Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Decline of World Languages in The UK: Time to Reverse The Trend

In the wake of the best GCSE results ever, there has been a lot of discussions about the decline of languages in the UK, with a specific focus in French “no longer in the top 10 of popular subjects”.

I have been collecting such articles on Diigo and sharing them via my twitter account @icpjones.

More and more people are coming to the conclusion that leaving the development of such sensitive skills to market forces only will be detrimental to our educational system, our economy and our country in general.
This post is not about why languages are so essential, most educated people seem to agree they are. However, even if not studying a language is a common regret for a lot of adults, we seem to be getting a lot of mixed messages about languages in the media.

Languages are difficult
Nothing of value has ever been achieved without effort-the issue with languages is that the sense of true achievement is delayed over several years.

Languages are badly-taught
There has been sporadic “non-news” items claiming that you can’t get by using the skills taught for a GCSE. Speaking is usually the one targeted, the argument being that rote learning is encouraged to pass the exam. If the exam encourages rote learning, then the exam needs to be looked at. So, does that make languages too easy to pass? Only if you have an outstanding memory.

The topic-based National Curriculum was another subject of debate: too narrow and vocabulary-based. The New Curriculum is now virtually content-free. What is relevant content then? Relevant content is linked to what interests you and who you are... isn’t that a bit inward-looking? Challenging is better than relevant. 

Languages are marked harshly
There is a documented severe grading issue with languages but more confusion appears as the papers clamour “record numbers of A*-C”. So, is it easy to get a good grade or not? What it means is that your above average candidates move from very good to excellent whereas your average but decent linguists are finding it harder and harder to scrape through a C as the national co-hort becomes more and more selective.

The class divide
Private schools have kept languages on board as they know that a lot of parents value them and they are an asset for entering Higher Education. So why have state schools gone the other way?

League tables and tough A*-C targets have pushed schools into short-termism. This was mitigated by the introduction of the publication of figures including Maths, English and Science but as, unlike the publication of the Maths and English figures, the publication of the MFL statistics is devoid of any consequences for schools, there really is no incentive for schools other than Language Colleges to invest time, effort and money in languages.

Social labelling is rife: working class kids don’t wear blazers, they don’t study languages and they don’t go to university. Most of this labelling is self-inflicted and challenged in schools but deep down languages are still seen as something for the elite, something of a nice-but-not-essential luxury because, let’s face it, everybody speaks English abroad...

Social mobility cannot be achieved by developing a two-tier educational system, so ... back to compulsory languages?

Although I am a strong advocate of languages for ALL, I do not believe in GCSE for all. There is now a wider range of qualifications, like NVQs and Asset Languages, suitable for students who may not need a high level of foreign language proficiency in the future. The thing is, that should be their decision, not ours. By narrowing the curriculum and denying students the option to take languages, we are carrying on with social labelling and reinforcing the view that “languages are for posh kids”.

In addition, a move back to compulsion does not seem realistic in terms of staffing as I recall there was a staff shortage before languages were made optional...(coincidental, surely)

So, what about incentives for schools? ... and for students?
Students and parents need to know that languages will help them to get into ALL universities. This will give schools a clear message that a language-free curriculum would be detrimental to their best students.

The idea of a percentage of the cohort having to do languages seems a reasonable argument. How can we pretend to be on the Gifted & Talented list and not do a foreign language? That’s only 10%, so it is not even a very far-reaching target...

The key would be to ensure that ALL students can study a language if they want to. Recently, the demise of French was even mentioned on the French National Television. However, this information did not sound right: student do not always choose not to do French, it is more that they choose what they see as the easiest from a bunch of options or in some cases the choice has already been made for them by over-streaming the cohort (you are in the red stream, you can do Geography or Art).

The percentage of students studying languages at KS4 should be advertised with exam results, rather than the percentage of students getting A*-C at GCSE and other figures than can be affected by native speakers taking GCSEs in their home languages. I do believe bilingual students should gain recognition for their language skills, but the figure does not really show the school’s commitment to developing the language capacity in ALL students.

It is time to reverse the trend and political support is also key...

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

CLIL is Brill

As we are preparing to go back to school, CLIL certainly is on my agenda as something to try to raise standards at KS3. Karen Hutley, SSAT Practitioner and member of our Oldham SLN will be sharing her CLIL adventures on 12th November. More details are available from Karen at
Looking forward to it and more details to come soon. Save the date!!


