Thursday, 28 February 2013

Strip bingo

If you know this language game already, look away now... unless you you want to see the little twist that makes it even better.

To play strip bingo well, you have to make sure you introduce it by name to the class. Interest will be immediately aroused.

You then hand out a long strip of paper (A4 cut into three long strips is fine) and tell your students to write down, say, 12 words relating to a vocabulary theme you have been working on. Make sure you tell them to spread out the words and use the whole space! Then give them the instructions (I would do this in English to save time and confusion.) You then say out loud words on this theme and if a student has the word at either end of their strip of paper, they may tear it off. Remember that you will have to repeat the same words over and over. To make the game last you can avoid saying an obvious word which most students would have on their list. The process continues until one student has no words left.

The game goes quite quickly, but it is easy to adapt it to your time slot by changing the number of words they write down.

Now, here's a little improvement which achieves the same outcome for vocab consolidation, but which adds a greater level of listening input. All you need to do is, instead of just reading a single word, you make up on the spot a sentence or very short paragraph into which you insert a word from the topic area. So, let's say you are working on clothes, you might say:

Je vais en ville souvent avec mes parents. Le weekend dernier je suis allé à mon magasin favori où j'ai acheté un nouveau jean noir. Il est très beau et pas très cher.

You could even throw in more than one word for variation, as long as you tell the class you might do this.

To me this seems like a better use of the strip bingo concept. It is harder, puts vocab in context and builds up listening skill. I think your students would listen very hard during this game, don't you?

An alternative variation would be to get students to write a quantity next to their vocab items. They can only remove a strip if the quantity is right.

Strip bingo works well with near beginners up to intermediate level, although with this twist you could even just about make it work at advanced level. Hardly any preparation needed and it can be used as a starter, filler or "plenary". Make sure you have a bin and that they don't cheat!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Call My Bluff game

Some British readers will recall the BBC2 TV panel game called Call My Bluff. Three panelists were each given definitions of obscure words and had to persuade the opposing team that their definition was correct. The opposition were allowed to ask questions to test the wit and inventiveness of the individuals providing the definitions.

So if you follow the link below you will see how I've adapted this format for classes of advanced students.

Yes, you need to have a good, quite fluent group for this to get the best from it. Because you cannot guarantee to have two teams of three, I have adapted the idea to have one panel of three (which could be rotated to give everyone a chance) offering their definitions to the whole class who should then ask questions before deciding individually who they believe. Class members get points for guessing correctly. The teacher could award bonus points for particularly clever answers to follow-up questions.

The teacher's role would be just to throw in questions to help things along a bit and help with vocabulary and the definitions when necessary.

It's a lesson which should provide lots of listening and speaking practice, vocabulary building and hopefully some fun.

Look in the A-level section for the Word document. 

Monday, 25 February 2013

The backwash effect

If you haven't come across this term before, it refers to the phenomenon of assessment style affecting teaching methodology. For example, if you include translation into the target language in an examination, teachers will inevitably incorporate plenty of practice in the skill of translating into the target language. Another common example would be testing comprehension by using questions in English. If you include this style of assessment in examinations, teachers will practise it and course books will include it.

Unfortunately the backwash effect can have a damaging influence on methodology. A while ago it was decided that the English and Welsh GCSE (intermediate) reading examination would return to discrete skill testing. In other words, listening tests, for example, would not include target language reading or writing in the exam paper, since the aim is to assess listening and nothing else. At first glance this may seem reasonable, but the result in the classroom is that teachers adopt the same approach and thereby use less target language. Would it not be preferable if teachers used TL assessment styles such as multi-choice, matching or true/false/not mentioned in the TL? This gives you more "bang for your buck" in acquisition terms because students are clearly getting more contact with the second language.

You may argue that teaching is one thing and assessment another. Why shouldn't teachers stick to good methodological principles whatever the assessment regime?

Well, in reality, teachers, certainly in the English and Welsh system, like to practise exam technique to the n'th degree, since so much hangs on results. Past papers are used a good deal and, in addition, course books, often sponsored by exam boards, include exam style questions.

