Monday, 30 August 2010

The English Baccalaureat.

Over the last few years I've occasionally ranted about schools' management teams getting their most able students to drop languages and take vocational qualifications in order to boost their school's ratings in the league tables.

Before this year's general election, the Conservative Party hinted that, if elected, "GCSE equivalent" courses would no longer be counted in the league tables.

Yesterday, the UK government announced plans for a "new" qualification, the English Baccalaureat. Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education told Andrew Marr on his BBC television programme that he was worried by the decline in number of students taking GCSEs in Science and languages.

You can read about it here but the gist of it is that students who achieve good GCSE grades in English, Maths, a science, a modern language, and a humanity, will also be awarded the English Baccalaureat.

Will this stop our best students from dropping modern languages? Will school managers start to take languages seriously? Will British graduates once again be able to compete in the jobs market with their overseas counterparts?

I hope so.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Tattoo hand puppets.

This afternoon we went shopping in Durham. My wife wanted candles in Lakeland. So while she took lids of jars, sniffed and either smiled or wrinkled her nose, I wandered around the store looking at all the cool gadgets you never realised you needed.

I was thoroughly impressed by the stainless steel cafetiere but it was temporary tattoo hand puppets which caught my eye.

I'm a huge fan of puppets as you probably know, and I think these are a great idea.

I wished I'd bought them and as soon as we got home I checked Lakeland's website and they aren't on there.

I googled them and found out that they are available in the US from thinkgeek and and, after a search lasting what seemed like hours, found that they can be bought in the UK from and

Obviously, I couldn't use them with a whole class. It would be quite expensive but were I to do a small project or start a languages club they would be ideal.

Obviously, I'd need to do some research before I use them in school. How long do they last? Do they wash off? Would a child with allergies be able to use them? Are they messy? Etc, etc.

It seems like a really fun idea and if it gets pupils to take part in speaking in a different language then it will be worth it.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Subliminal language learning.

In 1988 François Mitterrand was re-elected President of France.
So what? Well, for several days before the election a subliminal picture of him appeared in the title sequence of the news on one of the major French TV channels.

In a 1973 episode of Columbo "Double Exposure", the murderer, a research psychologist played by Robert Culp, uses subliminal messaging in a film to commit murder. Columbo uses the same technique to lure Culp's character to the scene of the murder and somehow (don't ask me, I was 4 years old) proves his guilt.

In 1974, a report commissioned for the United Nations concluded that "the cultural implications of subliminal indoctrination is a major threat to human rights throughout the world".

So if it's possible to threaten people's human rights, become President of France and catch a murderer, the question you must be asking yourself is:

Is it possible to learn a language subliminally?

Most experts on this say "no". They would though, because if it were possible, most of us would be out of a job.

RW Schmidt in "The role of consciousness in second language learning" (1990) OUP concludes that "subliminal language learning is impossible".

He's probably right, but I've never been one to let facts and research get in the way of a good idea and I'm always up for a challenge.

This is why I have added to my Icelandic resources with "Learn Icelandic fast and easy subliminal CD" (sic) which was "developed by Medical doctors and Phds in psychiatry and psychology".

What could possibly go wrong?

I'll be fluent before you can say "Eyjafjallajokull".

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Talar þú íslensku?

A few weeks ago I was sent a link to this video by Hafdis Huld singing live in Reykjavik. I like her music. It's cool.

I watched the first 30 seconds or so. And then I watched them again. And again. And I realised I had no clue what she was saying.

So over the last few weeks I have been starting to learn Icelandic.

Some people I have told have been politely impressed, while others have given me the look which I translate as "Why?" I have even been asked when I am going to Iceland. The answer is, "I'm not, or at least I have no plans to go at the moment."

I'm learning Icelandic because I love a challenge. Especially one which involves learning a new language.

I bought the Talk Now Learn Icelandic beginners course to get me started. It's a lot of fun. It's a CD-Rom which contains enough phrases and basic words to get by and then lots of games to help to practise the new vocabulary.

Then I signed up to Icelandic Online. This is a free, online course from the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Iceland. It has online lessons, video clips and exercises, a dictionary and grammar glossary. The first part of the course takes around 45 hours and covers roughly 900 learning objectives.

Learning a new language is really tricky. I have been very busy. I've picked up quite a lot of essential vocabulary and if I ever find out what Hafdis Huld was talking about, I'll be sure to let you know.

Hafðu það gott. Bless.