Thursday, 19 August 2010

Ipod touch/ iphone Applications for The Language Teacher Update

A few months after I started to look at useful applications for the languages teacher, I thought it would be a good idea to review my use of the apps I shared in previous posts as well add to the list. All applications are available through iTunes App Store.

I started looking at languages apps, thinking they could be of use to my students. I am still planning on sharing the apps list with my students but I am now a lot clearer about what is more likely to be useful for teachers and what students might want to use.

Although I have found WordReference (free) bilingual dictionaries with verb tables and sound files very useful, I have also consistently been using:

Les nombres (free) for writing numbers in French-just type in the number to check the spelling

Le Bescherelle (£0.59): a classic to find out everything about French verbs
Le Petit Robert (Dixel): Monolingual French dictionary, a bargain at £5.49 as it includes common and proper nouns as well as some word games.

El conjugador (£0.59): very user-friendly application to check conjugated verbs in Spanish

WordWeb Audio English dictionary is a great reference with British English accent.

Wikipedia (free): set language can be changed to search for articles in a foreign language

Cultural references

I have used screenshots from a range of museums and places of interest like: Musée du Louvre,
Grand Palais, Musée Marc Chagall de NiceMusée National Fernand Léger de Biot . (These applications are also available in English)

It is also interesting to note that a lot of French touristic landmarks have their own applications, whereas I have found few Spanish ones in comparison.

Authentic resources for different topics (through snapshots)

Places in town/ directions: Icam (Spain)-free: Links to live webcams in a selection of cities like Barcelona, Madrid or Seville, Paris underground map

Clothes: La Redoute-free, ElleMarie-Claire, VogueDior, ActuMode, Chanel

Transport: SNCF (free): to get authentic resources on train transport, Madrid Metro, trenes, EMT Madrid

Food: (free) lots of recipes in French with link to the website for more information, canal cocina, cuisiner

Current affairs : 7 jours sur la planete :TV5 Monde (free) videos and comprehension exercises, guía reciclaje, slate (analysis of current affairs in French)

House and Home : Explorimmo-French,, segundamano,, Marie-Claire deco & design , Logic-immo

TV and Cinema : Télé Loisirs, Premiere, TF1 vision, Tele7, TéléMagazine,telepub, alloCiné, guía TV ONO

Sport :, le monde sport, Marca (Spanish), Le tour de France (TDF)

French-speaking world : Jeune Afrique

Jobs/ Names: PagesJaunes, Prénoms, cadremploi

Health: Dr Mobile (French), Impact santé, Au Secours

Shopping:, Printemps

Festivals: SanFermín, Bourges 2010

Jokes: chistedeldia, Prime jokes (Spanish)

Primary: Lobitotito: a story for children told in Spanish and illustrated with beautiful pictures

Press/news video

Definitely one for the teacher, although the advanced student will also find it very useful.

Le, Le,, Le, l’express, local papers like La , the local paper for the South West of France, France 24 (news videos ), journal des plages, Le Nouvel Observateur, le Monde Diplomatique

El, LaVanguardia, El Pais, (celebrity gossip magazine), Muy, Qué, La Gaceta, Semana, LaRazon, portadas

Radio and Music:

I started looking at individual radio apps like LCI radio, Radio France, Europe1 (French) or RNE radio, Cadena Ser, Onda Cero (Spanish) but I have found applications by language or countries more useful:

Euro Radio (£0.59) Select stations by countries and post your favourite stations to Twitter, Facebook or MySpace.

Grabadora de radio español/France Radio Recorder (£0.59 each) enables you to record from a wide range of radio in French or Spanish

French radio (free) and Radio Podcast (French) offer a wide choice of French radio stations

Rap2France-All the news about French rap music (in French) with Youtube links, news and interviews.

E-books :

Fables (La Fontaine), Alcools (Apollinaire), Le Rouge et Le Noir (Stendhal) and Une Vie (Maupassant) are free on the Classique application. More classics are also available in Spanish or German.

How do I keep up to date?

My favourite is now the appbzr application. It is great to find “price-drops” or apps that are free for a limited period only. It also have a top 100 for apps in different countries including Germany, Italy and Japan-shame it does not include Spain, though...