Maybe language teachers should just be a bit more courageous! They could stick to sound target language methodology and trust that the more language acquired in the long run will, anyway, lead to better outcomes, whatever the assessment style.

Better though, if the assessment regime reflected sound classroom practice and avoided using English as far as possible, in which case the backwash effect would be entirely positive.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Selecting intermediate reading for students

Students need a healthy diet of reading input to go along with their listening. Stephen Krashen has talked about "compelling reading" and he is, as I have blogged here before, a big fan of extensive reading for effective second language acquisition. But how do you find compelling reading for children who may not be great teenage readers anyway?

It seems to me certain factors need to be taken into account when selecting or adapting texts for adolescent learners.
  • The language needs to be at the right level. This may seem obvious, but it's not an uncontroversial thing to say. I still believe in reasonably careful selection and grading of language material. Too hard and it will put off readers who will be reluctant to persevere, too easy and it may not expand the learner's vocabulary and syntax enough. Unedited reading material aimed at French-speaking teenagers will be too hard and should be generally avoided.
  • The content needs to interest students. This needs qualifying: you can try to select content that already appeals to the class, but this is not easy since each pupil has different interests; or you can select content which can arouse an interest because it teaches children something new or worthy. Think of a higher tier GCSE reading exam - how well does it fit these criteria?
To explore the second of these points, I would argue that we need not shy away from content which may not be of existing interest, since we have a double duty as language teachers - we are teaching language and educating in a broader sense. What's more, if students feel they are learning something new of intrinsic interest, they will engage with the language more readily.

Over the last few days I have been designing reading tasks for intermediate level and my chosen topics have been diverse: polar ice melting, air guitar, Louis Braille, driverless cars, giant pandas, lions, dolphins and an interview with an astronaut. I adapted these texts from original sources, mainly in English, because they were either important (ice melting), appealing to a wide range of children (pandas, dolphins and lions) or just potentially interesting (driverless cars and astronauts). I also had in mind that subject matter had to appeal to a range of interests and temperaments. My guess is that many students would find these topics, if not compelling, at least reasonably interesting or enlightening.

In the past I have used fairy tales for their familiarity and consequent ease of comprehension, flying cars, biodiversity, healthy eating, shale gas, GM foods, child labour, mobile phones, J K Rowling, Stephen Fry and the Simpsons. Each of these has a chance of either appealing to existing interest or exciting a new one. I frequently rack my brain for new ideas for texts.

Reading at the right level supported by visual images is hard to find. The best intermediate readers can cope with some Tin Tin, but what is really missing in the MFL publishing market (as many language teachers report) is a well illustrated graded reading scheme along the lines of the old Bibliobus. Such a scheme is probably too expensive to print now, so maybe an online solution is in order. Some online reading resources which could be useful include:


1jour1actu is an online magazine for French 7-13 year olds, is a superb source for easy-ish reading material, but still needs adapting. is an online magazine for young French speakers around the world, with forums, reviews, stories etc. Suitable for intermediate level if adapted. Good source of reading material to base worksheets on.


Online Language Resources, from Ireland, has high quality articles accompanied by exercises and grammatical notes. They can used online or printed off. A classroom licence costs $15 per student per year, with the teacher’s subscription free. Individual students pay the same. Other individual users can buy credits. 

Mary Glasgow, from the publisher Scholastic, has on online presence to add to its traditional magazines. An online subscription costs £15 a year. If you buy a hard copy magazine it comes as part of the deal. You get “Hundreds of topical teaching resources including worksheets, MP3 listening tracks and exercises, interactive activities, videos and a rich archive of Mary Glasgow magazine articles.”

Après les poissons, ce sont les coupes de viande

This is taken almost verbatim from the excellent FrenchEntree site which has all sorts of advice and information for English expats in France.

