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.