Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Language World 2014, 4-5 April at Lancaster University

I had a great time at Language World 2014. As promised, here is a copy of my slides and reference sheet. If you are still not an ALL member, what are you thinking of? Definitely time to join this fantastic community...

Friday, 28 February 2014

MFL Conference, The Piggott School, Reading, 28th February 2014

I had a really good day at The Piggott School  in Reading today. Please find below the slides for the two sessions I delivered.


Saturday, 15 February 2014

Myths and Reality: Foreign Language skills for the 21st century?


This item was published on the Osiris Educational blog on 7th February 2014

I never really liked to describe the subject I teach as MFL. Modern? If you have to state something is modern, doesn’t it somehow make it sound old-fashioned? Foreign? The word never conjured up anything warm and accepting to me… 

Some people will then go on to tell me that MFL is a neat way to distinguish languages like French or Spanish from Community Languages. Does this mean that French is not a community language in London despite quite a large French community living there? Is this a polite but obvious way to discriminate between languages? After the Olympics and London being described as one of the most multilingual cities in the world, I had really hoped for this distinction to disappear. Languages are languages, aren’t they? 

If you are bilingual or multilingual, you have been given a special gift that needs to be celebrated. So why are so many school children hiding the fact they may be using a different language at home? 

The national debate about languages seems to be evolving in the UK and this is all good news. There is still a fair amount of myths circulating in and out of schools about how languages may not be “suitable” for all children and even a possible threat to the development of their language skills in English. Funnily enough, the vast majority of conversations I have had about this were with people who still consider that being monolingual is the norm. The thing is, there are now more multilingual people in the world and being monolingual is becoming more and more an exception to the norm. 

Some children will find learning a language easier than others but the truth is that proficiency in any language cannot be easily attained. It requires time, effort, resilience and equal opportunity of access as it is still optional in many schools. In addition, the examination system does not serve languages particularly well. It provides pupils with limited options-why can’t we study French for Food Studies at GCSE?-and does not always give pupils a positive recognition of their skills. 

There is indeed a language skills deficit in the UK at even the most basic level, probably the one some would say is not “worth bothering about”, justifying the narrow choice of language qualifications available, but is no skills at all better than some skills although limited? Clearly not. It would be like refusing to enter a race at school just for knowing that we could not possibly end up in the top 3. So what about the other benefits of taking part? Language learning needs to be embraced as an activity that will benefit all, in the same way as all children benefit from core PE. 

Is language learning a 21st century skill? Usually the discussions gravitate around the role of technology and core skills like literacy, numeracy and oracy, with no sign of language learning being included in the list. I find this odd as Language learning skills are part of literacy core skills-they also support the development of mother tongue literacy by allowing comparisons. 

Recently, the debate about languages for all has been hijacked by the “which language” debate. Do not allow yourself to get distracted-we have a language deficit in the UK and I am not sure whether stating publicly that some languages are more useful than other is helpful at all. We need more languages taught by qualified specialists in schools. If language skills are taught well, they are transferable so the “which language” discussion becomes redundant as we cannot predict accurately what will be of use by the time our current school children enter the job market. 

Language teachers should also be allowed to bring languages alive and tap into youth culture, which they cannot always do in the curriculum time they are given-one of the smallest in Europe. Languages, just like technology are in constant evolution. Using ICT and social media can provide very real opportunities to communicate quickly and effectively with different language speakers about all sorts of common interests. 

In schools, the question should not be whether all children should learn languages or which one but how language teachers can work with all areas of the curriculum to make language-learning an integrated literacy-enhancing experience. 

[I am looking forward to taking part in the languages conference organised by Osiris in the summer. For more information click  here and here. See you there...]

Monday, 10 February 2014

ICT into Languages Conference, Southampton University, 8-9th February 2014

Yet again, I had a fantastic time attending and speaking at the ililc4 conference held at the University of Southampton, 8-9th February 2014.
Please find below a copy of the slides I used for my two sessions as well as a copy of the slides I used at the Show and Tell.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