Pork (porc - viande porcine)
Bacon if thinly sliced is poitrine, or belly, preserved with salt. The French tend to slice their poitrine fairly thick, in order to make lardons, so you need to ask for the slices to be ‘fine’. Bacon is rarely injected with water in France, so you get more for your money, it tastes better and crisps-up easily. Not the same as the packets called bacon - these are brined, trimmed pork

Echine - meaning shoulder, encompasses the blade bone and spare ribs

Plat de côtes - where the hand and belly meet

Côtes - where the carré comes from, and is made up of loin chops. Basically, rack of pork.

Filet - in France, is from the hind loin area. The English fillet is from the part which the French call jambon, or ‘ham’

If you want your joint with crackling, this should be no problem for your local butcher, but you may need to order it in advance. Ask for the joint avec la couenne

Joues - cheeks

Jambon blanc - the sort of sliced ham we buy in packets in Britain. Jambon de Paris is like this. You can buy it avec couenne (see above).

Chicken, duck, goose and others (volaille)

Poulet - chicken (probably ex-layer, and the ‘normal’ age to buy one).
Oie - goose
Poulette - young chicken.
Coq - cockerel
Pintade - guinea fowl - more popular in France than the UK
Dinde - turkey
Cuisses - thighs
Pilot - chicken drumstick
Magret - breast e.g the popular magret de canard
Carcasse - carcasse for making stocks and soups

Lamb (agneau)
Gigot d’agneau - leg of lamb
Echine - shoulder
Côtes - chump
Collet - scrag (end)
Poitrine/ poitrail - breast
Côtelette - chop, usually from the rack of lamb, where the British cutlet comes from
Jarret - can mean shank or shin
Selle d’agneau - saddle

Steaks - remember that French butchers cut beef differently to the British so translations are sometimes tricky.
Bifteck/ steak - steak
Bavette -
undercut - from the skirt, textured with long muscle fibres
Filet -
Steak à hacher -
used for steak tartare and steak haché. Steak haché looks like a burger, but is simply this high quality steak minced up and pressed together. It is usually freshly done, which is why people are happy to eat them rare. Not comparable to a beef hamburger
Romsteak/ rumsteak -
rump steak. Pavé de rumsteak - lump of steak like a cobblestone
faux filet -
Entrecôte -
Côte de boeuf "T-bone"T-bone steak hard to translate into French; Wordreference has a thread on this.
Tournedos/ filet mignon - tenderloin steak usually cut almost as high as it is wide. basically a chunk of tender steak, usually served quite rare unless otherwise requested. You can get tournedos of lamb, too

Other beef (boeuf - viande bovine)

Tête de veau -
Langue de bœuf
beef tongue
Gîte (à la noix)
Queue -
Cou -
Tranche -
meaning ‘slice’, implies a steak of any meat other than beef.
Filet/ longue/ aloyau -
all words for loin. Loin chop is côte première

Wednesday, 20 February 2013


There is such a wealth of free and subscription material out there for French teachers that it hard to know what's worth a candle and what's not.

My old school subscribed to Esther Mercier's Atantôt site for several years and we were always happy to fork out our £40 each year. Atantôt is aimed very specifically for interactive whiteboard use and it fulfills its function very well indeed. It covers primary to KS3 very well, and to some extent KS4. The visuals are striking, clear and often amusing. Each collection of exercises allows for differentiation and development through the lesson.

The language covered may not fit perfectly with your own scheme of work and you cannot edit the resources as you can with Powerpoint, but these are minor niggles. You just have to pick and choose what fits and be prepared to teach new language when it comes up. The language is accurate and the range of activities is good. Pupils enjoy the resources which are really designed for teacher-led lessons above all.

Esther adds new material to the site on a regular basis, but you will probably, like most teachers, find the pages you like most and use them repeatedly. My classes always liked the pages on food where a cheeky rabbit ran across the screen pinching items which the class had to remember. I often used the pages on clothes and fashion which had splendidly colourful pictures for oral exploitation. I also enjoyed the interactive number and time pages.

