Wednesday, 25 March 2015

20 ways of doing translation into the target language

In my last blog I looked at ways of practising translation into English. This time I'm going to suggest ways of approaching translation into the second language. Translation from L1 to L2 is what we might call an "output activity". It does not provide much meaningful input, but focuses on grammatical form and knowledge of vocabulary. It does a supply a small amount of input in the sense that the final product is in the target language. It is also reasonable to assume that it does help embed a command of vocabulary, morphology and syntax. Many pupils find it hard and it will feature in future GCSE exams in England and Wales (20% of writing marks).

There is a really good Slideshare presentation about this topic:

http://www.slideshare.net/richpemberton/l1-use-in-the-l2-classroom

What variations can we find on translation into the TL? If you read the last blog you'll see some of these are mirror images!

  • Teacher-led sessions where sentences or a passage are translated with hands up, or no hands up. This is very traditional and has merit. Pupils are subject to a high level of modelling and get to think like the teacher. The downside is that only one pupil talks at a time (a good thing?!) and there is no guarantee that all students are paying attention. Make sure they write material down so they are active and use whatever techniques you have in your armoury to get all students thinking (deadly stares, eyebrows up, jokes, no hands up, repeat the previous answer etc.) Make sure pupils get enough thinking time and that the quickest do not dominate. This can be done "in rough" in class, then written up at home.
  • "Running translation". I mentioned this in the last blog. This time the fetcher finds the English from the classroom wall where you have stuck up the texts and the scribe (maybe with fetcher's help) translates. Make it a race.
  • "Find the translation" - give students a list of quite hard sentences, short paragraphs or even individual words for beginners. Post translations around the classroom (or hide them) for them to find individually or in teams. Make it a race.
  • Allow pupils to use Google Translate to see how well it does and to make corrections where they see fit. They will learn something from the process and, let's face it, if they get the chance, many will use it anyway.
  • Work in groups. each group does a different section of text. then bring it all together. Add a competitive element with a time limit or race.
  • Produce gapped passages in the TL, with phrases at the bottom in English to be translated and inserted where appropriate. This has the added merit of providing some TL input and focus on meaning.
  • Get students to sign up for a forum like Wordreference. Give them specific words or phrases to research.
  • Give them phrases to research using Linguee (linguee.com).
  • Do "real life" tasks such as menus and recipes to translate from English. This can include elements of design if you want it to. 
  • Dictation-translation. The teacher just reads sentences in English for pupils individually or in pairs to translate. Best answers could be rewarded.
  • Paired or grouped translation. Each pair or group does a different section of a passage, then the others hear the solutions with extra modelling by the teacher.
  • Whole class pelmanism. You provide each pupil with a sentence either in English or TL. Pupils hold up their cards. You could adapt this in a number of ways.
  • "Pick the best translation". Give a paragraph in English with three TL versions of it. Pupils choose the best one. You can make them as hard as you want.
  • Role playing with cues in English (like the old GCSE and maybe the new one!).
  • Guided composition writing with detailed cues in English. This ends up being akin to translation. "Transfer of meaning", if you like.
  • Use parallel texts to model effective translation.
  • Explain why you are doing it. Tell them it's mainly about knowing vocabulary and getting grammatically accurate. Warn them, of course, that a word-for-word approach only works sometimes.
  • Give out faulty translations of sentences or a passage and get pupils to correct individually or in pairs. You could make it a race. They come up and show you their corrected versions.
  • English/TL dialogues - one line in English, one in TL. Pupils translate the English either orally or in writing, or maybe orally, then in writing for reinforcement. Can be done in pairs or individually.
  • Get excellent pupils to be the teacher of a small group. They then can play act and model good answers. Class control would need to be tip-top for this, but it could be good fun and very productive.

20 ways of doing translation into English

If you look at my blog regularly you'll know that I am not a massive fan of using translation in lessons. I lean towards a "comprehensible input" or "structured direct method" approach, if you like (they are not the same), more than the "let's compare with English", cognitive/analytical approach, as much as possible. That's my bias, which stems from my own lessons at school and the training I received at the University of London back in 1979-80. That's not to say I never used translation. If I did so, it was for variety, because it was in the exam (at A-level) or because I thought it might help fix grammatical accuracy. With advanced students I also knew they saw translating into English as a good mental challenge.

But I never really thought it was the best way to build much fluency or comprehension.

Now, of course, translation is back in GCSE from June 2017. There will be some TL to English translation (minimum 90 words) and there will be some English to TL, although this will most likely not be a set piece translation task. We'll soon know for sure. This means the latest KS3 courses are regrettably featuring more translation and that teachers will dutifully do it, either because they believe in it, or because they feel they have to.

