Modern Foreign Languages

Updated 21st September 2023

Discovering Language at Firs Primary School


At Firs Primary School we have decided to implement an alternative approach to the teaching of languages in Key Stage 2.  We have moved away from the traditional single language model of Modern Foreign Language teaching and are implementing the Discovering Language approach.

What is the Discovering Language Program?

The Discovering Language Program is based upon the ‘Language Awareness’ vision of language learning set out by Professor Eric Hawkins in his 2005 paper in the ‘The Language Learning Journal’.  It was developed by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) with support from the Esmee Fairburn Association.

Hawkins proposed that language learning should fall into two stages; stage 1 (5-14 years) should be ‘educational foreign language learning’, followed by ‘instrumental’ language learning in stage 2 (14-19).

Discovering Language aims to meet the requirements of Hawkins’ stage 1, educational language learning which includes:

  • ‘Training of the ear’
  • Grammar study and analysis of patterns
  • Focus on meaning
  • Intercultural encounters and immersion experiences
  • An accessible ‘apprenticeship’ language e.g. Spanish instead of French!

It is an adaptable, multilingual model which can be delivered by non-specialists.  In Discovering Language, pupils have the opportunity to study 4 or more languages from a variety of language families, as well as non-language specific modules (generic studies of language features), which enable children to become aware of similarities and differences between languages as well as developing their understanding of the origin and purpose of language.

What are the benefits of Discovering Language instead of the typical single language model studied at a primary level?

  • The development of knowledge and understanding of how ‘language’ works, preparing pupils for learning different languages in Key Stage 3 (pupils from Firs Primary move to a range of different secondary schools which offer different languages at Key Stage 3 and 4. Several offer Spanish, which under the previous ‘French only’ model at Firs Primary School the children would have had no experience of).
  • Each language introduced builds sequentially on pupils’ knowledge of grammar, patterns and language learning strategies.
  • The opportunity to be delivered flexibly in schools, integrated within a well-planned, ambitious primary curriculum – it is possible to link language learning to the topics being studies, providing more opportunities for meaningful cross-curricular link e.g. studying Latin in the year in which Romans and Greeks are studied in history.
  • An adaptable, multilingual model which can be delivered by non-specialists. This is important because, unlike in secondary schools, primary teachers are rarely specialists in language teaching and so lack the subject knowledge to teach one modern foreign language in the depth required over four years.  Teachers effectively learn alongside the children – encouraging children to view language learning as a desirable and lifelong skill.
  • An opportunity to celebrate and admire the linguistic footprint of our school community and ensure the curriculum reflects the local context – we have been able to include three of our community languages into our bespoke model; Russian, Roma and Slovak.
  • Valuable experience of language learning whilst developing strategies to decode meanings of new languages.
  • Multi-media and community resources can support the teaching of new languages.
  • Mixed-age rolling program planning will be facilitated by language change.
  • All KS2 teachers are literacy trained and can utilise their grammatical knowledge to make links between languages and enhance vocabulary acquisition.
  • A broad and rich curriculum experience given to pupils through learning several languages and cultures.
  • Substantial progress in one language can still be reached in Year 6 using specialist input from a bilingual teaching assistant.
  • Language changes, when pupils move between schools and teachers move between year groups, will be less of an issue. This is particularly important for our school which has significantly above average levels of pupil transience.  This means that many pupils arrive at different points within key stage 2, with varying levels of foreign language experience.
  • Languages can be chosen according to staff expertise, community needs, curriculum links, available resources and KS3 transition.
  • Research suggests that pupils with ‘language awareness’ backgrounds are more positive about learning languages and more likely to go on to study languages beyond Key Stage 4.


 Which languages are taught at Firs Primary School, and how are they chosen?


Latin is studied for one year in lower key stage 2. As an ancient language the focus is to provide a “linguistic foundation for reading comprehension and an appreciation of classical civilisation” (National Curriculum).

The study of Latin provides many opportunities for the study of etymology (word origins) which supports spelling and vocabulary in the English language.  It also enables teachers to build upon cross-curricular learning opportunities arising from historical study of the Greek and Roman civilisations.

German (this is in our current topic cycle)

German is studied for one year in lower key stage 2.  This language was chosen as it is from the Germanic language family and has close links with the English language, providing opportunities for further study of etymology.  It is a frequently studied foreign language with a wide range of available teaching resources.  The school has also made links with a partner school in Osnabruck – Derby’s twin city, which means that the children will have meaningful opportunities to practice their written German when writing to German pupils.


Spanish is studied for one year in UKS2.  This ensures that pupils have a basic foundation in Spanish preparing them for further study of the language should they go on to study it at Key Stage 3.  Spanish is taught in several of the local secondary schools.  Spanish is also considered more accessible than French as it is phonically regular.  There are a wide range of teaching resources available to support the teaching of Spanish.

Russian (this is in our current topic cycle)

Russian is taught over one year in UKS2 in greater depth than the other languages studied.  The school are lucky enough to employ a Russian speaking teaching assistant, with a ‘Teaching Russian as a Foreign Language Qualification’, who delivers Russian lessons with the support of qualified teachers.  Russian has been chosen at it provides the children with the opportunity to study a language using a different alphabet, as well as being a local community language.  This enables us to build on the knowledge that some of our pupils already have about Russian language, culture and traditions.


Here you will find a gallery of work and video clips of children’s learning in MFL.

Contact Us

Firs Primary School
Raven Street
DE22 3WA
Telephone: 01332 346230
Fax: 01332 200782

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