I have also set up a google spreadsheet where I have collected the names of more than 100 language-related iPhone/ iPodTouch applications, most of them free. The spreadsheet can be accessed from here.

Looking forward to sharing more resources... 

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

ALL French Day, Sheffield, 5th July

Another great event organised by ALL that I am looking back at for inspiration to update my Schemes of  Work.

The first session I attended was by Suzi Bewell. Suzi is a SSAT Lead Practioner and one of her favourite area of interest is the use of phonics in language teaching.

Suzi shared with us many ideas and resources but I made note of the following points regarding the teaching of phonics:

• Put silent letters in brackets/ different colour or type.

• Introduce the phonic patterns before student come across them in new words.

A general introduction to the code, how different letters can sound together, as a general introduction / induction module or transition project.

• There is quite a lot of reference books available in French but less so in Spanish, maybe because pronunciation rules are less irregular in Spanish (?)

Teach “liaison” in French and what the most commonly used words actually sound like when they are part of a sentence (de, que, la, le, est, pour, et, qui, les, dans, des, a, en, par, un, plus, du, pas, une, au]

Play phonic bingo with tricky common words with silent letters e.g. souris, gris, ils, ans, vingt, minuit, trois, deux...

Play Le Jeu des 7 familles (Happy Family card games) Find the different families by sound. You may use to design your set of cards.

Sound-alike wall display posters: they could be yours or designed by students to consolidate previous work.

• Examples of “sound-alikes” in French: è- ê, ai-ei, ss-ç, o- au- eau, aux-ô ...

• Use Wordle to design posters or starter activities like “odd one out”

Mexican wave listening exercises e.g. when you hear the “in” sound, give me a wave: write a story with all “in” words in or get students to write the story: Vincent, vingt-cinq, intelligent, lapin, pingouin, mince, vin, patin train, fin...

Podcast/vodcast created by students with the support of the Foreign Language Assistant

Human spellings or washing lines: good for demonstrating how words break down in different syllables/ sound patterns and great for word order too.

The second workshop I attended was presented by Liz Black and was all about “Designing Compelling Learning Experiences”. Liz is an AST, a consultant for North Yorkshire LA and a Head of Languages at Stokesley School. She is a great believer in using cross-curricular themes to teach languages in order to match the content with students’ experiences and levels of maturity as well as secure their engagement.

Liz uses the Philosophy For Children principles (P4C) to manage class discussions. More information about this can be found here and here.

P4C is a very different way to look at learning and it is also a proven way to raise challenge and attainment. The introduction provided by Liz made me consider P4C as a focus for my own CPD in the coming year as it complement my own area of interest, PLTS.

Liz likes to use topics like Fair Trade and other “dilemma-led learning” opportunities and resources provided by organisations like CAFOD, the British Heart Foundation or the EC. She also designed an excellent transition module for Y7 integrating all theses references.

I also enjoyed re-reading Liz Black’s top tips about developing cross-curricular links in ALL’s Language Today magazine, Autumn 2009, the summary of which is as follows:

1. Get together a small group of teachers from different subjects who are committed and enthusiastic. Share subject knowledge and great resources.

2. Decide on a theme that is wide-reaching or global and that can foster deep learning.

3. Insist on extended time: full or half days and include a period of reflection/ evaluation at the end of the day.

4. Use native speaker sound files embedded into Powerpoint presentations to support non-specialist colleagues with pronunciation.

5. Teach dictionary skills early on in the year and provide vocabulary book for students to log their own discoveries as they go along.

6. Make audio and video digital recordings of the students working and of the outcome.

7. Plan for practicalities such as class registers, rooming, how to get resources to the different rooms.

8. Encourage ambitious use of the language, offer support but do demand an enquiring and analytical approach.

The 3rd workshop I attended was Sara Vaughan's “Stepping away from the textbook”. Sarah is a language consultant based in the South-East, where she was also co-ordinating a team of ALL Regional Subject Advisers. Amongst all the ideas given by Sara throughout her session, I made a note of the following:

• Use the French Headlines from as a starter/connect activity

• Use regional/local information to make learning content more engaging

• Make a recipe book for each region of France/Spain etc... as a way to develop cooperative learning and link with other subjects

• Use sporting event as a theme for a project: e.g. Le Grand Prix de Monaco-great to introduce direction, transport, time, places in town...