‘1:1’: Taming the Idiom in Today’s Language Classroom

By  Peter Smith :
Peter has over 30 years experience as a teacher of French and German, and is currently a member of the board of OpenExam and a director of Schoolshape Ltd.
For enrichment of students’ language learning, idioms are an important addition to the teacher’s toolbox. Idiomatic language can be as useful and diverting as games, poems, songs, drama, video and tongue-twisters. They are also a subtle gateway to the all-important understanding of a foreign culture.
The advent of ‘1:1’ (each student having an online device) has prompted new strategies for introducing new material. With the ‘flipped classroom, for example, students are encouraged to ‘think around’ the new subject matter, using online tools such Language Lab software and multimedia online worksheets containing audio, video and exercises, to support learning and encourage collaboration.
Why idioms?
So, why should idioms be presented to young linguists seeking to extend their linguistic and cultural knowledge?
Idioms are an important and enjoyable part of language and communication. They help to focus students’ attention on the imaginative side of communication, to dig beneath straightforward dictionary meanings, and launch them on the high seas of figurative language. They also offer a challenging way for students to develop their productive writing and all-important oracy skills.
Four good reasons for putting idioms on the agenda:
1. They can provide a way to improve the style and quality of students' written and spoken language. There will be many who will want to use such delightful francophone expressions as ‘appuyer sur le champignon’, ‘casser les pieds à quelqu'un’ and ‘avoir un chat dans la gorge’. Others may seek to use more complex figurative expressions.  
2. They are a useful addition to the teacher's assessment toolbox ... a good way to sort the wheat from the chaff amongst students.
3. They help to provide a springboard for discussion of culture differences, personalities and sensibilities of nationalities, as reflected in their language.
4. Their introduction will, at the very least, provide some light relief and enrich discussion in the classroom.
When to introduce idioms?
Plunging students too early and too abruptly into the ‘deep end’ of figurative language can be counterproductive.  The timing of their introduction is a delicate matter. Premature exposure can be fraught with misunderstandings, even in the students’ native language, and the potential quagmire of idiomatic language can be a daunting prospect.
The new ‘1:1’ strategies allow the teacher to be very precise about timing. Students can work from an agenda or ‘to do list’ on their online device, controlled by the teacher. This will display tasks appropriate for them individually, guiding them into new material which they can tackle on their own terms and in their own time. As tasks and worksheets can be online, the teacher can monitor progress, and see precisely the subsequent support required in the classroom.
How to deploy Idioms
So what is the best, clearest and safest method of unleashing idioms in the language classroom? How are foreign language teachers to explain the meaning of idiom with the greatest economy and clarity, by providing structured tasks which will help students to improve their language skills?
What to avoid
A ‘cold’ introduction to a complex or potentially difficult topic, particularly to a mixed ability class, can be counterproductive. The level of understanding will vary from one student to the next according to their respective abilities and learning styles. The ‘chalk and talk lecture' is a blunt instrument and class discussions are prone to red herrings. Much valuable time can be wasted when some members of a class are ready for the discussion and others are not, resulting in uncertain levels of comprehension and little tangible achievement.
A better way
 ‘1:1’ strategies, and the ‘flipped classroom’ method allow students to study the new material in their own time before doing follow-up work under the direct supervision of the teacher. This method has a ‘warm-up’ effect, allowing each student time to think around the subject in their own time, collaborate with peers, and, crucially, try the language out for themselves. 
Key teaching elements
Using an online language lab, the teacher can assign multimedia worksheets, adapting the content to the right level to suit the various levels of ability and achievement of the students. As students work on the material by watching and responding to video etc., the teacher can check how they are coping with their initial exposure to the subject matter, and see who is showing signs of using the new language correctly.  With preliminary exposure to idiomatic language thus absorbed, students will be ready and more confident for subsequent activity in the classroom.
In class the teacher will then be able to adopt a more individual approach, with slower students finishing their online work, and more able students working on more complex idiomatic language and structures.
An example worksheet: Se casser la tête
This worksheet introduces ‘se casser la tête’, ‘ne me casse pas la tête’ and ‘le casse-tête’. It is eand contains elements which:
(a) explain in theory how idiomatic language works. This could be a simple written explanation such as:
‘Idioms are expressions or sayings that do not make sense when translated word for word, but have meaning to a native speaker. They often carry certain cultural nuances that are relevant for native speakers’
(b) illustrate the meaning, literal and/or figurative, using a graphic
(c) provide opportunities to think about alternatives for translation into English
(d) give written and spoken examples, both in the students’ mother tongue and in the target language.
(e) provide opportunities for hearing and repeating the idiom in common usage and then speaking and writing it in context.
Introducing idioms in this way should help to preempt problematic questions such as: ‘How do I translate one idiom with another idiom? or ‘What does Je me casse la tête mean?’
This method will also hopefully whet appetites for learning more idiomatic phrases.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Turn your new year's good resolutions into action and save money! Book now for Language World 2014

Prepare for the new  year by planning your professional “me time”. This is an invitation to join a great community of language teachers at Language World 2014, Friday 4th April and Saturday 5th April at Lancaster University, England.
Language World is organised by ALL, our subject association, and it really is the must-attend event for all language teachers. It is an annual occasion to reflect and share creative ideas as well as find out more about new pedagogy, policy and practice. Last but not least, it is also an opportunity to meet with like-minded colleagues.
The theme this year is ‘Joined Up’, which allows us to explore ways we can work together to meet the most important challenges we face as a subject community. Language World is open to everyone involved in languages education and people from across all sectors and from all languages backgrounds are welcome.
For this reason, the programme of our two-day conference has distinct strands for secondary, primary, CLIL, and research in languages education.
Language World 2014 preparations are already in full swing and to celebrate the launch of this year’s ALL Joined Up theme ALL is offering an extra special delegate rate starting from just £100pp/d. 
You have until December 31st to take advantage of this great offer, so don’t hesitate, book now!

Booking your place at Language World
Please click to view the Language World conference programme for Friday and here for Saturday. (If you'd like to know more about our speakers and their talk, please save the .pdf file on your computer and double click on the blue tags attached in each session box.)

You can find this year's prices including our Christmas special rates here.
To book your place at Language World 2014, please select a talk you’d like to attend from each of the sessions and then open the registration page in a new window. We recommend you have the conference agenda in front of you or open in a separate window as you register, as some sessions may book up quickly and it is impossible to press “back” without losing your information in the registration process.

Getting to Language World
Not a member yet? Time to join! You will benefit from great offers as well as the support of your national subject association. More details here on benefits and how to join.
This year, I will be speaking on the Saturday but I will be also be attending on Friday 4th April.
See you there!

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Motivate ALL your language learners!-Differentiation revisited, Manchester Grammar School, Saturday 23rd November

I had a lovely morning presenting for ALL at Manchester Grammar School. As promised pleased find below a copy of the slides I used for my "Differentiation revisited" session as well as an electronic copy of the reference sheet I gave out.