There is plenty more to savour! If you haven't tried this site, you should really give it a look.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

A close look at the draft Programme of Study for KS2/3

The document begins with a general statement of the aims of learning languages. This "purpose of study" begins with the clunky phrase "liberation from insularity" followed by: "A high-quality languages education should foster pupils’ curiosity and deepen their understanding of the world." No quibble there. The same introductory paragraph continues:

It should also provide opportunities for them to communicate for practical purposes, learn new ways of thinking and read great literature in the original language.

The third of those opportunities is very specific and reveals a bias we shall see flavouring the whole document. Why "read great literature"? Why not "watch great films" or "read online newspapers" or "read scientific papers"? Literature is not of interest to every language learner.

In the four aims of study which follow there is reference to "an appreciation of a range of writing in the language studied". Although there is also a reference to responding to spoken language, the bias towards the written form is evident. The fourth aim seems superfluous to me.

Moving on, I am not going to look at the KS2 section in detail, partly because it is not my area of expertise, but I do note the greater reference to writing in the list of things pupils should be taught to do. It is an impressive list of language activities. I wonder how much time primary teachers will get to do them. This section is entitles "foreign languages" to allow for Latin and ancient Greek.

Now, on to the KS3 section of the document (interestingly entitled Modern Foreign Languages). Does this imply Latin and Greek are out at KS3?

The first section is on grammar and vocabulary. This order is not random and reflects the priority allocated to this area. Two things stand out in this section. Firstly, pupils should be taught to:

use and manipulate a variety of key grammatical structures and patterns, including voices and moods, as appropriate

The reference to voices and moods seems fussy and in any case would be inappropriate in French at this level. Do we wish to teach the passive at KS3? Do we want to teach the difference between indicative, conditional and subjunctive moods?

Secondly, pupils should be taught to:

develop and use a wide-ranging and deepening vocabulary that goes beyond their immediate needs and interests

I would not argue against this, although the emphasis on going beyond personal interest is noteworthy.

The following section, note, separate from grammar and vocabulary, is entitled "linguistic competence". I would like to pick out some items from this list.

First, point 2 states that pupils should be taught to: "transcribe words and short sentences that they hear with increasing accuracy". There is no doubt that this sort of activity is a regular part of many teachers' practice, for example via dictation, note-taking and gap-filling, but I question whether it requires spelling out in this document. It seems over-fussy in a general statement of aims and practice.

Next, pupils should be taught to:

read and show comprehension of original and adapted materials from a range of different sources, understanding the purpose, important ideas and details, and provide an accurate English translation of short, suitable material

I welcome the reference to authentic resources and comprehension, but the reference to translating into English is out of place here and could encourage poor classroom practice, notably a reduction of target language use. This reference has the fingerprints of Michael Gove all over it and I doubt if many applied linguists would support its retention in a final document. Detailed comprehension can be developed and assessed by other means that translation and these other means, using target language, constitute better language learning methodology. I do not think Gove realises this. In addition, I would add that detailed translation into English, whilst a good, enjoyable challenge for many pupils and whilst it develops the use of the mother tongue, does not suit pupils of all abilities.

Next, the document states that pupils should be taught to:

read literary texts in the language, such as stories, songs, poems and letters, to stimulate ideas, develop creative expression and expand understanding of the language and culture

Notice once again the emphasis on literature and creative expression. Now, I have felt for some time that our course books are short on stories which fire the imagination of pupils, but the inclusion of the term "literary texts" seems inappropriate here. At KS3 you could go as far as very short accounts, "stories" if you will, but is the document seriously suggesting pupils read literature? This would break all the rules of gradation and selection, be too hard and ultimately demotivating for the vast majority of students. There is "aspiration", then there is poor methodology.

The final bullet point states that pupils should be taught to:

write prose using an increasingly wide range of grammar and vocabulary, write creatively to express their own ideas and opinions, and translate short written text accurately into the foreign language.

