Pupils as young as three taught French and Spanish

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CHILDREN at all of Edinburgh’s council nurseries are set to be taught modern ­languages for the first time.

Lessons will be piloted at nurseries across Edinburgh ahead of a city-wide rollout over the next three years.

Chloe Boucquemont, from Reims in France, with Cillian Scott, three, left, and Safa Zaman, four. Picture: Esme Allen

Chloe Boucquemont, from Reims in France, with Cillian Scott, three, left, and Safa Zaman, four. Picture: Esme Allen

The move is aimed at boosting low uptake of languages other than English, with youngsters here trailing far behind counterparts in Europe and around the world.

Children usually join council nurseries at the age of three, although teachers said there was no reason why some could not receive lessons even earlier.

And while the pilot is limited to mainstream European languages including French and Spanish, school staff hope to extend it to fast-growing minority tongues such as Mandarin and Polish.

Jackie Reid, headteacher at Leith Walk Primary, one of the pilot schools, said: “This is an immersion in language experience – it’s about convincing children that language development is a life skill.

“We’re offering French at nursery level but if, for example, there was someone in the school who speaks another language, they would be able to help out with the participation of staff. We already run Polish and Punjabi homework clubs – it’s about using the community resources that we have.”

Leith Walk is one of ten city primaries which are hosting the pilot, although education bosses stress all of Edinburgh’s school clusters are preparing to implement the initiative over the next three years. The new lessons are being offered as part of the Scottish Government’s “1+2” policy, which aims to ensure every child masters the basics of two additional languages by the time they leave primary school.

“The kids at Leith Walk are doing it in small groups – for maybe ten to 15 minutes a week, when we have the language assistant,” said principal teacher Anne Houliston. “But we’re also making sure ­languages are built into the rest of the day – it’s not just in these classes.”

The Leith Walk scheme has been given a firm thumbs-up by nursery children.

Cillian Scott, three, said: “I like to count and sing in French.”

City leaders, meanwhile, said the pilot showed the Capital was “leading the way” on ­language teaching.

Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “There are some fantastic examples of good practice across the city and we are beginning to see just how much they can enrich wider learning and raise the bar on the kind of education we offer our young people from the earliest stages of education.

“It is fantastic to see how staff, learners and parents have really embraced the idea of ­everyone learning together and making languages part of ­everyday life of the school.”