Friday, 23 December 2011

The end of another busy year.

It's the end of another busy year and I'd like to thank you all for visiting my blog.

Have a great time over the festive season and I hope you all have a happy
and successful 2012.

Picture courtesy of

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Another random name selector.

I have come across quite a few random name selecting tools now. This is one I discovered a few months ago and was reminded of it via twitter last week.

This one comes from It works very much like the classtools fruit machine. It has a different layout, a bright yelllow background, it allows you to paste class lists into it but one of its best features is also its worst feature.

This version reads the students' names as they are picked. It is so cool. I used this only once in class and it unfortunately mispronounced the students names. It's fine if you have students called Tom, Anne or Billy but it struggles with any exotic sounding names. This could be a big problem in some of my classes. My year 12 would think it hilarious but I can see that some of my year 8 students would not like it at all.

The main advantage of this name/question picker is that you can embed it into a blog or website.
I've had to resize it to fit here, but you can get the general idea. I've included the names of the current Oldham Athletic squad to show you how its "voice" has some very interesting pronunciation.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Whilst randomly looking for random things to add to my "All things Random" collection I came across

It is a website dedicated to generating true (as opposed to pseudo) random numbers. The service is provided by Trinity College, Dublin and is the brain child of Dr Mads Haahr of the School of Computer Science and Statistics.

The site offers a range of free and paid services which allow the user to play games, shuffle playing cards, roll up to 16 dice, generate strings, pick random dates, and even pick lottery numbers.

One of my favourite things is the random number generator, which can be downloaded from the site, customised and tested here:
You enter a minimum number and a maximum number and click Generate. It's great for picking random students and it's a nice change from lolly sticks.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Using mobile phones responsibly and safely in schools.

Recently, I came across this article. It was produced in Austria by where almost everyone owns a mobile phone. I was going to post a link and then found that it had been uploaded to slideshare.
Using the mobile_phone_in_school
View more documents from Pedro De
It makes very interesting reading and has been written specifically for teachers giving advice and tips on how to deal with mobile devices in schools. It contains exercises which encourage students to learn how to use their mobile phones in a safe and responsible way.
It is definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A list of Christmas resources.

Yes, Christmas has come early.

Your one stop shop for some decent (mostly French) resources to keep your classes quiet for the next 2 weeks or so.

Let's start with MFL Sunderland. Lots of good stuff here in lots of languages.

Clare Seccombe's site has an amazing Christmas card idea in 3 languages.

Some resources from TES in French, Spanish and Italian.

Some culture from the BBC languages site in French, Spanish, and German.

Linguascope has some good Christmas resources (but you need to subscribe)

Lots of stuff on

Stuff to do and print off at

Teteamodeler has some Christmas projects including recipes. has a page of resources which could be used for KS3, too.

mflresources has a page of Christmas activities. has a selection of Christmas e-cards you could send to your friends.

Hertfordshire Grid for Learning has lots of Christmas links here.

There you go. It'll take you more than 2 weeks to get through all those.

Have fun!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

All things random.

Apparently, I never posted this, my MFLSAT3 presentation on ways of harnessing all things random and unleashing them on to unsuspecting pupils, who are then made to think.


Sunday, 27 November 2011

French Grammar Revision Mind Maps.

This morning on twitter both Lauren Crawley and Alex Bellars posted a link to a flickr page created by Marion Charreau.

The page contains grammar points in French in the form of mindmaps. They have been created by Marion Charreau and Thomas Zannoni and can be found here.

There are some for tenses and other grammar points, and would be ideal for revision for GCSE and A level students.

Here is an example of the one on negation:

Sadly, the images are copyrighted and therefore cannot be downloaded from flickr. You could, I suppose, show them to students on the IWB and get them to make their own versions. After all mind maps are very personal revision tools.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Update on Rory's Story Cubes.

Today, I finally got around to using my Rory's Story Cubes with my year 12 French class. I bought them recently and blogged about my excitement here.

I used them at the beginning of the lesson as a warm up exercise to get the students speaking.

Today there were only 9 students in my lesson so I made 3 groups and gave each group 3 cubes each to play with.

We played three games.

In the first game the students had to roll one dice and say a sentence in French relating to the picture. For example, if the picture was the apple, the student could have said "J'adore les pommes mais je n'aime pas les bananes"

In the second game the students had to throw the 3 cubes. They had to pick up a dice quickly and come up with a sentence relating to the image. This left less of a choice for the other 2 students who would have been left with pictures which made them think much more.

At times, I allowed them to make connections with the pictures when they didn't know the vocabulary. One student was left with the "L" plate image and said, "Je voudrais une voiture."

