Ballyclare High students 'instilling a love and passion for languages' in primary pupils

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A scheme which has seen grammar school students teach languages to primary school pupils in the Ballyclare area for almost a decade, is “instilling a love and passion” for French, German and Spanish.

The Language Leaders initiative, which sees Sixth Form students from Ballyclare High attend nearby primary schools to teach them about foreign languages, has been operating in the south Antrim town since the 2015/16 term.

Currently supporting pupils at Ballyclare Primary, Fairview Primary, Doagh Primary and The Thompson PS, the programme is set to be rolled out at other neighbouring schools in the next school year.

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Speaking to the Newtownabbey Times about the benefits of the scheme, Jonny Nelson, who leads the language outreach effort, stated: “We originally started the scheme around 2015/16 with Year 10 pupils after school.

Jonny Nelson pictured with the Language Leaders at Ballyclare High School. (Pic: Contributed).Jonny Nelson pictured with the Language Leaders at Ballyclare High School. (Pic: Contributed).
Jonny Nelson pictured with the Language Leaders at Ballyclare High School. (Pic: Contributed).

"However, it was then adapted to suit our Sixth Form Enrichment Programme which takes place in school every Thursday afternoon. We decided to run it for one year on a trial basis, but were blown away by the interest from our pupils and local primary schools. Since then, it has taken place every year, except during Covid, when school visits were not permitted.

"Currently, we send our enthusiastic Language Leaders to primary schools in the local area and wider community. This year, we were delighted to work with both Ballyclare Primary School and Fairview Primary School in the town itself, but we also send our Leaders to The Thompson Primary School in Ballyrobert and to Doagh Primary School.

"I am pleased to note that we have already had interest from other primary schools in the local area who wish to avail of the initiative in the next school year."

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Detailing what the programme involves, Mr Nelson said: “The initiative has been running for seven or eight years now. In terms of how long the sessions last at each school, this is a decision which is made by myself and the teacher contact in each primary school.

"Some schools opt for longer sessions with one particular class (up to 30 minutes per class), whereas others opt for smaller ‘blitz’ sessions of around 15 to 20 minutes, enabling our Leaders to deliver lessons to all classes in a particular year group, for example.

"We are so pleased that schools have chosen to invite our Leaders into a wide range of year groups, meaning that they get to work with primary pupils of all ages.

"We have been blown away by the positive feedback received from primary schools, primary pupils and even their parents. Primary schools have commented on how much fun their pupils have during the sessions and how organised and prepared our Leaders have been. Pair this with the outstanding opportunities the scheme affords our own pupils and it’s easy to see why it has been such a success so far.

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"Given the lack of Primary Languages on the current Northern Ireland Curriculum, and the nationwide decline in uptake of language students at GCSE and A Level, we feel that initiatives like our Language Leaders are helping us at Ballyclare High go against the trends.

"Our numbers at GCSE and A Level are very strong in Spanish, German and French. We believe that instilling a love and passion for languages in young learners is key, and we have the evidence to prove it works.

"We have another excellent group of Language Leaders currently in Year 13 who have completed their training this year and are keen to share their enthusiasm for all things languages next year.

"At present, the project doesn’t require a vast amount of funding as we complete the lesson preparation, creation and evaluation in school. We use the time afforded to our pupils on a Thursday afternoon to deliver the workshops in the early stages of Year 13 and then they are sent out, usually, when in Year 14. Funding would be welcomed and greatly appreciated as this would enable us to expand the resources we have, as well as reaching further into the local community.”

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The Ballyclare High School teacher was involved in a similar project when he was a pupil at Grosvenor Grammar School.

Commenting on his own personal experiences and how it helped to foster a love of languages, Mr Nelson explained: “As a pupil in Grosvenor Grammar School, I used to visit my former primary school one a week during Sixth Form to help with P4 and P6 classes.

"I was extremely lucky as the teachers allowed me to teach the classes Spanish for a short period at the end of the school day each week. It was then I realised how valuable teaching languages to our younger pupils really is.

"I don’t know of any similar projects operating here at present. I know that some schools had similar projects in the past, but these have since stopped. It would be wonderful if more post-primary schools delivered a similar scheme to spread the love for languages even further across the province.”

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Ballyclare High student, Melissa, who has been involved with the project, added: “For me, Language Leaders has been such a rewarding experience, especially if they haven’t had the opportunity to learn a new language before. I love being able to share my passion for languages with others.

"It can be a bit challenging juggling my own studies with the scheme, but I always manage to stay organised. My love for languages makes it easier to juggle the two.”