February 25, 2024

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Learning math, science, or art in a foreign language: Why it motivates students

Learning math, science, or art in a foreign language: Why it motivates students

Pascal listenersProfessor of PRAG at the University of Orleans, University of Orleans

This article has been republished Conversation Under Creative Commons License. Read onOriginal article.


In third grade, 75% of students struggle to make themselves understood and generally produce correct spoken language in English (73% in Spanish, 62% in German). Compared to other European countries, according to the last major SurveyLong study from 2012France ranks last.

The reasons for this situation are many: The training of primary school teachers is inadequate Report CNESCO notes that 80% of them (in 2016) reported not having followed any training in foreign languages ​​in the previous five years.

But the reasons also lie in a social order: our centralized government insists on mastery of the French language. Small space for other languages ​​and development of multilingualism It allows you to master foreign languages. The protectionism of the French-speaking world and the formal dubbing of most cartoons, movies and documentaries offered to French people do not help the English language learners of other countries in Europe who are more exposed to.

Linguistic factors must also be considered: characteristics of the English language, especially the phonology that differs greatly from French, can be explained. French’s difficulties in mastering foreign languages ​​and English.

In primary school, new language teaching method from 2020

Faced with this observation, we can ask ourselves: Shouldn’t we start learning English in elementary schools and provide more hours of foreign language instruction?

Comparisons show that French primary school programs that start learning English at age 6 in CP and impose a minimum of 1 hour to 1.5 hours per week between CP and CM2 are within the European average. Also, the idea that “you need to learn a foreign language quickly” to succeed has become a myth and has been documented. Research. Instead of “younger” or “older”, it is better to ask the question “how” to learn foreign languages.

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The Ministry of National Education has been paying more attention to this issue since 2018 and issued an order Report CNESCO then led the way by setting up the conference 10 recommendations A publication from and to scientists A guide to teaching modern foreign languages ​​from school to high school.

A new step was taken by creating at least one in 2020 “CLIL School”Provision of integrated teaching of a subject in a foreign language by sector: This includes provision of subjects in a foreign language in mathematics, physical education and sports, art or science, as is done in the European section of the high school for these primary schools. Since the 1990s.

Of the 120 “refusal letters” sent to parents from Versailles, Attal declares, “55 seem to raise questions.”

France is making progress compared to other European countries and especially its neighbor Spain, which has massively developed a CLIL (content language integrated learning) approach from primary school since the 2000s. Request, understood as a creation Bilingual “CLIL School” It will be an attractive factor for parents in their municipality.

The system of “CLIL schools” has continued to grow in France since its creation in 2020. We currently do not trace data at the national level, but regional data. For example, in the Centre-Val de Loire region there were between 2 and 9 “CLIL schools” per department in June 2023.

Highly engaged students

So, can we believe that learning other fields in a foreign language will have positive effects on the language level of French students? For now, as Stephanie Roussel explains in her work, research in this sense cannot be concluded A cognitive approach to language teaching. To answer this, researchers need to refine their analytical tools, define precisely what we want to measure when we talk about “language status,” and develop studies in elementary schools.

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In our laboratory, the Environments and Actors Group of the Educational Research Group (ÉRCAÉ – EA7493), we are three teachers and researchers moving in this direction by starting a Exploratory research For the period January 2023-June 2024. By observing and exchanging with teachers in our region, we have so far been able to observe the beneficial effects of CLIL that go beyond language skills. Often exposed to English, children show more engagement and less fear when faced with this foreign language.

CLIL system in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne (Maurienne TV, 2018).

In subjects where they participated less for fear of making mistakes, for example mathematics, CM1 and CM2 students were more engaged when the lesson was in a foreign language. Many school teachers also testified that their students were more attentive when teaching English. More focus and dedication, so we can assume that their results will improve.

How can we explain that foreign languages ​​can make progress in “non-linguistic” fields and knowledge such as mathematics and science? ? This is contrary to a widespread idea, leading many parents and teachers to say that students should be able to tackle a subject in a foreign language, as this would add extra difficulty to the student.

Encourage cognitive flexibility

On the contrary, we can postulate some hypotheses to explain why using a foreign language to teach non-linguistic content can help students succeed in it. All the teachers we followed testified that teaching in English made them think more about ways to make students understand concepts.

Starting from the principle that the foreign language is a barrier, they lined up other methods, more visual, more expressive, and more progressive; When they teach in French, mistakenly, they themselves feel that the students will understand, which is not always the case, because the problem is that the language used is not so much in the way that the students understand.

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As for the children, they, too, immediately realized that they did not understand and could be seen paying more attention than not when the lesson was going on in French. Easy.

Other psychological factors undoubtedly explain why a foreign language facilitates learning. As we observe In bilingual children, switching between languages ​​promotes cognitive flexibility, i.e. the ability to move from one task to another, adapt one’s strategies, and hence learn. We also know that we need to use words to access concepts. The more languages ​​we speak, the more we communicate, and the more children have access to concepts that activate knowledge.

If it seems normal for a child to say in front of the whole class that you don’t understand when a lesson is given in English, the teacher will undoubtedly try to help the student in other ways; If you say in front of your classmates that you didn’t understand what Master or Mistress explained in French, that’s a different story…