In the 3rd game we played they rolled the 3 cubes and had to make a sentence using as many of the pictures as possible. For example: one student rolled the pyramid, the tent and the book. His sentence could have been: "L'année dernière j'ai fait du camping en Égypte et j'ai acheté un livre."

Fairly basic, I admit, but the students had very little thinking time.

For a first attempt it was quite a success and I shall be using them again soon and, as time goes on, I shall introducing more cubes to increase the challenge.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Independent learning and the 4 "B"s.

Trying to get students to learn independently can be a bit tricky. Many children are taught lots of good stuff but not how to find things out for themselves. In many schools there is a culture of "do this, learn this, and you will pass the exam".

I've been trying to get away from this and train some of my groups to embrace the 4 Bs. So far, I'm having some success with some of my classes, and in particular, one of my year 7 classes.

The 4 Bs of course are:

Students ask themselves: Have we done this before? When did we do this? What do I know about this?

Students use their resources to look up facts, words and/or grammar points they don't know.

Students ask the person nearest to them on their table for help and/or advice. If that person is unable to help, then they should ask up to 2 more others. If 4 people in the group don't know, it's probably a safe bet that none of the class knows. (All my students sit in mixed ability groups of 4-6 on clusters of tables around the room.)

If the first 3 steps are unsuccessful then they can ask me (the boss). I will advise them where to find the information or explain to them why they are not quite getting it.

So far this has been working well and the students have taken to it well. Rather than teaching lists of vocabulary I have been setting them tasks to create their own.

In an ideal world I would do this with all my students and all other subject teachers would do it, too.

But, for now, I think I'll try to get it right with a few groups and then see how it goes. I'll report back later.

Obviously, I have more faith in this than in learning Icelandic in my sleep.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Rory's Story Cubes and spontaneous speaking.

This week I bought a set of Rory's Story Cubes. It is a story generating game. It contains of a set of 9 dice-sized cubes (19mm) with different images on them. They cost around £7. The box is sturdy and quite small and will easily fit in my jacket pocket.

To play, you simply throw the dice and invent a story based the 9 pictures you see. There are over 10 million possible combinations of images so even someone like me should not get bored with it.

I thought that they would be great for Languages as starter activities and vocabulary building exercises, particularly with my older and more able students. They need not use all nine dice, but a small group could play with two or three of them. They would be ideal for revising tenses, too.

If I included model answers and grade descriptors I could get my GCSE students to use them to improve their speaking and writing skills, too.

There is also a second set of cubes available, called "Actions", which contain pictures of different sports and activities. These would be ideal for my KS3 students for practising hobbies, opinions, tenses, etc

If I had both sets I could mix the two and get my students to produce some really good sentences.

Spontaneous speaking opportunities and fun at the same time.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Only Connect and MFL.

Only Connect is a BBC Four quiz programme (we don't do "shows" in the UK, we do" programmes"!) where two teams have to find connections between apparently unconnected things. The game isn't just about knowledge but also, to quote the BBC, "patience and lateral thinking".

So, a TV programme with no prizes where teams (with captains who always seem to lisp!) have to answer questions using thinking skills. I thought I was the only person who watched it, but after a quick google, I discovered that it gets a weekly audience of 700000 viewers.

I mentioned on twitter this evening that I was watching it on iplayer and I've now discovered that many of my twitter friends watch it, too.

@bonjour_miss commented that it might be an idea to adapt some of the games for students to use in class. I've had a think and come up with some ideas:

1) The connections round

The students are given up to 4 clues and have to decide on the link between the clues. They are shown each clue separately and earn 5 points if they guess the connection after one clue, 3 point after 2 clues, 2 points after 1, and 1 point for guessing after receiving all 4 clues.

It could be something like this:

Clue 1 Clue 2 Clue 3 Clue 4
aller tomber partir entrer

Obviously, the answer would be that each of the verbs takes être as its auxiliary verb.

2) In this round, students have to guess what the 4th word is. Scoring is on a similar basis.

It might look like this:

Clue 1 Clue 2 Clue 3 Answer
chat chien oiseau

The clues are all animals kept as pets. Each clue has one more letter than the preceding clue, so the answer would have to be a pet with seven letters. In this case, it could be "hamster", "serpent" or any pet with 7 letters in its name.

3) The 3rd round is the connecting wall. It consists of a 4 X 4 grid containing 4 sets groups of 4 words with some connection.

It could look like this and can be made easier or harder depending on the ability of the group:

un chaise grand chat
super deux table crayon
stylo nul trousse cinq
trois chien petit tortue

To solve the grid the students have to identify the 4 groups and explain what the connections are. In this grid we have: 4 numbers, 4 masculine nouns, 4 feminine nouns and 4 adjectives.