For some balanced arguments about translation:

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/translation-activities-language-classroom

Here is an attempt to rehabilitate translation:

http://www.beta-iatefl.org/1202/blog-publications/how-to-use-translation-in-the-language-classroom/


I'll look at translation into the target language in a later blog. How can we approach translation from the TL? Here are 20 ideas. Do you have others? Do share!

  • Explain why you are doing it. Tell them it's mainly about building comprehension and reading for detail. Warn them, of course, that a word-for-word approach only works sometimes and it's a chance for them to show off how well they can use English.
  • Allow pupils to use Google Translate to see how well it does and to make corrections where they see fit. They will learn something from the process and, let's face it, if they get the chance, many will use it anyway.
  • Alternatively, avoid setting translation for homework. Google Translate is very good at a simple or intermediate level.
  • Work in groups. each group does a different section of text. then bring it all together. Add a competitive element with a time limit or race.
  • Work in groups on the same language, then compare versions.
  • Do it very traditionally as a teacher-led activity so the class get into how you are thinking and hear higher quality input than in a group. make sure all students are kept busy by writing down agreed answers. Use "no hands up" and vigilance where necessary to keep all pupils engaged.
  • Get students to sign up for a forum like Wordreference. Give them specific words or phrases to research.
  • Give them phrases to research using Linguee (linguee.com).
  • Provide gap fill partial translations, especially for weaker groups.
  • "Running translation" - like "running dictaion" but the fetcher brings back some TL for the scribe to translate (with the fetcher's help). Make it a race.
  • "Find the translation" - give students a list of quite hard sentences or short paragraphs. Post translations around the classroom (or hide them) for them to find individually or in teams. Make it a race.
  • "Pick the best translation". Provide pieces of TL with, say, three alternative translations, only one of which is just right. You can make this as subtle as you wish, depending on the class. Pupils can work individually or in pairs.
  • Gapped aural translation. Give pupils a gapped piece of English. gaps must be designed to make guessing hard. Then read them a text in TL. Students fill gaps. You could make these quite funny and implausible.
  • "Translation dictation". Get them to play the role of a written interpreter. The teacher speaks then pupils write down their translation to a time limit. The teacher may have to repeat utterances more than once. This has the benefit of providing target language listening input as well.
  • Do matching tasks: TL on one side, English on the other. Students link up the right pairs.
  • Use parallel texts to provide models. These can be done alongside other comprehension tasks (e.g. those on Y7 page of frenchteacher.net)
  • Hand out cards to students. Half the class get English, half get TL. Then play a sort of whole class pelmanism.
  • Using "find the French" style tasks. Either traditional ones with texts, or an aural one whereby students have to pick out phrases you use in some spoken TL.
  • Use questions in English to deliberately elicit translations from the text.
  • Give "real life" tasks e.g. a menu in French to translate, cooking recipes, an advertising leaflet, instructions.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Review of Studio for Key Stage 3 French



This is the third of my blogs looking at popular KS3 courses for French in England and Wales. Many departments will be looking at their courses this summer as the new curriculum takes hold, with its slightly greater emphasis on grammar, literary texts, translation and "spontaneous" talk.

Studio, by Anneli McLachlan and Clive Bell, has been around for about five years, but has been updated to take account of these changes. I never used this course but have heard positive comments about the package, which includes the online interactive Active Learn and front-of-class teacher's resources (formerly known as Active Teach). I thought I would take a close look at the online evaluation site which is here.

The first thing which strikes me about the pupil books is their bright and very clear layout. Visuals are a little bolder, more flashy than the rivals' and the whole effect is superficially more impressive. Exercise instructions are explanations are more informal, more "child friendly" than usual; this may be a good thing on balance. But you always need to see behind flashy exteriors, of course, so what's beneath the eye candy in this case?

Firstly, the course is aimed at all abilities. Complete beginners may start with Accès Studio, whilst those with some foundations from primary school could start with Studio 1. In both Y8 and Y9 there are two books, vert and rouge, the second more demanding than the first. The material is similar across both versions of the pupil book, with variations in exercise difficulty. For some teachers this may seem an advantage compared with a competitor book like Allez from O.U.P.

In practice teachers may find it hard to choose between Accès Studio and Studio 1 in Y7, since it is so hard to know with any certainty how well any previously learned skills are embedded. From the evaluation materials available, Module 1 of Studio 1 seems to introduce too much for my taste, getting almost straight into adjective agreement (feminine and plural), use of être, possessive adjectives mon/ma/mes and ton/ta/tes, il and elle and -er verbs. I taught many bright children with some primary French and I would not have chosen to start a course in that way.

