Next Thursday sees the launch of the Junior Language Challenge. For those who haven’t heard of it, which I’m guessing is most people, the JLC is a national language learning competition for children under 11, run by the company I work for, EuroTalk. It’s also probably my favourite thing about my job (and we get free breakfasts and have an office puppy), and something I would have loved to be able to do when I was at primary school, given half a chance.
The JLC isn’t a new thing; EuroTalk’s been running it now for over ten years, and I’ve been involved for about seven. And every year, I’m disappointed with the lack of children taking part from Kent. I might work in London, but I was born in Maidstone, I grew up in Chatham and I’ve lived in Greenhithe now for five years. I’m a Kent girl through and through, and I’d love to see more local schools getting involved. Well, if I’m being honest, I’d like to see us producing the winner, but let’s not get carried away. That can wait till next year…
So, what’s so great about the JLC? Well firstly, the children love it, and it gets them really excited about languages. In the past we’ve had them learning everything from Spanish to Kazakh, German to Chichewa. Not because we think they’re likely to need Chichewa in the future (it’s the language they speak in Malawi, in case you were wondering) but because if they know they can learn Chichewa, suddenly French won’t seem so daunting. It’s also a lot more fun to take part in a competition, against your friends and kids from around the country, than sitting in a classroom reciting vocabulary.
That leads me to reason number two. Having pupils who actually want to learn a language makes life a lot easier for teachers, especially stressed out teachers who’ve been told that from September they have to teach a foreign language and don’t have the first clue how to begin. The JLC is all computer-based; EuroTalk provide all the software and do all the work, so teachers just need to register the children taking part and then sit back and watch them learning and having fun.
Finally, the JLC is a charity project. It costs £5 per child to enter, which all goes to support education in developing countries. This year, we’re donating the money to onebillion, which is a new charity that develops apps to teach basic reading, maths and literacy to children who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn. If just one child from every primary school in Kent took part, we could raise nearly £3,000, which would go a long way. The JLC champion wins a family trip to Africa, where they’ll get the opportunity to see what the money’s doing. The 2013 winner’s heading to Malawi later this year with her mum, dad and brother.
So come on, Dartford. Let’s set the ball rolling and show the rest of Kent how it’s done… If you’re a teacher, please consider if this is something you could introduce at school. If you’re a parent, would you be willing to mention it to your child’s school?
A bit more info: the competition’s made up of three rounds; the first runs from this Thursday until the end of the summer term, the second from June to September, when we’ll hold regional semi-finals to decide who goes on to the grand final, which is in London in October. There’s a different language to learn for each round, and this year the children will be starting with Italian.