4) The final round is the missing vowels round. Teams are given a category, for example numbers, and are shown words with the vowels removed.
For example:


would be "vingt-huit".

It would take quite a while to set up the questions but they could be used on many occasions and you needn't do all the activities in one go.

I haven't tried any of these, but it looks like it might be fun.

Thanks for the idea, Trina.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

I discovered a while ago.

It's a wordfinder site which allows the user to do a number of cool things. These include entering a prefix or suffix and receive a list of words with those details. It's ideal for helping with crosswords, finding rhymes, etc.

You can also enter definitions and find words beginning with a specific letter or words with an exact number of letters.

It's great.

But the best thing about this site is that it is available in French and Spanish, too.

I found this useful when looking for words to practise phonics with my students earlier in the year and when I was doing rhyming poetry with my very able year 9 group.

I recommend you investigate and play.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The problems of sharing text books (another mobile phone rant).

At my school, languages is becoming more popular at GCSE. This is a good thing, many of you would say.

This is mainly because of Ebacc, students are cajoled into, by which I mean almost forced into, studying a language to improve their chances of getting into university.

Unfortunately, more students means that my year10 class have to share text books. This causes major logistical problems when setting homework exercises.

It means photocopying the exercises, many of which are in colour and don't copy that well or, as is usually the case, rewriting the questions, putting them on the whiteboard and getting the students to copy them into their homework diaries.

This week, one of my students had an epiphany. "Why can't we just use our mobiles to take a photo of the questions?"

I replied, "You can if you like. I think it's a great idea."

Sadly, the reaction of the students was, "Oh, but what if someone comes in and sees us?"

Would that be:

What if someone comes in and sees us using our initiative?


What if someone comes in and sees us using technology to save time?


What if someone comes in and sees us taking control of our own learning?

We are supposed to be educating students to use their initiative, become self-learners and survive in a digital world, yet we stifle their creativity and excellent ideas at the same time.

We risk turning our lovely, inquisitive young chimps into ants.

It's the educational equivalent of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.

Whatever you do, please don't fall asleep.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Hallowe'en resources.

It's that time of the year again. The shops are full of Christmas Trees, there are adverts for toys everywhere, there are Christmas lights in every town centre. The clues are all there.

Yes, it's almost Hallowe'en.

Even my dog has entered into the spirit of things with an amazing costume!

Here are some resources and links to MFL hallowe'en-y type things:


A few years ago Jo Rhys-Jones put together this page on the Talkabout PrimaryLanguages site. It contains some excellent links.

A TES vocabulary resource here

Lanternfish has some hallowe'en worksheets here

Some links here from canadacyberschool

A lesson from MFLSunderland "potion magique"


A TES German resource here (based on Clare Seccombe's potion magique)

Another TES resource, this one for KS1 German and another one for KS4

From a halloween graveyard project.'s information in English about how Hallowe'en is celebrated on Germany.

Some information on Martinstag from

Hallowe'en is not a big deal in Spain, but there are still resources available.

This one from TES La noche de brujas

Some lanternfish Spanish worksheets

In Mexico dia de los muertos is celebrated at this time. Here are some links to resources:

Some really good stuff from

Excellent lesson plans and resources from Mommy Maestra

Lots of links and information from

There are also some good ICT Hallowe'en resources on Linguascope if your school has a subscription to it.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

I'm a chimp.

Last Thursday, I taught a full day in school, went on a twilight management course from 4:30 'til 6:30 and then spent the rest of the evening until 9:30 or so at Cramlington Learning Village at the Teachmeet.

When I mentioned this, one of my colleagues said, "Why would you want to do that? You are completely mad. "

This could well be true. There is every likelihood that I am, if not completely mad, definitely a bit mad.

Although, I'm not sure that I am mad because I love my job and I'm keen to improve the way I teach.

Yesterday I read José Picardo's blog Chimps and Ants: The politics of innovation and, on reflection, I realised that, because of the way I look at and complete my work, I am a chimp.

I am a chimp, not an ant.

Don't laugh.

The very fact that you are reading this proves that you are most likely a chimp, too.

The majority of my colleagues at the exam factory are ants. They don't realise and they can't help it.

Shame, really.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Tintin (Bande annonce VF)

I am a huge Tintin fan. This looked really good, so I thought I'd post it here.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Cramlington LV Teachmeet.

Last Thursday evening I attended Cramlington Learning Village's Teachmeet. It's the first time I've been to a Teachmeet as an enthusiastic lurker rather than a speaker, as I generally have discovered the next big thing or have something to share. And I like the sound of my own voice. A lot.

Sadly, due to a middle management course, I arrived late and missed a couple of the early presentations but, what I did see was very good.

