A teacher with more than 30 years experience has kickstarted a campaign to transform language learning across the nation in post-Brexit Britain. Staff journalist Holly Harrison speaks to founder of educational programme Speak Like a Native to discover the true trick to learning a new language.
“If we are able to acquire our first language we are able to learn another one. It’s just a matter of time.”
Stuart Rubenstein is an experienced teacher and language specialist, boasting a thriving career teaching people across the world to learn a new language.
For more than 30 years, Stuart has travelled the length and breadth of the globe helping people learn to speak English, but his quest has now brought him back to British shores with a rather stark message:
“The rest of the word has learned how to learn a language but we haven’t. Maybe it’s because people think that as long as everyone speaks English we’re ok, but the reality is that monolingual English speakers will be at the back of the queue [when it comes to employment].
“The standard of learning is so high around the world that UK children are completely overshadowed.
“They are applying for jobs but only have English on their CVs, and they’re up against people who have been chasing to get English and they’ve got that; but they’ve gone on to get Spanish and German too. Our children are really disadvantaged. It’s happening now and it’s only going to get worse and worse.”
In a bid to get British children up to speed, Stuart has set up a new enterprise called Speak Like a Native, which looks at language learning for five to 11-year-olds in a whole new way.
Stuart explained: “It’s all about working with tasks, activities, and games. We engage the child with what they are trying to achieve. For example, the tasks will include playing Twister, or cooking.
“If it’s Twister, they want to win or take part, so you find they will work out what the word for hand or foot is, or red or yellow, if they want to take part. It’s the same child but a different language. If they like playing a game in English, they will like playing it in Spanish.”
Speak Like a Native strives to take the formulaic approach out of language learning, and instead mimic the way people learn to speak as toddlers.
As humans, we are made to communicate with each other, and Stuart believes that it is simply a matter of being immersed in a language, and developing problem solving skills.
He said: “The children act as problem solvers and get on with the job in hand. Bit by bit they start naturally putting the target language into their own speech. We allow them to talk in English and they start adding in Spanish or French as they go.
“Other countries learn like this from a young age.”
Stuart explains that the British approach to language learning is different from other countries that use a more cross-curricular approach that boosts exposure to a new language, as well as being more time effective.
With people across Europe spending hours a week learning English and other languages from a very early age, Stuart is warning education leaders that British children are falling far behind.
He said: “For KS1 and KS2 the requirement is for 45 minutes of language learning a week. Children around the rest of the world have bilingual education where they learn subjects like maths and science in a different language. We are miles and miles behind.”
“We can’t change the world immediately but we will bit by bit. The aim is to get children doing an hour of language learning a day.”
In an effort to make this aim a reality, Speak Like a Native is going into schools across the London area to hold special language learning clubs that offer children fun, engaging activities, and the opportunity to learn a valuable life-long skill.
Children are encouraged to take part in a range of activities that are all carried out in the school’s target language, which is chosen from French, Spanish, German, or Mandarin.
So far, the scheme has enjoyed fantastic success, and has been welcomed as a valuable opportunity by schools, parents, and children alike.
Stuart said: “We’re offering language classes with a difference. We present meaningful tasks that they love and help them learn the language.
“At one of the sessions a lad aged around nine or 10 came up to us and said he really enjoys the sessions because it feels like when you’re on holiday at a kids’ club, but it’s all in another language. That’s exactly it - exactly what we’re trying to achieve. Languages aren’t academic subjects - it’s just the way we communicate to get on with what we want to do.
“You don’t teach children to swim so they represent the nation in the Olympics, you do it so they don’t drown. It’s the same with languages.”
Stuart is now calling on schools to get in touch and work with Speak Like a Native to provide life-changing opportunities that bring their pupils up to speed with other children across the world.
“You can go to a really small village outside Cape Town and find a child who can speak two languages because they have to. That capacity to learn is always there,” Stuart explained.
“However, the KS1 and KS2 curriculum doesn’t leave much room for anything other than literacy and numeracy, and children pick that up anyway.
“If you go to a school in Spain they do all the same subjects as we do, but they do them in English.”
At a time when international relations are beginning to enter unchartered boundaries, Stuart believes now is the time to act to equip future generations with valuable transferrable skills, as well as the opportunity to travel the world and communicate with people across the globe.
He said: “It’s about learning skills in communication, problem solving and decoding, as well as building confidence - whether its for short-term benefits now or for the long term.
“The world will be a very different place when today’s primary school children are beginning their careers. Language learning is the key to that.
“We will be living in a post-Brexit Britain, but I know I want my children to feel that their talents can taken them to wherever they want to go.”