“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.
“I learnt that I still have a lot to learn”
This is my first post for some time. I created a blog as a way to improve my teaching and collaborate with others who are also excited by how the internet can revolutionise how languages can be taught. However, I very quickly realised that if I was going to improve as a teacher then I needed to keep teaching myself new skills and continue to be a “struggling” learner. So, I basically left the blogosphere and now I devote some of my spare time on acquiring new skills which give me a great deal of enjoyment as well as making me a better teacher. I do believe that having empathy in the learning progress is essential to developing well structured learning activities.
Some colleagues at my school have this sign at the entrance of their classroom. (Myself included!)
Having said all this, I still remember reading blogs by inspiring teachers on how they were trying to improve. For instance, Chad Evans from the US, blogged about the “Transparent Classroom” and this idea resonated with me and is something I always wanted to pursue. In a nutshell, this initiative is about allowing all stakeholders to have an opportunity to see teachers in action. It also helps with developing a good relationship between the home and the classroom which is an important factor, in my opinion, for improving standards. So, I am about to embark on allowing parents/guardians watch me teach a group of twelve year old students for forty minutes. Will I be nervous having parents observe me? Yes, but I am more excited by what I am going to learn by the experience of interacting with them in a classroom setting.
Watch this space!
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.
The aim of this blog is to reflect and share with others my experiences of teaching foreign languages in a secondary school in the UK. Unfortunately, it is very difficult during term time to work out how to use these blogs effectively. I have spent many hours looking for lost posts which is very frustrating. Anyway, please have a look at the videos and enjoy!