There were a number of good ideas presented, but these are the presentations which stuck in my mind (by which I mean I'm going to steal their ideas):

Mathematician, Rachel Futo showed us different ways of using the game Connect 4. She uses grids and counters to assess prior knowledge, revise, stretch and support learners, for pairwork, for peer assessment and as a tool for A4L.

Geographer John Sayers was amazing. He shared 3 ideas: The personal learning chair (which some of you'll be pleased to know can be used with QRCodes), mission explore, and concertina form information. You can read more about John's ideas at his blog which is excellent.

Fellow linguist, Chris Harte, showed us the difference between Feedback and Assessment For Learning. You can find his presentation on slideshare.

Polymath, genius, and all round good egg, Steve Bunce, rounded off the evening with a presentation entitled, Reality hits you hard, Bro (alcohol and singing). Steve told us about the songify app and showed how it can be used with an i-pad by getting audience members to record text and then used songify to create a song. I can see how great it would be if we could use it in school for MFL lessons.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Portable WiFi hotspot

I currently find myself staying in a house with no internet connection. (Yes, they do still exist!)

I used to have an internet dongle for such situations but it proved very expensive.

What, then, can I do? Not use the internet for a few days?

Well, I have my netbook and my HTC Wildfire android phone and I have an app called Portable WiFi Hotspot which I downloaded for free from Android Market.

This app turns my phone into a wireless router and by activating it and the wireless connection on my netbook I have an instant and safe internet connection. It is password protected and, I haven't done this, but you can add more than one user if you need to.

Luckily, my mobile contract includes 3GB per month internet usage.

It is more practical than using the internet on my phone and for some strange reason seems to be quicker, too.

It is great for using internet at school for accessing sites like twitter and any addresses which my employers have seen fit to block.

It is ideal in an emergency situation and if you don't have it or something similar, I recommend you download it. For the less fortunate among you, there is also a version available for iphone and blackberry.

Friday, 21 October 2011

No excuse not to use mobiles in schools.

If you cast your mind back a couple of years, you'll remember I wrote a guest post for José Picardo's box of tricks site which even ended up as an e-book.

The post was all about how I had used, and intended to use, mobile phones in class with my students. The opening paragraph was about how the Stewart Enquiry or Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones had advised UK schools in 2001 about the dangers of children under 16 using mobile phones.

Now new research from the Institute of Cancer and Epidemiology in Denmark, reported here by the BBC news website, has found that users of mobile phones are at no greater risk of developing brain cancer than anyone else.

So school leaders, apart from the bullying, abuse and theft issues (I'm still working on these), you really have no excuse to continue to ban phones in schools.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Ipad or My pad? 10 reasons why paper is better.

My friends and colleagues know me as a bit of a technology fan and most of you know that I've blogged about mobile phones a lot.

Over the last 2 or 3 years I have attended a lot of Teachmeets and Show and Tells and one of the things I've been interested in is the use of technology by the presenters and the attendees.

A couple of years ago almost all attendees at these unconferences had a laptop. At the next one, laptops had given way to netbooks. Then netbooks vanished and smart phones ruled. Then it seemed that anything made by Apple was de rigueur.

Technology is not always best. Recently I've been taking notes using this:

and this:

So, why do I think my pad is better than an I-pad?

1) It was a lot cheaper. Less than £2 in Wilkinson's sale.

2) It doesn't need a battery or recharging.

3) If I drop it onto a hard, or for that matter soft, floor it won't smash into a million pieces and I won't cry.

4) I won't get upset when Wilkinson's start selling a more up to date version with a rust resistant spiral bound centre.

5) It doesn't need a WiFi connection.

6) Nobody will want to steal it.

7) Each time I write something, it is automatically saved.

8) It won't break down. Ever.

9) If I meet someone without one I can tear out some sheets and share with them.

10) If I spill tea or coffee on it, not only will it still work, it will look funkier and smell nicer. (Or should that be look nicer and smell funkier?)

So, there you have it. 10 reasons (and I could think of dozens more) why my pad beats I pad any day.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Reall languages - update

I have blogged about Reall Languages before but now it is even better. The brainchild of Chris Reall, the site has been updated and is now even more user friendly.

It has a collection of games and activities to help learners of French, German, Spanish, Italian, Swedish and Latin. The games can be played at home by students and can be used on an interactive whiteboard in school, too.

Here is an example of one of the games:

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Ben (sort of...) speaks German.

Clip from the BBC's comedy show "Outnumbered". It made me laugh and makes a lot of sense, too (if you're German). Enjoy.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Teach Meet Tees11

This week I attended the first Teachmeet Tees. It was organised by Steve Bunce and Simon Finch and the venue was the ARC in Stockton. It was reasonably well attended, but it wasn't the quantity of attendees but the quality which really impressed me.

