet? Interested? Book a virtual tour here