“What we learn with pleasure we never forget” Alfred Mercier 1816-1891
As a languages teacher I am always keen on finding ways to make the learning process relevant to young learners. Without a doubt, learning a language takes a great deal of commitment, practise and patience. Just like learning any difficult skill, the best way to achieve success is through using different methods. This motivates the students and they are then more likely to apply themselves.
Language teachers have always recommended that students watch films in the target language to improve linguistic skills. In this post, I will not go into the reasons why this method of study is beneficial but how I use it with teenagers in a classroom setting and what I gain from it.
Firstly, I had to find appropriate content for the age of my students which they would find entertaining. For my Year 11 class I chose “Unbreakable Kimmy” which is rated 15. For my younger students I opted for ” A Series of Unfortunate Events”. You may think this task to be straightforward but with a classroom full of teenagers, they have different ideas about what is acceptable and interesting. Namely, films/programmes which are rated 15/18 are the most popular. It is important that the content is appropriate for an educational setting and not to be swayed by “My mum lets me watch it” or “Go on Sir! We won’t tell anybody.”
With older students we watch 10 minute slots in the target language with English subtitles. Their first task is to make a small tick in their exercise book when they hear a word they recognise. What I am trying to achieve is for students to focus and avoid losing concentration. Next, I am trying to train their ear to the rhythm of the language. This is a very important skill for GCSE listening exams where understanding one or two words in a short description is the key to getting the answer right. I explain to student that listening for gist and not being overwhelmed by trying to understand everything is an important language skill to develop. Another activity is to give students a list of short expressions from the programme and they have to translate them after having watch the clip. It is necessary to have expressions where there are unknown words and encourage them to work things out from context.(Avoid using dictionaries here) Next, students work in pairs to manipulate the expressions. For example, changing from past tense into the future tense or changing the subject of the sentence. I am pleased that I now have older students who have continued to watch content on Netflix in the language they are studying.
With younger students I prefer to have subtitles in the target language and the audio in English. There are a number of reasons for this. The main one being, several students would struggle to comprehend the English in the time allowed. I tend to do the same activities as with older students. So, when they see a word in the target language and they have to put a tick in their books. It never ceases to amaze me how students of all ages are surprised that the language they learn in class can be seen in a wide range of authentic situations. They have the impression that the language they are studying only appears in exams and textbooks! Also, they are starting to understand that to be able to communicate effectively in a foreign language requires a solid base of a few hundred words embedded in the their long-term memory which is feasible for most learners to achieve.
Finally, students request that I do this activity more often so use this as part of my behaviour management strategy. If the class gets noisy and start to talk over me, they know they won’t be able to do the activity later which often leads to the students managing each others’ behaviour which is a godsend at the end of a tiring day!
The school where I teach has been working hard to embed the key values of the Growth Mindset theory. Each year, I do an end of year assembly to celebrate the success of students who have applied this philosophy to their language studies. Below is a video which demonstrates how much progress one can make in language learning in a relatively short space of time. Also doing events like this keeps me motivated and out of my comfort zone. The written test involved both colloquial and formal language. I remember once being told that you can’t teach Year 7 pupils “En ce qui me concerne” or “Ce que j’adore le plus” (as far as I am concerned/What I like most) nor the irregular past/future tenses so early. Apparently that is for KS4. However, in my view learning “je m’appelle” or “j’ai douze ans”are as demanding as the previous phrases. I believe we need to get away from labelling phrases/language structure this way. What is essential is that they are taught them when they are ready.
Unfortunately, the camera suffered a technical fault and stopped recording but you do get a feel about the demand of the test.(From 5 minutes onwards on the video) Two students managed to translate all verbs and phrases 100% correctly. More importantly, they were able to apply this knowledge in a creative manner. Most impressively, they did all of this in 12 minutes. The pupils watching played their part beautifully repeating to a deafening level “Allez!” as a way of cheering on their respective House groups.
My name is “Leonardo” and I have studied French for two terms with Mr Maclean. I have also spent the Summer term learning Spanish. Before starting High school, I did some French at Primary school. However, the way I was taught was very different to now.
I remember in my first lesson with Mr Maclean, he played us a video of him being egged and he urged us to use a website called Memrise. This motivated me to work hard at home so that I could egg him at the end of year. In lessons this year, we did lots of speaking activities and we played with a soft toy called the “Doudou”. We also learnt about “power” verbs which allow you to make your own language. At the end of lessons, Sir would play us funny songs in French or Spanish and give us sweets. Sometimes at lunchtime, Mr Maclean would show me how to learn/use different verbs tenses. I would also be made to do translations and say things out loud.
I can speak Gujurati and enjoy learning new languages. Next year, I intend to continue learning Spanish.
Who dares to teach must never cease to learn John Cotton Dana
It has nearly been a year since I started learning the guitar and it has been a wonderful experience on so many different levels. And yes, I have made some pretty basic mistakes along the way. The main one being trying to learn on a cheap acoustic guitar. I now know that a poor quality instrument will lead to frustration and very sore fingers. Thankfully, my progress has improved greatly because I bought a better guitar.