The great dinner debate: who would you invite and why?

Fantasy football portfolio/ WAGS

A Day in the Life of ...

Dream Holiday: give students a budget and they arrange transport and accommodation etc... (internet research)

Compare and contrast one aspect of the culture of the Target Language country

Design a Healthy Living manual: Make a simple food diary as homework-3 plates and 1 extra plate for snacks!

Protect your planet campaign: Design an eco-school

All the ideas and materials from the workshop can be found on Sara’s blog and are certainly worth a look as Schemes of Work are being updated throughout the land...

Saturday, 14 August 2010

ALL London Event, 19th June 2010

It seems such a long time since I attended this wonderful event but, as I am putting together my action plan for the new academic year, some ideas-most of them sparked by Rachel Hawkes and Michael Wardle’s presentations-are definitely worth revisiting...

I really enjoyed Rachel’s presentation and looking at her initial checklist for success is a great way to re-focus for the new academic year:

Learning languages should be about ...

• Fun/ humour
• Communicating
• Learning new things
• Feeling successful
• Being part of a community

Rachel presented her “10 ideas that worked for me” but my own "hit list" only goes to 6! Well, I start somewhere...

1. I really liked the idea of electing “co-teachers” for students to support the development of speaking in the classroom. This is a great strategy to develop student’s independence in the classroom, turning it into a reward and giving it a high profile.

2. Phonics: This is the key to student’s confidence and feel-good factor when tackling speaking activities. Phonics need to be introduced into SoWs, integrated in classroom practice and student feedback must be obtained to gauge impact across the ability range.

3. Developing students’ ability to ask questions: If it is always the teacher asking questions, this is going to be an interrogation rather than a conversation... A quick starter consisting in a range of answers can be used to prompt students to ask questions:

Oui, bien sûr. Et toi?
Je suis allée au cinéma et j’ai vu un film super
J’aimerais vivre en Ecosse
On peut aller au marché e jeudi
Hier, je suis restée à la maison
Quand il fait beau j’aime me promener à bicyclette

4. Look at ways to develop students’ SEAL through languages initiatives targetted at specific year groups eg. Y9 visiting primary school to teach the language, exchange students teaching a different language, using links abroad and primary links or delivering a language leader programme as Rachel did in her own school.

5. A wider variety of snappy connect starter activities e.g.

Say the name of a category in the Target Language and give students seconds to draw something e.g. un animal

Tu as des frères ou des soeurs? Answer in 7 words exactly, in more than 8 words, include opinion etc...

Discuss school life for 3 minutes: when? What? Where? How? Why? How often?

Discuss a picture using the same questions

Find out about a character and use dictionary

Get students to make their own flashcards on a specific topic

6. A wholeschool language/literacy project: The Spelling Bee
This could be set up as a school competition or for a group of schools in the same area.
More details are available on the wiki 

Friday, 13 August 2010

Oldham SLN Bring and Brag

I will be missing our Oldham SLN... As 4 schools are merging into 2 to become academies, we are going through a period of rapid change where the networking between our schools will continue but with different people and possibly in a different way.

Our last meeting in May represented the wide range of language activities taking place in secondary schools across the borough...

Cross-curricular Projects

Marseilles: A Project on The Environment 

I really thought this was an interesting idea... A lot would depend on the support material provided to the students as well as the suggested outcome: presentation, speech, leaflet... The project could easily include industries, sustainable development, immigration, sport, housing, weather etc...

Research fashion/ music over a specific decade

It can culminate in a fashion show/ concert for the very ambitious. The recurrent trends in fashion/ music could include a bit of history too... Some of the outcomes shared were 3D posters including pictures and fabric. It was very “low tech” but had really engaged the students and the level of language produced was pretty impressive too. In the music project, music was used as a prompt to discuss texts, express opinions and introduce "mood" vocabulary. The different influences were discussed and the music sampled through audio and video. 

• Students plan their own trip to a local Christmas Market (Link with Business and Enterprise)

Students do research, admin, devise worksheets, assist with risk assessment. It has been presented as a competition and the students with the best-prepared project are allowed to run the trip.

• Entreprise Day : The Apprentice

Wholeschool project where students need to research, design and pitch a product. If they want teachers’ help, consultancy fees will be added to the cost of the product!