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Students test out their language skills at major conference 10 February 2010

HUNDREDS of secondary school language students will come together for a conference at St Ninian’s High School and the Manx Museum lecture theatre this month.

A-level and GCSE French students and GCSE Spanish students will meet to immerse themselves in the languages – the first time such a massive event has been staged locally.

More than 120 young people studying GCSE Spanish, 80 learning French to A-Level and 140 who will sit French GCSE will attend on separate days between Tuesday 23 and Thursday 25 February to listen to native speakers from the two nations and to actively use the languages.

All five secondary schools and King William’s College will be represented.

Julie Desmarchelier, Assistant Head of Languages at St Ninian’s, has been preparing for the conference, which is self-funding, for a year.

She said:

‘As a French native, I know the best way to learn a language is to hear it and be immersed in it. At some point it is vital to put into practice what you have learned in theory. This conference is as close to an immersion course as students will experience and will help them greatly towards their exams.’

Julie said:

‘I have taken students from both my current school and Ramsey Grammar School, where I used to teach, to similar events in the UK and it has always been a memorable experience, with fantastic, positive feedback. However, the cost of travelling away, coupled with the realisation that it would be good to involve as many local students as possible, encouraged us to organise our own event.
‘Last year we ran a much smaller event for A-level French students, with fantastic feedback. I remember one student commenting that it was like being in France for the day. However, this is the first conference to involve all six schools and to include GCSE students, and Spanish students, too.’

Julie said the conference content will vary greatly from GCSE to A-Level, but speakers will cover topics students will need to know for their exams. At GCSE level, for example, the speakers will perform sketches and role plays on shopping and talk about health and fitness, the area students live in and youth fashion, while at A-Level, they will give more complex presentations on environmental problems, such as the consequences of global warming, the state of the health system and drug and alcohol-related issues.

French and Spanish culture, such as advertisements and music, are also high on the agenda.

The conference leaders are Marian Garcia, a native of Spain, and Frenchmen Regis Faugier and Richard Peltier. All are former language teachers who now run educational events such as this one.

So what will students gain from attending the conference? Julie said:

‘Hopefully, they will feel more positive about learning languages and realise that it is not just about passing exams. The event is intended to be a relaxed affair with complete immersion of students in Spanish or French. I hope students’ motivation will be increased as they realise how much they can deal with.
‘At a time where on the Island we are trying to create more resourceful students, I think it is vital that they learn to use their languages in creative ways. Who knows, we might have an increased demand for direct flights to France and Spain, as our students decide to try out their new found confidence in the languages in the two countries.’

Paul Craine, Co-ordinating Adviser for 11-19 Education with the Department of Education, who will attend part of the conference, said:

‘This promises to be a remarkable learning opportunity for the Island’s language students. Our hope is that, even in just one or two days, their confidence will grow and they will show an improved ability to communicate on topics that relate to their examinations. Julie has done a remarkable job in pulling this event together and her efforts are hugely appreciated by the other language teachers.’

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