I got to meet some old friends and some new ones but the most important thing was I actually learned new things.

I think teachmeets can be great for linguists as you get to see what teachers of other subjects are doing and I love the informal atmosphere. Very often you can find a use for an idea, a piece of software, or a website that is ideal for use in languages lessons that was not intended to be used in MFL lessons at all.

The presenters were:

Martin Waller who told us about his Growing Greener Together project. This is a whole school approach to creative learning through gardening, cooking, conservation, enterprise and using digital technology.

Pete Fox. Pete showed us some excellent resources for improving numeracy across the curriculum. One of which was tutpup which allow users to play lots of maths games but also compete with other children from across the world.

Alasdair Douglas told us about an amazing year 7 project at his school which was based on the Angry Birds games. The pupils designed, created and played their own versions of the game using skills they had learned in science, maths, geography, technology, etc. He tells it a lot better than I do, perhaps because he was one of the instigators and facilitators.

Mark Clarkson showed us his "image of the week" idea. This is where he uses photos to engage students in tutor time to get the to think and speak about the world around us. The pictures come from where there are galleries of news related photos from around the world.

Simon Finch showed us the history of his dealings with the apple corporation from buying his first mac to reviewing for mac user magazine in the early days and everything since and also showed us how to make mini books and gave us a few dozen reasons on how we could use them creatively in our classrooms. Simon also took dozens of photos of the event which can be found on his flickr page.

Lynda Dixon shared her love of writing implements in her "Stationery or stationary?" presentation which (as well as looking like a plug for all things Apple-y) also included a video of José Picardo's ideas on how people currently use technology in their everyday lives.

Helena Butterfield showed us all about e-twinning with schools around the world and the adventures of Michel, the teddy bear traveller, who has visited schools in many different countries as a result of a recent e-twinning project.

Fiona Joyce showed us the amazing world of Storybird an amazing site for collaborative storytelling. Fiona has even set up a storybird wiki for teachers of languages to share storybirds they have made. If you haven't seen her wiki yet, you should visit and be inspired.

Steve Bunce also presented in collaboration with Simon and urged us to look at his Kindles and play on his Xbox kinect.

Helen Daykin, representing sponsor I am learning, provided the most amazing cupcakes, too.

My presentation "10 ways to use mobile phones in your classroom" included a phone poll to gauge how great it would be for the attendees to use mobiles in their own classrooms. I made it with the free version of smspoll. it seemed to go down OK despite my terrible cold and sounding like the offspring of Mariella Frostrup and Joe Pasquale.

Here are the results of the online mobile phone poll:

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Agreeing with Gove? Surely not?

For those who don't know, Michael Gove MP is the UK government's Secretary of State for Education.

He has more cunning plans than Baldrick and, usually, they are just as ridiculous, but today, I find myself agreeing with him.

It was this article in this morning's Guardian which made me stop and think.

My first thought was, "Who are you, and what have you done with Michael Gove?"

I continued reading.

This quote really floored me:

"Just as some people have taken a perverse pride in not understanding mathematics, so we have taken a perverse pride in the fact that we do not speak foreign languages, and we just need to speak louder in English. It is literally the case that learning languages makes you smarter. The neural networks in the brain strengthen as a result of language learning."

Teaching languages from the age of five?

In all primary schools?

Is it really going to happen?

I doubt it .

We'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

MFL Show and Tell Plus

Saturday 24th September was the 4th MFLSAT+, an informal modern languages unconference were anyone who wanted could stand at the front of the auditorium (or appear at the various Genius bars) at Cramlington Learning Village and share ideas, resources, enthusiasm and passion with linguists from all over the UK.

Thanks go to Chris Harte (and Fabienne) for organising the whole event, the sponsors (without whom..) and everyone from the experienced practitioners to the trainee teachers who came and spoke and, more importantly, listened.

As usual, I saw some old friends I've met before (including one very old friend, Lynn), some old friends I've ever met in person and met new ones, and was in awe of all the presenters.

I learned lots about new (to me) resources and stole some ideas which I have already started to put into practice.

But enough about me.

I wrote pages and pages of notes (some of which I can just about read!) but lots of people who were there have already blogged about MFLSAT Plus and there was even a flashmeet so you can watch it all, if you have a few hours to spare.

So rather than bore you with my own fuddled recollections (or steal their thunder) I shall just give you the links to Clare Seccombe's blog and Amanda Salt's blog, not because I'm lazy, but because they are amazing, have better memories and I couldn't have put it better if I'd tried.

I am really looking forward to the next one.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

European day of languages 2011.

