Our third instalment of our Meet the Publisher series is a conservation with Paolo Pini from French, Spanish and Italian scheme company Language Angels. You can check them out over on our three subject pages that list primary French, Spanish and Italian schemes.
Hi Paolo, can you start off by telling us how Language Angels started?
Language Angels started back in the early 2000s, when foreign language teaching first came to prominence at primary school level. We soon realised that schools and teachers had little or no support. There were piecemeal solutions, but nothing that covered all aspects of the curriculum. We set out to create a platform of ready-to-go classroom resources that would make life easier, and found there were two major problems in our primary schools.
Firstly, teachers were (understandably) wary of foreign language teaching. Perhaps they struggled with a certain language at school, and felt they couldn’t develop the skills to teach the subject with confidence. Or, they simply couldn’t contend with the stress of further training, on top of a workload that keeps on increasing. Then secondly - head teachers struggled to fill the skills gap. As you know, there’s a shortage of qualified language teachers and assistants – either for full time or visiting roles. On top of which – I don’t have to tell you – budgets are stretched to the limit.
Both problems seemed insurmountable, so we created Language Angels as a ready-made solution.
I can totally relate to those two pain points from my teaching experience. I'd like to ask what trends have you seen since you've been in the world of language teaching. For example, have French and Spanish always been the most popular MFL subjects?
The languages being taught has been quite consistent, with French and Spanish being the two main languages taught in the vast majority of primary schools we work with. There are some primary schools that teach other languages (including German, Italian, Mandarin, Portuguese and Latin) but they are a minority. The transferable skills between languages such as French and Spanish mean that primary schools can really ensure pupils are ready for secondary transfer even if they are unable to continue with the language they have learnt at primary phase.
In the ten years I've been teaching - and this is speaking anecdotally - I've noticed a slight drop in primary schools that have a dedicated language teacher. Hence why resources that a non-native speaker can use are more valuable than ever. What advice or tips can you give to teachers who might be hesitant at teaching a language for the first time?
We have a very clear aim at Language Angels – to ensure that as many primary school pupils as possible have the most enjoyable and effective foreign language learning experience possible at primary school. For us to be able to achieve this aim, we have to provide full support for the amazing teachers delivering lessons in primary school, many of whom may have limited knowledge or confidence in the foreign language they are being asked to teach. To deal with this reality, we have chosen to create a fully supportive platform of resources where absolutely everything a teacher needs to deliver a full foreign language curriculum (including audio files for full, accurate pronunciation support) is provided. This way we can deliver on our promise to teachers that they will be able to deliver a full foreign language curriculum as part of their normal teaching day, irrespective of their linguistic ability and without adding to their workload or stress levels.
I know you've got an Italian scheme too - I love the language! Unfortunately I've yet to come across a school that teaches Italian, which is a shame. What can you say to a school about the advantages of picking Italian as their MFL choice?
We never try to influence the choice of language schools decide to teach. We always say that they should pick the language the teachers will be most willing and comfortable to teach. After all, it is the enthusiasm of the teacher in the classroom that will make all the difference. We say that the three languages we offer (French, Spanish and Italian) are all very beautiful languages and are perfectly suited for primary phase and are very accessible for young language learners.
That makes sense. Finally, is there anything you've got coming up at Language Angels you'd like to tell us about?
We constantly run CPD sessions throughout the academic year. Our CPD is always free and always open to everyone - Language Angels users and non-users alike. We ran 4 x 1 hour upskilling webinars on Saturday mornings at the beginning of this school year covering the essential grammar concepts teachers should consider covering during the school year. We have more CPD planned for the half-term before Christmas where we will be looking at foreign language and vocabulary that can be used outside of the classroom and around the school. We will then be running more CPD later in the school year (suggestions for topics are always welcome!)
Thanks so much for your time Paolo!