So, how has playing this instrument made me a better MFL teacher? Firstly, the guitar is the first thing I pick up after school and it helps me to de-stress. Being able to do something non-teaching related helps me to recharge the batteries for the next day. When I practise, I analyse fingers movements etc and what seems so simple will take hours of dedicated practice. This makes me think about how I teach languages to students. Nowadays, I always spend a little bit of time in lessons going over words like “je” “j’ai” “le” “une” “a” “est” etc I have noticed that students do find the constant revision of these words useful.
I am very fortunate to have found an excellent guitar teacher and during our hour-long lesson, I’ve noticed how much new learning I can cope with before I want to stop. Generally, I can cope with 15 minutes practise of a difficult skill before I need to stop. The feeling I get is “I’ve had enough now, let’s do something I am quite good at” Then with my teacher, we practise something which needs refining but is less challenging. Basically, I like getting things reasonably correct. Also, I enjoy the sound that I am producing. I love it when I have mastered a chord change which has taken many hours of practise and I enjoy getting it right. The skill which is a challenge will be practise later by myself over the coming weeks.
This is now how I structure my lessons, the first part of the lesson is a warm up which allows students to reconnect with previous learning. Next, there will be a section of the lesson which is challenging, here students will be forced to think quite hard and will be making mistakes. The latter part of the lesson is consolidating on previous learning from lessons which may have taken place six months previously.Here, I try to help students to refine their skills. Like me, students enjoy getting things right and producing sentences/language quite naturally. The following lesson we go back to the challenging element of the previous lesson and gradually improve. I like to set homework which focuses on areas which students find difficult.
In short, I now dedicate more time in my lessons to deliberate practise than before and it seems to be paying dividends in terms of pupils’ enjoyment and progress.
Now, I am keen to teach myself some music theory and I know that Memrise.com will be an invaluable learning aid in this endeavour.
“Small changes can make huge destination differences” Steven Covey
In this post I would like to reflect on how I encourage spontaneous speaking skills in my classroom. I believe in order to achieve this “holy grail” for most foreign language teachers, the steps to achieving this must be broken into minute detail. Therefore, I won’t be writing about the type of language I employ nor the activities I use which promote this. I intend to blog about this in the near future. In my view, it is important to create an ambience for spontaneous speaking to take place. With this in mind, when I start a new class, I ask them to choose a new French/Spanish name. I supply them with a list of possible names with its etymology. However, students are free to choose their own too. Allowing pupils to have ownership over their name means they are more willing to buy into other speaking activities in the future. Also, it is a fun way for students to practise using “Comment tu t’appelles/ elle/il s’appelle?/¿Cómo se llama/ te llamas?” because they don’t know what others in the classroom have chosen. To be honest, in the past I felt a bit stupid making students ask each other’s names when they already knew the answer. This also has the added bonus that you can practise these structures for some time while maintaining interest of the class. It usually takes a class at least a month to know each other’s French/Spanish names. With my classes, I also enjoy analysing the phonics of the language through their names too. Now, for the most important bit. You never again address students with their real first names. No matter what the situation, for example, if you bump into a pupil at the local supermarket, at parents’ evenings (I have yet to meet a parent who has shown any concern in me using the French/Spanish names), in the canteen, when you have to reprimand them, and even when they are no longer taught by you . You always address them with their chosen foreign name. The reaction from others is often quite amusing, it goes something like this “Why did he just call you Gabriella?” and the student will generally reply with pride “it’s my French name”. They buy into the idea that they actually have a French/Spanish name and subconsciously develop a French/Spanish persona which makes spontaneous speaking easier to achieve in the classroom. In the last two years, I only had four or five students who have requested that I revert back to their given name which, of course, I fully respected. So, my top tip for creating a spontaneous speaking classroom – allow all students to choose a foreign name which is indicative of the language which you are teaching and consistently use it no matter what the occasion!
This post follows on from my previous blog about how I am trying to improve the writing skills of my Year 7 students (11-12 year old) in a foreign language in test conditions. Like most teachers, I am not a great fan of spending hours marking barely legible work. Thankfully, there are a number of websites which can help with this. This leaves me with more time to analyse the weaknesses and strengths of students’ writing skills. Obviously, once students have produced written work in test conditions there will be a number of mistakes which one would like to reduce. Personally, I am not a teacher looking for perfect writing because if we try that then we risk losing creativity. As far as I am concerned, the message should be communicated well with a few errors here and there. To achieve this I mainly use three different websites which are Memrise, Conjuguemos and Socrative. Together they allow me to create exercises which improve the accuracy of students’writing.
I use Memrise to improve the spelling of keywords especially those which include accents and apostrophes. Also, Memrise helps students build a more varied and interesting level of vocabulary. It also aids students to remember the little words such as “some” “the” “at” etc. In my experience students use the word “le” (the) very liberally. They need to understand its meaning and think carefully about each word they write.