It's that time of the year again. Monday 26th September 2011 is European Day of Languages. Not a day to celebrate European languages, but a day in which ALL languages are celebrated.

To help you all celebrate here is a list of pages chock full of ideas:

This is the link to the wiki I created in 2009. Please join and add your ideas or just borrow the ideas already there.

Here is the CILT European Day of Languages page.

EDoL resources on TES website.

Some EDoL videos on youtube.

That should keep you busy.


Saturday, 10 September 2011

La Coupe du Monde de Rugby à XV

Here are some links to rugby world cup related sites, pages and authentic resources in French:
  • The Official site - everything you could possibly need or want to know (also available in Spanish).
  • Supporter les bleus! - iphone app - keep up to date with the French team.
  • BBC Ma France rugby activities and links - has some really good rugby terminology games.
  • Site of the French rugby federation - lots of match information.
  • A scoopit page dedicated to the tournament curated by Guillaume Marin, a French ICT teacher and rugby fan. Follow him on twitter here.
  • La tribu du XV a site by Société Générale - contains information and videos of the 15 children (parrains) they have chosen to help support the French team during the competition. SG has made tv commercials throughout the summer using the children to show their support for Les Bleus.
  • A nice flipchart from promethean planet.
  • A worksheet from TES Resources.
  • Dedicated rugby pages from French newspaper Le Monde

Since writing this post I have discovered more links and resources:

Friday, 26 August 2011

Learning Mandarin is NOT the solution!

Recently published A level and GCSE results have shown that the number of students studying languages has fallen by a significant amount. The government, is trying to resolve the problem (it thinks) by introducing Ebacc, forcing reluctant students to study a language.

Relevance has always been an issue in the language learning debate and many students either don't see the relevance, don't want to put in the effort or simply prefer other subjects. Given the choice, many year 8 and 9 students I have encountered would drop languages in favour of more PE, ICT, Technology, Drama, etc. and I probably would have done, too.

This is not because they don't like languages, but because they would prefer to do something else. Analogy: I love drinking coffee but give me the choice between cup of coffee and a cold beer on a hot summer's day and the beer would win every time.

So, what is the solution?

Make language learning "fun"?

Make it more relevant?

Force students to study MFL?

I don't know.

But I do know that teaching Mandarin in our schools is definitely NOT the solution.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Subliminal language learning - The results of the experiment.

You may remember, although there is no reason why you should, this post from last year where I set out to prove that I could learn a language from scratch without doing any work at all.

The language in question was Icelandic. The way I was going to learn it was through a "subliminal CD" which cost me $3.99 including shipping and taxis (sic) and was "developed by Medical doctors and PhDs in psychology", but sadly not in icelandic.

The plan was to listen to the CD regularly in the car and on my mp3 player. I gave myself exactly one year to do it and I, and the occasional unwitting passenger, have been "subliminally learning Icelandic" religiously for exactly 12 months.

The idea behind this was that if I ever met an Icelander I would be able to converse with them fluently in their own language and they would be really surprised, but not as surprised as I would be.

You will both be pleased to know that the experiment has now come to an end.

Some people said it could not be done.

They were right.

It was a huge failure.

I can categorically testify that it is impossible to to learn a language subliminally or, as we say in Icelandic:

það er ekki komið í staðinn fyrir vinnu*.

*there's no substitute for hard work.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Digital Dialects - language games for European Day of Languages

Another shameless plug. This time it's for the Digital Dialects website. The site has interactive language games in 60 different languages from Afrikaans to Zazaki.

To play the games you will need Flash Player. The games are very good for practising basic vocabulary and mainly consist of matching vocabulary games. For some languages there are activities for more advanced students, too.

There are no audio files for most games, so they can be used primarily to improve reading skills rather than as a main teaching tool.

It is very user friendly and, unlike some similar sites, tells the user when they have made a mistake and shows them where they went wrong.

Languages, such as Greek, Hindi, Mongolian, Japanese, etc which use different writing systems have activities mainly in their own alphabets.

This site would be ideal for learning and practising common phrases in different languages for the European Day of Languages on 26th September.

For more ideas on activities for European Day of Languages you can look at (or even join) the EDL Ideas wiki.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Contrepèterie or Word play in French.

The English language lends itself to manipulation of words and phrases to create amusement. Word play and double-entendre have been the driving force behind the nudge-wink style of comedy favoured by many successful British comedians over the years.

Take, for example, Kenny Everett's character Cupid Stunt. An excellent example of a spoonerism if ever there was one. (Originally, the character was to be called Mary Hinge but the BBC wouldn't allow it!)

I was listening to a radio programme about the use of spoonerisms and it suddenly struck me that they must exist in other languages, too. A quick wikipedia search told me that spoonerisms are used internationally in many different languages.