This contains the second reference to translation, this time from English into the target language. Now, I stress that there can be a place for translation here and there, but if you highlight it in this way and then design an assessment system around it, you risk going back to some of the discredited methods of the grammar-translation past. I repeat: whenever you do translation you spend less time doing target language communication and acquisition is compromised. You can acquire grammar without translation.

Of the eight bullet points in this section, four refer to writing and five to reading or writing. This suggests a slight retreat from the most important skills of listening and speaking. Are these competences considered less "rigorous"?

And that's it!

But I wish to add something else at this juncture. The MFL PoS is different to those in other subject areas in an important respect. The history programme, for example, has been much criticised for being a pub quiz style curriculum, a list of things to know. But at least it does not tell teachers HOW to teach, only WHAT. In contrast, the MFL curriculum says little about the what, much more about the how and that goes against the DfE's claim that they have no preferred teaching style and do not wish to tell teachers how to teach.

I note, as others have, that although there is early reference to insularity and deeper understanding of the world, there is nothing what we currently call intercultural understanding. This should feature more heavily. Further, the emphasis on "literature" is too strong and represents a clear cultural bias.

There is no reference in the KS3 section about which languages may be studied. I find this inconsistent with the position at KS2 where the only allowed languages are French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Spanish, Latin or Ancient Greek.

I have not referred to KS2 in this evaluation, but I would note that the inclusion of Latin and Ancient Greek, but the omission of, say, Polish, Russian, Japanese and Arabic is anachronistic. Latin has a place, but not at KS2 or KS3 in my view. There is so little time in the curriculum for languages, that we cannot afford to spend it on classical languages. Michael Gove's own predilections are once again in play.

Finally, let us not forget that, if Michael Gove gets his way, most schools (academies, free schools and independents) would not have to follow this programme anyway! I have never got that.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Where Mr Gove may have got it wrong!

I hesitate before pontificating about educational policy, but that's what the blogosphere is about, isn't it? So here we go...

I want to say something about the Ebacc and Michael Gove's belief that to achieve greater social mobility we need to give all pupils access to a certain body of important knowledge.*

Gove believes all, or nearly all, children should do what he views as the most important subjects which represent an appropriate selection of our shared culture. Only by having access to this culture, which may not be available at home, will all children have an equal chance to succeed. He thinks children should, up to the age of 16, learn mathematics, English, science, a foreign language, study history or geography (I am not sure why it is either/or) and, it now seems, computer science. He observes other "high-performing" education systems and notes that these subjects are usually compulsory and often up to the age of 18.

One consequence of this policy view is that teachers of other subject areas than these will rightly feel that their subjects are somehow second class and that the EBacc accountability measure makes it certain that fewer children will study them.

What are we to make of this?

I have no doubt that Gove is sincere in his belief that many children are being dealt a poor hand in the education system owing to low aspirations and the belief ascribed to so-called progressive educationalists that certain subjects and knowledge only suit certain children. I would argue this, however: I do not think that you can, by wishful thinking, enthuse all children in the subjects the state chooses as important. Children are different, not just owing to their social background by the way, and the education system should be sensitive to these differences, allowing children the opportunity to make the best of their individual talents.

Put simply, the system should adapt to children's needs as much as vice versa. If a child of 14 is hopeless at history and, despite the best teaching in the world, does not get anything from it, they should do something more worthwhile for them. Would we rather have motivated children learning subjects which interest them, or miserable, misbehaved, force-fed children?

The same should go for the other EBacc subjects, with the possible exception of English and, maybe, maths. (I am one of those who believes that maths is hugely overrated in our culture, just as Latin was in the nineteenth century.) Modern languages were made optional by the Labour government in 2004 because too many children disliked their lessons and were getting little from them. The recent National Curriculum framework document has confirmed the Labour approach at KS4, whilst maintaining the EBacc measure which should shore up MFL numbers to a degree. A sensible, pragmatic decision has been taken.

Ultimately this comes down to what society views as essential knowledge and skills for children to learn and there is no consensus on this. Who is to say that a knowledge of the heroes of British history is more important than music appreciation? Like Michael Gove, I am influenced by my traditional (grammar school) education and have been tempted to view subjects like history and geography as somehow more essential than, say, art, music or RE. But I am beginning to feel that this may be a form of cultural elitism which should be resisted.