Conjuguemos is a website which looks at a bit dated now. However, it allows me to personalise the work so that students are more likely to engage with the text. For example, I often use the names of students in class in exercises which helps with motivation and concentration. The site will mark the work for me and I can export the work into a different format too.(Excel)
Socrative is quite similar to Conjuguemos but it has a more modern interface and I can download the results in a larger variety of formats. Also, students do not require complicated login details which save a lot of time and hassle in the ICT suite. Like Conjuguemos, I can personalise the activities which makes the learning more fun and relevant to the students.
I do hope you have time to look at the different Year 7 learning activities which are on the above Slideshare. I do give a brief explanation about why I have created such learning opportunities. Please bear in mind that most of the questions/activities are based on work produced by students which require improvement. Using these sites mean I never have to set homework during the lesson. I generally have a quick flick through a variety of exercise books after the lesson and make learning activities based on the students’ written work, their questions/answers during the lesson and generally how I felt the learning has evolved over the past few lessons.
Finally, online learning offers a great range of differentiation opportunities which are quick to create. This is very necessary if I want a good rate of completion.
For the past year or so I have been wondering how to prepare Key Stage 3 (11-14 years old) students for the new GCSE in MFL (A public exam taken at 16) . Like most people, we hear bits of information from Ofqual, DFE and newspapers etc. about a return to written exams in MFL. I understand that this will happen along with translations. Until we see more detail, it is quite difficult to adapt, in my opinion, our teaching to the new exam format. For example, will students have access to a dictionary during the written exam? I know a number of teachers who have expressed concerns that controlled assessment doesn’t actually evaluate the skills that it is supposed to test. I do have sympathy with this viewpoint and therefore welcome the new changes coming into place.
My thinking at the moment (this is likely to be modified over time!) is to encourage students to regularly revise key vocabulary (Memrise is without doubt the best online application for this) and to use a dictionary judiciously. For example, a general rule of thumb is to seek one word from a dictionary for every two/three sentences that they write. This encourages students to write what they know and not want they want to write. However, for those students who struggle, I do encourage the use of a textbook/writing frames. Personally, I find it very frustrating when students don’t put into practice the words and phrases they have been taught and know. There is a tendency to try to translate their thoughts from English directly into the target language. This inevitability leads to students attempting to write complex sentences which include a variety of tenses as well as colloquial language. Obviously, given that they are relatively novice writers in the target language, their work is strewn with basic errors and is difficult to understand. I always hammer the same phrase to students “Write what you know not what you want to say.” As a teacher, I do try to teach language which is both relevant and fun in order to mitigate against this issue. Lastly, I do believe this technique will help students when faced with the daunting task of writing in a foreign language in an exam hall.
Given there will be a time limit to the writing test, I include one in my assessments too. Therefore, in order to complete the writing criteria successfully, students need to communicate with a degree of fluency. Also, I set aside five minutes for students to check their work. Common errors are spelling mistakes, (especially accents) agreements and missing words such as “has” “is” “am”. In my next blog, probably in the New Year I will write about how I create learning activities which help students to write from their long-term memory with more accuracy.
My name is “Amandine” and I am in Year 7. Memrise is a website and app that anyone can use to learn a new language. I use it because it helps me learn really fast. It has a special way of making you remember the words and I would recommend Memrise to anyone who wants to learn a new language. There are lots of courses with really cool words to learn. Also, you can make your own levels and courses so that you can help others.
Finally, you will never be able to find an app/website better than Memrise for learning languages.
We spent a day in Boulogne-Sur-Mer in July where fifty-odd Year 7 students practised their speaking skills. Many of them were very keen to speak to passersby. I managed to record this interaction. Well done girls! Afterwards I spoke to the couple and they found it very amusing.
For the last six or seven years I have been very interested in online learning. Firstly, as someone who is quite obsessed about learning languages myself, I am always looking for interesting ways of picking up new words or phrases for myself. With the onset of smart phones and the alike, one can learn so much from these types of devices. For me, the most powerful internet based learning tool is Memrise. I have see my ability to learn and retain new vocabulary improve beyond all expectations.
Therefore, it has now become the backbone for my own teaching practice. The effect it has had on my own learning has been reflected in the students I teach too. The videos on this blog are by Year 7 students. In the past, I would have struggled to achieve similar outcomes with Year 11 students.
The trick now is get more students motivated and disciplined enough to regularly practise their language skills outside of the classroom. As well all know “a little but often” approach to language learning is essential for good progress. With this in mind, one challenge I set my Year 7 classes was to get one million points on Memrise in an academic year which was achieved by one student. I didn’t mind taking an egg on the head (although it did hurt!) because I had so much fun in lessons watching children communicate fantastically well.
So my top tip for teaching languages or improving your own language skills; join Memrise!
Also, to use a microphone when doing assemblies. The students spoke beautifully but very softly.