In French, this is called contrepèterie and is extremely popular. The French are immensely proud of this and, in fact, the satirical newspaper le canard enchaîné has a column solely devoted to contrepèterie.

As in English, contrepèterie usually is a quite innocent phrase but contains more than a hint of indecency if letters or syllables were manipulated and enough thought was given to it.

François Rabelais used contrepèteries in 1532 in Pantagruel "la femme folle à la messe"

Just south of Paris, in Bourg-La-Reine there is a bookshop called le verger des muses.

The are many famous contrepèteries.

Here are some of them for you to think about:
  • Les filles aiment le tennis en pension.
  • J'aime vachement votre frangin.
  • Elle prend la chose en riant.
  • L'auberge du chat qui rit.
So, the next time you speak with a French person, listen very carefully.
He may, or may not, be a shining wit.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Reall Languages

Another recommendation. This time it's for REALL-LANGUAGES. A fantastic website for practising vocabulary in French, German, Italian, Russian, Swedish , Latin and English. It also contains exercises in other subjects, too.

There is a link to this site on my department's wiki but I had forgotten about it until I saw a link to it from Steve Smith on twitter.

The exercises are in the form of interactive games and students from beginner to GCSE standard will find them a great way to revise and practise vocabulary.

It's completely free to use and all you need is an internet connection and java.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Sur le pont d'Avignon?

I was taught this song at primary school. We drew pictures of people dancing on a bridge. In crayon. Probably.

Before un kilo de chansons came along, this was the song that every student of French learned.

Sur le pont d’Avignon
L'on y danse, l'on y danse
Sur le pont d’Avignon
L'on y danse tout en rond

However, I found out today that it is, historically, wrong. You probably knew this already and are saying to yourselves "Isn't he stupid? Didn't he even know that?"

Today, as I was leaving Oldham to drive home I was accosted by my mother's neighbour. He had just, that second, arrived back from a holiday in the South of France and, as there was nobody else around, proceeded to recount his holiday adventures to me. (I could hear a collective sigh of relief from all the other neighbours!)

Anyway, he explained that the song was originally entitled "Sous le pont d'Avignon" because in medieval times, under the arches of the bridge on the Ile de la Barthelasse, there were all kinds of nefarious entertainments going on, including dancing. And dancing on the bridge was forbidden.

I checked this information and he is correct. So, now we all know. Thanks, Neil.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Learning German with Henning Wehn

The BBC German Languages site contains some excellent resources for learners of German. Self-proclaimed German comedy ambassador, and stand up comedian, Henning Wehn presents a series of hilarious and educational clips entitled "What so funny about German?"

The videos each last 3 or so minutes and the series includes advice on learning the German alphabet, word order, using genders, and finishes with advice on telling jokes in German.
I have embedded two of the clips below.

In the first, False friends, Henning explains that sometimes words sound the same in German and English but have totally different meanings.

In the second clip, Pseudo-anglicisms, Henning shows us that sometimes German takes English words and gives them a completely different meaning.

Do you know what Smoking, Evergreen and Bodybag mean in English? Watch and find out.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Lost in translation.

Translation has always been a tricky business. It isn't just a matter of changing words in one language to another and we can all quote examples of poor, but hilarious, translations from and into English. We can tell immediately if something has been translated by a student using google translate. In short, translation is only as good as the translator.

I read an article today from abc news about Pixar's new film (I refuse to use the word "movie") Cars 2. It has been released around the world and dubbed into 44 different languages and that is where Pixar's problems begin. One character in particular, Mater, proved extremely difficult:

"Mater's kind of a redneck, but that means nothing to anyone overseas because they don't have that particular vocal culture," says Rick Dempsey, senior vice president of Disney Character Voices. "So we had to figure out what region of Germany, for example, has more of an uneducated population without being offensive."

Good luck with that one, Rick.

This article got me thinking about the word "redneck" and how it would translate into other languages. In French, according to the word is "péquenaud". However, if you translate it back into English it gives the meaning as "hillbilly", "yokel" or "country bumpkin". All of these translations mean something completely different in English with differing degrees of offensiveness .

I'm sure that CBS would not have had such a hit in 1962 with a programme called "The Beverly Rednecks" or that the film "Deliverance" would not have been the success it was had Adge Cutler and the Wurzels been cast instead of Bill McKinney and Herbert Coward as the "mountain men".

I think that what I'm trying to say is that translation without intercultural understanding is pointless and if I didn't teach both I would be doing my students a huge disservice.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Learn French in One Word

I love this video. It is from Michelle Chmielewki's youtube channel.

What more can I say?