What's more, if children are force-fed a diet which does not interest them it is possible that the outcome will be the opposite of what Gove wants. Disaffected children will under-achieve, drop out of the system and have less chance of achieving the upward mobility we would all like to see.

 * Gove is strongly influenced by the work of E.D. Hirsch and his notions of cultural literacy and core knowledge.

Here is what seems to be a balanced critique of Hirsch's theory of cultural literacy:

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Why Michael Gove is wrong to advocate translation

One of the intriguing elements to emerge from Michael Gove's recent speech in parliament about his National Curriculum reforms is his desire to see a "new stress on learning proper grammatical structures and practising translation". The precise references to translation (both to and from the foreign language) are to be found on p.175 of the National Curriculum Framework Document.

I have blogged previously about the value of translation in language lessons and my view is essentially that it can have a small place within a much wider diet of target language work.

I do not know where Gove has got his affection for grammar and translation from. It is highly unlikely it would come from any advisers who know about second language language acquisition. Grammar-translation is a widely discredited approach to language learning. Unlike the communicative theory, direct methods, audio-lingualism it has no basis in language learning theory and is largely a hangover from the teaching of classical languages.

If classrooms were to return to a moderate diet of translation to and from the foreign language you would end up with students who are reasonable at knowing grammar rules, vocabulary and translation, but not much else. They would almost certainly be bored rigid and an Ofsted inspector observing a translation lesson would most likely fail it. It is an approach which appeals to a minority of (more able) students, but which, crucially, takes time away from more important aspects such as listening, reading and speaking. Time is already ludicrously short in the school curriculum as it is for progress to be made, so we cannot afford to devote it to translation. It worked for only a few in the past and the same will be so the future.

As for "learning proper grammatical structures", we cannot be sure what Gove means. If he meant the internalisation of grammatical rules by skill-building and comprehensible input, he might be on to something. I doubt very much that he does mean that. If he means recognising patterns and memorising rules, then this, although for some students an interesting enough challenge, does not lead to fluency.

My guess is that Gove views grammar and translation as something which is more "rigorous", heads down, rote learning based, which engages cognitive functions, as opposed to something more airy-fairy like acquisition through communication. If this were his view, he should consult some text books and applied linguists as soon as possible, as well as practising teachers.

Just consider what would happen if there were sections of translation to and from the foreign language in GCSE papers. Text books would start to feature it prominently and teachers would spend significant parts of Year 11 preparing students for it. This is known as the backwash effect of assessment.The consequence would be less time spent on activities which really develop acquisition.

It is likely that Michael Gove is more interested in English and history than languages, and that, in the end, this will all come out in the wash, common sense will prevail and any new programmes of study will reflect the mainstream of applied linguistic theory and not appeal to a discredited approach from the past. For this to happen teachers and other stakeholders should voice their concerns in the consultation process.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

National curriculum reform document

I've just been reading through the government document on reform of the national curriculum for England. The document is open to consultation until September. The key areas for language teachers are:

  • MFL will be compulsory at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3
  • MFL will not be compulsory at KS4.

Some teachers may be disappointed by one or both of these points.

On the face of it, compulsion at KS2 should raise the profile of languages and bring about a welcome injection of commitment and renewal, but for the policy to be successful there will need to be considerable investment in training. It is unlikely this will be provided, so I find it hard to rejoice.

As for KS4, I am a little surprised that we shall not see compulsion, but the government has taken the view that the EBacc accountability measure should be enough to shore up numbers of students taking languages at KS4. It remains to be seen how seriously the EBacc measure will be taken, given the announcement that there will be two other accountability measures for league tables: C passes at English and maths and the average GCSE point score over 8 subjects. My initial hunch would be that the latter measure will become the default one. We shall see. Ultimately it looks like Michael Gove's commitment to languages is not total, but personally I welcome the realism he is showing.

