Background to language teaching in UK schools

1.1 L1 English

1960s: the death of traditional grammar in English in most schools. `Should traditional grammar be ended or mended?’ (Chomsky: Educational Review 1969 – pro mending). For this history, click here.

Now: `The overwhelming majority of teachers in the UK concede that attention to grammar and to the forms of language has been neglected.’ (Carter 1996) Worse still, most teachers know very little about language structure.

Positive developments:

  • Official acceptance of non-standard dialects and dialect vs accent.
  • General acceptance of linguistics as important (but hard!).
  • Language Awareness (and the Association for Language Awareness) – acceptance of need for a general awareness of what language is like and for links between first and second languages in education.
  • KAL (Knowledge About Language) – acceptance of the need to teach explicitly about language structure.
  • `Oracy’ – acceptance of spoken language as important and a concern for how to teach speaking and listening.
  • Genre – acceptance that many varieties exist and are `valid’.
  • Acceptance of multi-lingual classrooms and the importance of pupils’ home languages.
  • A-level English language (and linguistics).
  • An agreed model of language levels: word – sentence – text.

1.2 L2 French, etc.

1970s: `Grammar-translation’ methods replaced by `Communicative’ methods.

  • Now: Grammar teaching has been reinstated as an essential component of language teaching thanks to the revised National Curriculum (1999). and the QCA revised definitions for public exams.
    • At GCSE, at least 20% of marks are given for grammatical accuracy.
    • At AS/A level, at least 25% of marks are given for grammatical accuracy and students are expected to know about the grammar of the language.
  • But meanwhile the number of students taking traditional European foreign languages is steadily declining (for more information, see the survey of press reports at CILT).

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