Sunday, 26 June 2011

CILT Cymru – Using peer assessment to improve writing skills

I was contacted a few weeks ago by Kristina Hedges from CILT CYMRU asking if I would allow them to put a link to a blogpost I wrote in November 2009 about effective feedback in one of their training modules. I was surprised and flattered (I still can't believe anyone reads this stuff!) and said "Yes" immediately. Kristina contacted me again last week to tell me that the module was on their website and give me the link.

The link was to one of CILT's training modules on Assessment for Learning entitled Barry Comprehensive - Using peer assessment to improve writing skills.

It is an excellent module and includes discussion points, activities to discuss before and after watching a video clip and some follow up activities (which is where the link to my blog can be found). I really like the module and think it would be useful to discuss and trial some of its ideas with my departmental colleagues.

Whilst browsing the CILT CYMRU site I came across another of their training modules, this time on skills based learning. This module shows how Blackwood Comprehensive has tried to raise student motivation and achievement by using interactive starters and games. Like the other module this comes with discussion points, activities and ideas for moving on.

I was impressed by both modules, they have given me a lot to think about and made me think about lots of different ways in which I can try to improve my own practice in the future.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Insomnia or How to have fun with a Random Letter Generator.

Recently, when I couldn't get to sleep I invented a new game using my digital alarm clock. Here's how it works: look at the time on the clock -

in this case 03:50, turn the numbers upside down so that they read O S E O and then try to think of as many words as you can which contain that sequence of letters .eg OStEOporosis.

So how can I use this amazing idea in the classroom?

Well, David Reed Associate Professor of Computer Science at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska has created a Random Letter Sequence Generator.

It is ideal for improving word power of MFL students. It allows you to choose the length of each random letter sequence and lets you choose which letters to randomise

For beginners you could choose to have 2 random letters and more for more able students. depending which language you are choosing, you can remove the less common letters. For example, if I were to be doing this task in French I would probably remove the letter K from the list before I started.

It is one of those games which students of all abilities could use and is easy to differentiate.

I haven't used it with my groups yet as I only discovered the generator very late last night. I imagine it will be really good and urge you to try it.

What could possibly go wrong?

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Desert islands discs - getting the sixth form speaking.

Sadly, it's very rare now that I find myself in a pub with my old friends Dave, Dave and Steven. Usually, towards the end of the evening when we have discussed the important issues of how badly Oldham Athletic are getting on, how rugby league is not what it used to be and what ever happened to Melvyn Hayes (and, more importantly, is he related to Geoffrey from Rainbow?) we always end up talking about our own "Desert Island Discs".

Desert Island Discs is a BBC radio programme in which a famous person chooses 8 gramophone records they would take with them should they ever be stranded on a desert island. The guest's life is then reviewed through their choice of records.

The idea is a very simple one and can be adapted for use in the classroom.

These are my rules:

For homework each student chooses 3 songs and prepares some notes.

In class they tell their partner which songs they have chosen and the reasons why.

The partner then asks questions to elicit further information and makes notes. This could be something like "Why do you like this song?" or "Where were you (or How old were you) the first time you heard this song?"

The pair then change roles.

Each student then gives a short summary to the group.

It is an interesting and fun way to get students speaking, taking notes and presenting to others and they seem to enjoy it.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Maslow, Motivation, and Me.

Last year at Teachmeet North East, Darren Mead recommended I read a book by Geoff Petty, Evidence-based Teaching. I did and it is very good.

In the book there is a chapter on motivation and using Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I'd come across Maslow before, as I have a degree in Languages and Business Management, and I was surprised at myself that I'd never linked Maslow with teaching before.

Since reading this, I have made a conscious effort to try to motivate my students following Maslow's theory.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs looks like this:
So, how do I use this model to motivate students?

Physiological and Safety Needs.
These seem obvious but students will not be motivated in a cold classroom and if the surroundings are not conducive to learning, students will not be motivated to learn.

Love Needs.
To give students a sense of belonging I do different things. I learn the students' names and greet them as they enter the room. I (occasionally) smile. I give merits and stamps for effort and participation, and display students' work in my classroom.

Esteem Needs.
In order to improve students' self esteem I make sure that all students in my class are treated with respect. I give opportunities for students to learn independently and use self and peer assessments, too. Another way to do this is to use students' work as a model for others to learn.

Self Actualisation Needs.
This is all about personal growth and achieving potential. How do I do this? By providing opportunities for students to express themselves, problem solving activities, using evaluation and discussing ideas, devising activities which are fun. In order to get to this top level of Maslow's hierarchy, the conditions of each earlier level must be achieved. Students who feel they are not respected will not take an active part in lessons.

Personally, I find that this has helped my planning and classroom management and I would urge others to follow this even if they use it only as a kind of checklist.