English initiation in a Flemish primary school

No, at this moment there is not really a lot of English language teaching and learning in the Flemish primary schools. And yet, since 1 September 2017, schools are allowed to introduce English (and even German, btw) as a formal subject to their pupils, at least if they master the L1, Dutch, rather well. To my knowledge, there aren’t any schools that do this. The same decree also provides the possibility to set up English language initiation programmes, even from a very early age. There is definitely one school that does this: VBS Duinen in the coastal town of Bredene.

I have recently had the chance to visit VBS Duinen and attend an English lesson in a mixed-level class; the pupils were aged 10 to 12 and they had very diverse backgrounds. Providing the English language initiation programme is part of the school’s policy to offer kids every possible chance to discover and develop their talents. In this respect, they also have a French language initiation programme in nursery school, cooking classes, STEM projects, etc.

The language initiation is taught by an MA in foreign languages, who was especially recruited for three periods a week. She is not really a primary teacher of the school; she normally works in a secondary school and does this initiation as an extra. The school board pays her with its own resources, quite an investment. This has of course to do with the fact that primary teacher trainees in Flanders don’t get any formal English classes (yet).

I have really enjoyed the lesson that I could attend. It was about “Father’s Day” and the ultimate goal was to create a paper tie for daddy, with all his good characteristics written on it in English. Pictures were used to present the adjectives, a memory game was played to practise them and, finally, the pupils could make their tie in the colour they had chosen (in English). The lesson was finished with an English YouTube song about dads and why we love them. What a great, fun and activating English initiation lesson this was. Pupils using English without being afraid to make mistakes, pupils using the Past Simple correctly without knowing what it is (“We made a flower for Mother’s Day”), if only formal English lessons in secondary schools could be like this.