Sunday, 26 July 2015

Review: Other Cats to Whip, The Book of French Idioms

I just love idioms, they are a part of everyday life and often give you a real insight into the target language culture. But how often do we think about their literal and intended meanings? For instance, why do the English say that they have “other fish to fry” rather than “have other things to do”? This is a great opportunity to look at how sentences are built and to practise translation for fun.
After moving from the UK to France in late 2012, author Graham Clark started to use native idioms and noticed that the French idioms were often very different to their English counterparts and, in many cases, even more bizarre!
Instead of having other fish to fry, the French have “other cats to whip” or “d’autres chats à fouetter”, to mean they have other things to do. In the introduction of the book, Graham issues a tongue-in-cheek warning whilst sharing his embarrassing misuse of this expression in a comical attempt to fit in with the locals.
Inspired by this story, Graham and his co-author Zubair Arshad, have carefully selected French idioms, each with a memorable illustration aiming as a reminder of the literal meaning of the phrase.
Each expression is provided with its literal English translation, actual meanings and example sentence, which makes it an interesting linguistic reference for students of all levels. The pictures and translations also make it an entertaining read for non-linguists who may have a connection with a French-speaking country.
My favourite expressions from the book include “Se croire sorti de la cuisse de Jupiter” to mean “To believe you came from Jupiter’s thigh (God’s Gift)”, “Il n’y a pas le feu au lac” (Don’t panic), “Se faire prendre pour un pigeon” (To be taken for a ride) and also “Tomber dans les pommes”, meaning to “To fall in the apples (to faint)
Whatever your mood, whether you are feeling upbeat or have the blues (avoir le cafard= to have the cockroach), this lovely little book is guaranteed to make you smile…
The book is available on Kindle (£3.99) and Paperback (£4.99), on Amazon UK and Amazon US, which makes it a very affordable little gift for linguistically-minded friends.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Review: Languagenut, a Language Subscription Site with a Difference

Created in 2009, Languagenut promotes a fun, simple and engaging approach to language learning for KS2 and KS3 pupils. Although Languagenut has its HQ in the UK, it now has users all over the world in 32 countries, from Puerto Rico and the US to Asia and it has adapted its platform to meet the curriculum needs in those different countries.

The range of languages offered is truly global but also supports heritage languages including Gaelic and Te Reo Maori. This is complemented by a unique range of EAL resources which supports the children in the UK who do not speak English as their first language.

The MFL and EAL resources rely on simple games, engaging students in simple, fun and effective learning activities. Students explore a set of words or phrases through the “presentation” feature, and then reinforce the language working across the key skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking. All resources are organised by topics and graded by difficulty, with each topic also offering a song and a story to practise key structures in a different way. Each topic can also be assessed via the platform.

Teachers can also track and reward pupils’ progress through the activities whether they are completed in class or independently at home. All progress data can be exported into an Excel spreadsheet and progress reports including graphs can be produced easily. Reward certificates can also be generated automatically.

In addition, the “My content” allows teachers to use Languagenut’s framework of presentations, games and assessments for their own words and phrases. Sound and pictures can also be uploaded and the newly created exercises are automatically trackable by teachers as soon as they are published.
All exercises can also be assigned to specific groups of pupils or individuals, which can help differentiation for class work and homework.

Healthy competition is also encouraged via the lingualympics board, which displays the sign-in name of the top 20 students and 20 schools worldwide.

I was lucky enough to be taken on a guided tour of this excellent platform by the delightful Liz Brewer and I would advise to get in touch if you are considering languagenut as it does offer a lot more than your usual language subscription site…

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Learning Vocabulary with FlashSticks

FlashSticks®  are foreign language Post-it® notes, each printed with a foreign language word, their translation, an icon and phonetic support. The notes are colour-coded by gender too: BLUE notes for masculine nouns, PINK notes for feminine and GREEN for all other word types. FlashSticks also have a free app that allows learners to hover their smartphones or tablets over the notes and see the video of a native language tutor to help them with the pronunciation of the word.
I tried the Spanish and French beginner’s packs, which have notes for 100 words each. The idea behind FlashSticks is well-established practice in language learning: You need to be surrounded by what you learn, say the new words, reading them and listen to them.
The coulour-coding is very effective but I would not normally use “transcription” to support pronunciation as it can encourage learners to stop listening to the sounds of the new language to process them only through the transcription. However, as the notes benefit from audio support via the app, the transcription can act as a reminder of the correct pronunciation. I have also found the icon very useful to encourage recall.
As a pronunciation activity, pupils can highlight syllables, prefixes or suffixes in a different colour and practise saying them. This is particularly effective in Spanish, which does not have silent letters, but certainly more challenging in French.
The notes are great to encourage pupil independence and they also provide useful additional support for pupils with specific learning difficulties. They can also be used to play a wide range of games including noughts and crosses, where pronunciation is checked as a way to win the point and Guess my word, when other people have to give clues for the bearer of the notes to guess the word he/she is wearing and pelmanism games.
The translation or word in the target language can also be hidden in order to encourage quick recall. Maybe test packs with the word missing in the target language could be produced too?
The notes can also be added to classroom display ad worksheets to encourage independent speaking practice. As GCSEs and A Levels rely more and more on vocabulary acquisition and retention, I look forward to simple but effective tools like FlashSticks supporting all new examination specifications.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Liverpool MFL Conference, 6th July 2015, Jaguar Rover

I had a great day in Liverpool at the conference organised by Hilary Jones of  Network for Languages North West. Other speakers included OFSTED inspector Liz Kelly and the fabulous Juliet Park.
A fantastically productive day!

As promised, here are the slides I used for my session: