Government prioritizes teaching of foreign languages in context of Brexit
Targeted measures for improving fluency, immersion and the number of languages taught
The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, T.D. today (Wednesday the 22nd of August) announced a 25% increase in the number of Foreign Language Assistants, bringing the total number available to schools from this September, to 140. These additional Foreign Language Assistants are being provided to schools to enhance and support the teaching and learning of Spanish, German, French and Italian in the classroom.
The government have committed to doubling the number of Foreign Languages Assistants available to schools by 2026 under their Foreign Languages Strategy, launched last year by Minister Bruton. Today’s announcement marks significant progress towards achieving that goal.
In the context of Brexit and the increasing importance globally of non-English speaking countries, Minister Bruton is taking action to ensure Ireland is well prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. Once the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, Ireland will be one of only two English speaking countries in the Union. The government are committed to ensuring Ireland is prepared for a changed European dynamic.
The role of the Foreign Language Assistant is to support foreign language teachers in promoting a communicative approach to the teaching of the language. The scheme is reciprocal, also allowing Irish students or qualified teachers to act as English language Assistants to spend time teaching in other countries.
The fluency and authenticity of the Assistants as native speakers should enable them to:
- help students to understand the spoken language;
- encourage students to speak the foreign language (suggested activities: pair-work, role-play, games, competitions etc.) and to improve their pronunciation;
- encourage and assist students in reading authentic and fictional written texts appropriate to their level;
- give students a better understanding of the way of life and customs of the foreign country.
The Foreign Languages Strategy commits to encouraging more schools to take part in the scheme and to seek to expand the range of languages to which the scheme will apply. Minister Bruton strongly encouraged schools who are not currently participating in the scheme to consider applying for an Assistant in the future.
Announcing the additional assistants, Minister Bruton said “If we want to have the best education and training service in Europe by 2026, we must make the teaching and learning of foreign languages a key priority. Brexit and the increasing importance of non-English speaking countries globally, mean that English-speaking countries such as our own, will need to put a new found importance on foreign languages in order to excel in the modern world.”
Notes to Editor
The Foreign Language Assistants scheme currently allows post-primary schools to apply to host a native speaker of French, German, Spanish or Italian from 1 October to 31 May each year. The scheme is designed to assist students enrolled in participating schools to appreciate a foreign language as a living language and not just a ‘school language’. Assistants are assigned to schools generally from 1st October to 31st May, and are paid a monthly allowance. They are normally timetabled for 12 hours per week over four days.
The number of Assistants in schools during the 2017/18 school year was 110 and this will increase to approximately 140 for the coming school year, covering the same number of schools.
The Foreign Languages Strategy sets out a roadmap to put Ireland in the top ten countries in Europe for the teaching and learning of foreign languages, through 100 actions targeted at improving efficiency, diversity and immersion. A Foreign Languages Advisory Group (FLAG) has been established to oversee and drive implementation of the strategy, including increasing awareness of the benefits of language learning. Other areas where progress is being made under the strategy include:
- An Audit of foreign language provision in schools has been completed by the Post-Primary Languages Initiative (PPLI);
- New Junior Cycle subject specifications for Modern Foreign Languages (French, German, Spanish and Italian), which have an increased emphasis on oral language and project work, have been introduced to schools and will be examined for the first time in 2020;
- Junior Cycle short courses in Chinese Language and Culture, Japanese, Russian, Polish as a heritage language and in Lithuanian as a heritage language have been made available to schools and support one of the main aims of the strategy, which is to diversify the range of languages available to students in post-primary school. The Polish course is currently being piloted by the PPLI, and the Lithuanian course will be piloted from September 2018 in schools that have expressed an interest;
- Korean will be introduced as a TY module in a number of schools for the first time from September 2018, with teachers deployed by the PPLI to the schools;
- The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) will commence work on developing a subject specification for Leaving Certificate Mandarin Chinese in autumn 2018, for introduction to schools in September 2020;
- Leaving Certificate subject specifications for heritage languages (Lithuanian, Polish and Portuguese) – aimed at mother-tongue speakers of these languages, will also be developed by the NCCA for introduction to schools from September 2020;
- Support to teachers who wish to upskill in languages that they are not currently teaching.
Further details regarding the 2018 Foreign Language Assistant Scheme are available on the Department of Education and Skills website:
The Foreign Languages Strategy is also available on the Department’s website at: