Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Brits refuse to learn foreign languages.

My heart sank as I read this article from the Daily Mail this morning.

I'm not a regular reader of the Daily Mail, honest. I have set up a google newsfeed for anything relating to modern languages.

Apparently, the average British tourist knows fewer than 10 phrases of the language of the country they visit.

It isn't this which bothers me, though. It is the fact that this ignorance is worn as a badge of pride. Only in Britain can ignorance be a status symbol - something to be proud of.

Luckily for us, the Daily Mail has printed some useful phrases for us all to impress the locals when we travel abroad (Obviously, I have left in all their mistakes and I love the fact that readers are told how to ask the time in French but would have no idea how to translate the reply):


Hello (Bonjour)
Goodbye (Au revoir)
Yes (Oui)
Thank you (Merci)
My name is... (Je m'appelle...)
Do you speak English? (Parlez-vous Anglais?)
Good evening (Bon soir)
Wine (Vin)
What time is it? (Quelle heure est-il?)


Hello (Hola)
Yes (Si)
Thank you (Gracias)
Goodbye (Adios)
Good morning (Buenas dias)
Good evening (Buenos noches)


Hello (Guten tag)
Yes (Ja)
Thank you (Danke)
Goodbye (Auf weidersehen)
Good morning (Guten morgen)
My name is (Ich heisse)
Good evening (Guten abend)


Hello (Salve)
Goodbye (Arrivederci)
Yes (Si)

Enjoy the holidays!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Subliminal language learning - an update.

I'm now two thirds into my "learn Icelandic subliminally" project. I'm afraid to say that it does not seem to be working.

I shall not give up hope, though. I still have until August to become totally fluent. Four more months of listening to the worst kind classical music should help me become totally fluent.

I can't wait.

Perhaps if it was working I'd have put it this way...

Ég er nú að tveir þriðju inn minn "learn Icelandic subliminally" verkefninu. Ég er hræddur um að segja að það virðist ekki vera að vinna.

Ég mun ekki gefa upp von, þó. Ég hef enn fyrr en í ágúst til að verða algjörlega altalandi. Fjóra mánuði að hlusta á versta klassískri tónlist ætti að hjálpa mér að verða algjörlega altalandi.

Ég get ekki beðið.

Takk Google Translate!

Monday, 11 April 2011

Cultural differences - a student's-eye view.

Four weeks ago, a colleague and I took a party of 18 A level students (aged 16-18) from Hartlepool, in the north east of England, to Paris for 4 days of sightseeing and French speaking.

The trip was a great success and every single one of them improved their French, trying it out on the unsuspecting locals who did their best to misunderstand and then sell them things they did want for prices they didn't want to pay.

Many of these students hadn't been to France before and now they were being immersed in Parisian culture for 4 whole days.

So, what cultural differences did they notice in the culture capital of the world? (My students' comments are in italics)

  • La bise - a perfectly normal greeting between French friends - the most alien thing in the world to kids from my school. (Look at them 2 women!)
  • Se serrer la main - they couldn't get over the fact that everyone did this on meeting people in the street or on the metro. (Why are they doing that?)
  • Fumer - apparently this is still a pretty cool thing to do if you're French. (Don't they know it's bad for them?)
  • Le café - everyone drinking coffee (Black coffee? Eeuurgh!) and hundreds of small pavement cafés all over the city.
  • People begging in the streets - something you don't see much in Hartlepool. You have to go to the bustling metropolis that is Middlesbrough for that.
  • Dogs - almost everyone appeared to have a dog and didn't seem to want to clean up after it. (Student: Sir, where's all this mess coming from? Me: Dogs, I hope!)
  • Food - Paris the world's capital of fine food (I hate this, I thought French food was supposed to be good. McDonald's doesn't even sell McFlurrys!)
  • French drivers - the French are famous for their bad driving skills and it seems that pedestrian crossings are just street art. Of course if you're English, in your late teens, and used to traffic driving on the left, crossing the road in many countries can be dangerous.
There you have it, all the differences between France and the UK as summed up by my students.

PS: In reality, the most French thing that happened was when I took them to the market at Saint Denis. We arranged to meet the students in the square at an agreed time. Some of them were late back, so as we were waiting, one of the stall holders came to chat to me. He asked what we were protesting against, how many more students were expected and where were we marching to.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Banning mobile telephones.

Today the UK's coalition government announced that schools will be given greater powers to deal with unruly students. This will include extending powers to search students for banned items such as illegal drugs, alcohol and mobile telephones. There is a very good article on the BBC News website about this.

Like many teachers, I am always looking for ways to improve teaching and learning and using mobile phones is one of my favourite ways of increasing participation and motivation among my students. So, I was more than a little disappointed to read that the government is thinking of banning them.

This evening I wrote the following letter to the Education Secretary, Michael Gove:

Dear sir,

I was very disappointed to read in the media today of the coalition government's plan to ban pupils from using mobile telephones in schools from September this year.

I understand that, in the hands of some unruly students, a mobile telephone could be a major distraction and a way to disrupt and prevent learning. However, I feel that a total ban on mobile telephones is not only a short-sighted measure but would cause more harm than good in the long term.

As a teacher of Modern Foreign Languages the use of mobile telephones in my classroom over recent years has increased participation, improved creativity and encouraged independent learning among my students.

To you, the tabloid press and the general public, a mobile telephone, it seems, is a weapon of mischief. To me, it is so many other things.

In my classroom a mobile telephone is:

  • the way to access the most up to date foreign language dictionaries.

  • a homework diary.

  • a tool for downloading and creating podcasts and educational video files.

  • a voice recorder to aid pronunciation and revision.

  • a video recorder to record dialogues for peer and self assessment.

  • a tool for sending answers to an interactive whiteboard.

  • a revision aid.

  • an excellent way to show independent learning.

I urge you to reconsider this proposal and think about the consequences such a decision will have on teaching and learning in our schools.

Your sincerely,

Dominic McGladdery