Routes into Language – the Foreign Language Spelling Bee

languages17:47 Wednesday 18th November 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: My next guest is a Cambridgeshire language teacher, who has started a national petition to try to save a project, under threat she says from spending cuts. Two years ago Jane Driver was on the show with one of her students to talk about the Foreign Language Spelling Bee which she created and has watched and helped develop. She’s here now to tell us more. Jane, welcome back.
JANE DRIVER: Thank you.
CHRIS MANN: So the Foreign Language Spelling Bee is what?
JANE DRIVER: It is a spelling Bee project, but for spelling into the foreign language. So it’s there to develop students’ knowledge of phonics, of pronounciation, of basic grammar, when they begin secondary school in their language learning.
CHRIS MANN: You’re the Head of Language at the Voyager Academy in Peterborough, and your little idea has reached 75,000 students last year. That’s incredible.
JANE DRIVER: Yes, it is incredible. It started with a very small pilot here in the Eastern Region, and it’s grown at a huge rate each year. So year on year we have more and more pupils participating in the competition. And this is only one of the projects that Routes into Languages funds and collaborates with teachers and students.
CHRIS MANN: So a simple idea. Is there anything complicated in it, or do you just have to spell?
JANE DRIVER: There’s nothing complicated in it. So each student gets one minute to correctly translate and spell in the foreign language as many words as possible. It sounds very simple, but these students get up to about 20 words within a minute, which is quite incredible.
CHRIS MANN: In English, never mind another language. (THEY LAUGH) So what sort of age groups?
JANE DRIVER: They’re all Year 7s, so they’re eleven to twelve year old students that take part in Spelling Bee. But Routes funds projects that spread across the whole range of secondary and college, and into university as well.
CHRIS MANN: Languages, now there’s an issue here, because it’s always felt that it’s too easy for us. We go abroad and everybody else speaks English, so we don’t bother. Do we make enough effort in our schools?
JANE DRIVER: We do in schools. We make an effort. I think it is a difficult effort to make, because there is that perception in Britain that actually the whole world all speaks English. And you know as well as I do that that isn’t true. And if you look at statistics and figures, actually only a small minority of the world actually speak English. And if you look at studies by organisations like the British Council, it tells us quite clearly that we are in a crisis situation in Britain. We are short of linguists. And British business needs linguists who actually compete with other countries around the world.
CHRIS MANN: Karen who was our guest slightly earlier, you met Karen, Karen Bashir who’s organised this candlelit walk tonight to mark terror attacks that have happened. She’s of Pakistani background, is American, lives here. But she speaks a host of languages including Arabic and Urdu and others. I suppose she might be common of the people that have got lots of languages, who grew up in Britain . It’s the background perhaps that’s important, the parentage.
JANE DRIVER: Yes. And I think it’s important that we spread that message that languages, learning languages is a really valuable skill, and help that we can get as schools and as department leaders and teachers to actually get our students into universities, get them working collaboratively with other schools, with other students, with university students and outside stakeholders like business people, to spread that message that actually languages is something that we need to be developing in our country, to improve our economy, but also to help us in social situations.
CHRIS MANN: So everything .is proceeding well, your idea taking off, 75,000 people using it. And then, and it’s funded through Routes into Language ..
CHRIS MANN: .. which is a Government scheme?
JANE DRIVER: That’s right. It’s a Government funded organisation that runs across the country, based at universities in each of the regions in England and Wales. And they fund a number of projects in all areas of the curriculum linked to languages. So leadership, they do projects with languages and football, with Norwich FC, is one in our region. Poetry, literacy, maths, they work with careers to help students to understand where languages can take them career-wise.
CHRIS MANN: So if that’s cut, what will happen do you think?
JANE DRIVER: Well if that is cut, than we are faced with a real issue. And since starting the petition just over a week ago we’ve got nearly 1,000 signatures already. And we really need to get people to get behind this decision.
CHRIS MANN: The petition is part of this new democratic process where you can go on actually a parliamentary website can’t you?
JANE DRIVER: That’s right.
CHRIS MANN: And let the Government know that people feel strongly about a particular subject.
JANE DRIVER: Absolutely. Because if we don’t get some funding from Routes into Languages in some form then these projects simply won’t be able to run. Or they’ll be picked up by sponsors, and I’m really against any charging for schools for these projects, and especially the Spelling Bee, which is something that I created. Fundamentally my own moral issue prevent me from asking schools to pay, because I think as soon as you put a cost on something, schools, especially in challenging and deprived areas, cannot pay. And therefore we’re disadvantaging those students, and I don’t agree with that at all.
CHRIS MANN: What’s been the reaction from schools that you deal with.
JANE DRIVER: Well the fact that we have 1,000 signatures on the petition immediately and lots of the tweets that are coming out on Twitter and the messages on Facebook that people are really concerned. And this is across the country, not just in the East of England.
CHRIS MANN: Sounds like you care.
JANE DRIVER: I do care very passionately about this, because I see the impact that it has on the learners. Our young people need aspirations. They need to understand where education can take them in the future, and they need to understand what options are available to them. And Routes into Languages is a really good organisation for bringing those aspirations to reality.
CHRIS MANN: OK. If you want to know more, and want to see your petition, how do they find out about it?
JANE DRIVER: So you can Google the petition. It’s called “Stop the government cutting funding to Routes into Languages.”
CHRIS MANN: A handy little title that.
JANE DRIVER: A handy little title, and it is on the Government website.
CHRIS MANN: It’s . OK. Interesting to chat to you Jane. Let us know how that goes. Much obliged. That’s Jane Driver who is Head of Language at the Voyager Academy, and talking there about the Foreign Language Spelling Bee.