Building language confidence

Language confidence is fundamental to literacy. In order to develop as readers and writers, children need to feel valued first as a speaker and user of language. In early years, language is acquired through contact with parents, siblings and other children and adults. At home, language quickly becomes as familiar and as natural as breathing.

When a child moves on to school, teachers continue to encourage speech and expression. The formative language confidence gained growing up in the family is the foundation on which schools can begin to build reading and writing skills.

The language of mainstream education in Scotland is English. But for approximately one-third of all Scottish children these important formative language experiences do not take place in English but in Scots. The only available government figures state that 1.6 million of us are Scots speakers.

Somewhere in the region of a third of children acquire their initial language confidence in the home through Scots, the result of exchanges, learning and conversations with adults who speak to them in Scots. But if a child’s Scots is not encouraged at school, then for some that incipient language confidence may be lost.

The New Teacher

Jim Douglas’ song The New Teacher explores the difference between the language of home and the language of the school. In this scenario, a new teacher challenges the pupils’ vocabulary learned at home by insisting that her class replace their Scots words with English ones. The result is confusion in the mind of the youngster who comes home with some tough questions about language.

Is a dove a doo, Dad?

Is a doo a dove?
And is a cow a coo, Dad?

  Download The New Teacher (4.6 MB)

  PDF file: The New Teacher (14 KB)

Reproduced by kind permission of Jim Douglas/Performed by Anne Pack.

Like the family in the song, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that fathers tend to speak more Scots with their children at home than mothers. It is agreed that when fathers are actively involved in their children’s education, boys in particular respond well to learning with a male family member and role model.

Finding ways to include a parent’s Scots language in the learning process rather than excluding it can only play a positive part in a child’s journey to literacy. Schools could suggest entertaining accessible Scots stories and poems for fathers to share with their families, a strategy which has already encouraged many young dads to start reading with their sons.