Learning a Language – Lighting a Spark in the Prep/Junior years

Nichola Tidman

Modern Foreign Languages Lead (Infant and Junior Division), The King’s School, Macclesfield

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Although our world seems more connected than ever – social media, constant news streams, WhatsApp etc, it can feel as if we as humans are more disconnected than ever.  We become islands (in the UK literally as well as metaphorically) and it sometimes seems we prefer it that way. This is where languages are so important. They build bridges between communities and countries, giving us an insight into ‘otherness’ and allowing us to learn about each other; both our differences and similarities.

Learning a language isn’t just about grammar tables and lists of vocabulary.  It is also learning about cultures and traditions that we might not have direct experience of.  There is so much to learn about the world and the people in it.  Language learning from the earliest age gives our children an awareness that they are part of a global community and inspires them to travel and see the world for themselves, hopefully not just as a tourist looking at the curated parts of a country but wanting to immerse themselves and see the real parts. It also opens a wealth of opportunity in terms of careers and what they might achieve.

In the Infant & Junior Division at The King’s School in Macclesfield, we teach languages from the get-go when pupils join us aged 3 years of age. Our very smallest children learn through games, stories and songs and we discuss, for example, how Spanish isn’t limited to Spain, but countries in South America and even North American states.  Every classroom in the Infant & Junior Division has a language display, its own mini library and a variety of resources so that our pupils see modern foreign languages as a daily part of their school life, not just a once-a-week lesson that they forget about in between.

Our Infant and Junior staff are encouraged to use as much of the languages taught as they feel comfortable with; taking the register in French or asking children to sit down in Spanish.  They have been supported by our specialist staff to learn basic language through Development Day (Inset) training sessions, helping to build confidence. Curriculum lessons, language clubs in Spanish, French and Japanese provide a rich variety of experiences for all ages within the Infant & Junior Division. These experiences, combined with celebrating the beautifully varied cultural backgrounds of our pupils and their families, helps to create a rich experience for every pupil aged 3-11 at King’s as many other European and world languages are explored.

To compliment and harness deeper understanding, the Division has embraced the principles and teaching of the wonderful WoLLoW (World of Languages, Languages of the World) programme. Strands are being taught in language lessons, mirroring those in the Senior Division, and pupils also have access to learning more in WoLLoW as an extra-curricular opportunity. This way, we are introduced to Greek, Mandarin, Urdu, Ukrainian, Polish and Farsi to name a few.

As Prep and Junior school practitioners, it is a complete privilege to open the windows of opportunity wide and brightly to our pupils through language learning, as they journey through their education with us aged 3-11, and then on to their senior experience. Promoting languages helps to build friendships, cultural awareness, and respect, combined with massive opportunities for the future on a professional level. It is incumbent on us all to keep learning a language burning brightly in our schools, and at King’s Macclesfield we are proud to do this as we celebrate the world we live in and the uniqueness of every pupil in our wonderful school community.


26 September 2023