As for the document generally, I note the following statement; "The Expert Panel recommended that curriculum aims be developed to ensure coherence across the school system." But over half of English secondaries (academies and free schools) have the "freedom to depart" from the national curriculum, on the basis that they are state-funded independent schools. This seems to be where ideology comes into conflict with the laudable aim of having a consistent curriculum across the country.

No doubt nearly all schools, whatever their governance, will stick pretty closely to the national curriculum, just as most independent schools do now. After all, schools teach to exams and these will reflect the national curriculum. So talk of "freedom to depart" from the curriculum ends up sounding like a sop to free market ideology.

Overall, the language teaching community may feel at best lukewarm about the latest reform.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Irish State Commission Exam paper archive

I know that teachers are not short of resources these days, what with course books, free shared materials online, subscription sites and the rest. In fact, my department used to talk of "resources panic" as they contemplated the huge range of stuff there was to choose from when approaching a topic. We've moved a long way since "turn to page...".

However, I've only just come across the large archive of past examination papers from the Irish State Examination Commission.

In French they have papers going back to 1996 (1995 only offers one sound file for the leaving Certificate).

There are two types: the Junior Certificate is like the English and Welsh GCSE and it has two levels, Ordinary and Higher Level. These correspond well with Foundation and Higher Tier in England and Wales.

The equivalent of the English and Welsh A-level is called Leaving Certificate, also at two levels - Ordinary and Higher. Listening, reading and writing are tested. Sound files are available, as they are at Junior Certificate level.

It is always interesting to compare assessment styles across countries. What you notice with the Junior Certificates is that they separate out skills by exclusively using questions in English. (I wonder whether this affects teaching methodology?) The listening sections use multi-choice with options in English, note completion in English and question-answer in English. The reading sections use matching, ticking boxes, questions in English and multi-choice. The writing assessment is similar to what we used to have at GCSE, namely bullet points in English to develop into mini essays. The Higher paper is two and a half hours long.

As far as the Leaving Certificate papers are concerned, at Ordinary Level, questions in English and French are the order of the day, along with some gap fill, note completion and short form writing (the latter is much easier than AS Level in England and Wales). The language content and difficulty level is similar to that found in English and Welsh papers. At Higher Level, there are two major source texts, one of which resembles those found at A2 level, but the second is literary - a significant difference. There are numerous questions in French, some short paragraph writing and three long paragraph questions (only 75 or 90 words long) on areas of topical interest. These appear less daunting than their equivalent on English and Welsh papers, but encourage candidates to be concise and to use a similar level of language. Students need not worry about essay structure. (I question why we hang on to the essay assessment format in English and Welsh MFL exams - what are we assessing, language or essay writing?)

All in all, teachers will find a wealth of useful material for teaching or assessment and I recommend this archive wholeheartedly.

Friday, 1 February 2013

French cinema terminology

Thanks to Steve Glover (writer of the ALF (A Level French) resources) who pointed out this link on the TES Connect site. A-level teachers doing film topics will find it very useful indeed.

Arte have produced a short cartoon video guide to the basic types of camera shot used in movies. Narrated in clear French and using a cartoon gunfight scene as a model, the video runs through the basics of the frame (cadre) framing shots (plans) and types of camera movement (e.g. panorama, travelling and, the one I liked most, the travelling compensé - that effect used by Hitchcock in Vertigo and which Truffaut used in Jules et Jim in the scene where the protagonists suddenly see the face of Catherine among the Greek ruins. The effect involves a zoom out combined with a camera travelling forward on a dolly track, or the reverse, a zoom in combined with a rearward motion of the camera on a dolly. If you've never noticed the effect, have a look at the video.

Here are some other handy links for film in French:

Exploiting film in A-level MFL lessons - from from Exeter University. A basic list of terms. A selection of film study resources from New Zealand French teachers. A more detailed, technical overview of film terminology by David F. Bell from Dyke University. A bilingual page from Lille University which goes into some detail on cinema terminology.