Youngsters make 'bee line' for Anglia Ruskin

Published: 28 June 2012 at 15:49

Competition aims to encourage language learning amongst children in England

The final of the Foreign Language Spelling Bee, a European Commission-sponsored programme to encourage language learning amongst children in England, will take place on Friday, 6 July.

Over 26,000 Year 7 pupils from across England have taken part in class, school and regional heats, with the remaining 102 due to battle it out in the national final at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. 

A European Commission study, released earlier this month, found that only 9% of pupils in England are classed as competent in their first foreign language compared to an average of 42% across the 14 EU countries surveyed, with Sweden and Malta scoring 82%.

The European Survey on Language Competences study examined the skills of 54,000 pupils aged 14-15 and found that England came bottom of the class with only 1% of pupils able to follow complex speech, compared with a European average of 30%.

Sarah Schechter, Project Manager of Routes into Languages East at Anglia Ruskin University, said:

“Learning a foreign language is such an important skill and has many economic as well as personal benefits. 
“The recent study by the European Commission suggests that 14 and 15-year-olds in England are underperforming compared to pupils elsewhere in Europe.  Holding fun competitions for younger children, such as the Foreign Language Spelling Bee for 11-year-olds, can help to foster a lifelong love of languages and hopefully go some way to correcting this imbalance.”

The Foreign Language Spelling Bee is a memory test and language competition rolled into one.  The pupils will have one minute to translate and spell aloud as many words as they can, from a memorised list in French, German or Spanish. 

As the Spelling Bee final heralds the start of the Big Weekend in Cambridge, with the Olympic torch arriving in the city on the evening of 7 July, all words being used in the national final at Anglia Ruskin will have a sporting theme, such as los Juegos Olimpicos (which is Spanish for the Olympic Games) or der meister (German for ‘the champion’).

The competition, which is one of the Routes into Languages East projects awarded a London 2012 Inspire Mark, is the brainchild of Cambridge teacher Jane Driver and has been extended across England and Wales by Routes into Languages, a consortium of universities working together with schools and colleges, to encourage pupils to study languages. 

Jane, of Hinchingbrooke School, and Rachel Hawkes, of Comberton Village College, run the national competition, together with Routes into Languages East at Anglia Ruskin.  The European Commission is generously sponsoring the trophies and refreshments and representatives will be there to award the prizes alongside Sheila Stuart, Mayor of Cambridge, and Dr Tony Morgan, Director of Routes into Languages East.

Professor Mike Kelly, Director of the Routes into Languages Programme, said:
“This has become a real national competition, which is motivating a lot of pupils to raise their level in languages.”