On the other hand, the Accès Studio book, in 13 short units seems to go about a third of the way a traditional Y7 course would. That is to say, grammar covered includes simple adjectives, être, mon/ma/mes, plurals and articles. Topics include weather, nationalities, food and drink, animals, hobbies, the classroom - usual fare. This would be too lightweight for able pupils starting from scratch in Y7.

If I were looking at a Y7 course at the current time (and probably for some time to come) I would find this a dilemma. It might even put me off the package completely. I would love any users of the course to comment on this - to tell me if this is an issue in practice. I understand why Pearson adopted this approach, but it seems to make some pretty huge assumptions about what children may learn at primary school. If you skip Accès Studio you may have concerns about the lack of careful selection and grading of language - for me this is one measure of a well conceived course book.

Returning to the standard Y7 book, there are six modules (I like the way the course uses French nomenclature and exercise instructions to a large extent). They are called C'est perso, Mon collège, Mes passe-temps, Ma zone (town), Partez! (holidays) and a module entitles Studio Découverte with some extra activities based on the first three units. These are conventional topics. The writers have not gone very far in the CLIL direction, which some teachers (a minority, I suspect) may regret. There is a glossary, a dictionary skills page and verb tables at the back of the book which comes in at 131 pages. (For comparison Allez has 171 more densely packed pages and Tricolore has 175. Does this mean you get more target language input and practice for your buck with other courses? Is too much space wasted with pictures? Hard to be sure, especially when you bear in mind one of the strengths of this course, its online package which is more convincing than the ones from O.U.P.

Let's have a look at the nitty-gritty of Module 1 from the Y7 book.

The first two pages have some big text in English and six pictures with broad cultural references. I find this a waste of space. If the teacher wants to talk about French life that's fine, but I don't think you need two pages of your expensive text book as a stimulus.

The next page features a matching task for listening (OK), some copying into a grid (not so keen) and a simple pair work task on likes and dislikes (OK). Then there's more listening (OK), simple pair work (OK), simple reading (matching to English statements - brief, OK), then a writing exercise to reinforce the previous listening, speaking and reading. Barack Obama features as a celebrity - not sure about the shelf life there.

The subsequent exercises, about a survival kit, follow a similar pattern of listening, pair work, writing, plus some dictionary work. You get the idea. It's sound enough, logically ordered, rather like a good lesson plan. You would rattle through it quickly and naturally. It's all supported by material in the front-of-class teaching resources and Active Learn packages.  I have the feeling that this material is the work of teachers who know how to keep pupils on their toes with a variety of activities. Lessons with this book would involve bags of pair work (good), but teachers would have to be wary of just going through the exercises in a mechanical way. The unit ends with a summary (good), revision tasks (good), extra reading, writing and speaking (all good), grammar (OK, but maybe short on practice examples), vocabulary lists (good) and a Stratégie box on how to learn vocabulary (good).

The exercises are interspersed with very concise grammar explanations, phonics points and occasional glossing of vocabulary. I'll leave readers to have a look at the material in the Y8 and Y9 tiered books. I have to assume that "literary" texts are covered, as well as translation. Assessment packs are available in the online package. These take the form of printable and editable Word documents.

I must say something about the Active Learn and "front of class" packages, since these are integral. Have a look for yourself. They include an online textbook, worksheets, presentations, vocab lists, audio, video and tools with which you can customise pages. The video from Module 1 is a bit low definition, but with clear audio, if too fast at times for near beginners. To me it did not look particularly usable. I took a look at some IWB drag and drop material which was clear and simple. Teachers can access pages which display answers from pupil book exercises. There is lots more. I would say that teachers who are uncomfortable with tech may need some practice before they get used to the range of possibilities.

As for the Active Learn package, students can access a good range of interactive tasks - listening, reading and grammar. Exercise types include typing in answers, drag and drop, matching, true/false and multi-choice with drop down windows. There are useful pdf "learning aids" if pupils get stuck. Exercises look short, though. I'd like to see more examples, especially with the grammar tasks. This is also the case with other interactive packages such as O.U.P's Kerboodle. I can imagine getting pupils to work through sets of these tasks in a computer room on their tablets with headphones.

Could you do without these online resources? My impression is you could, as long as you had a good stock of your own resources for presentation and practice. It would make more sense to buy into the whole package.

I could go into much more detail, but I would suggest you have a look yourself.

Would I have chosen this course for KS3? Maybe. I did wonder if it would suit the ablest pupils, but a glance at the Book 3 (rouge) sample suggests a high enough level of challenge. I am more concerned by the roughly tuned selection and grading of language, how you would make the choice of books for Y7 and the slightly bitty nature of each unit. There is plenty of good quality target language input, lively enough content, but I would prefer more practice examples in the book and online.

I am in admiration of the tremendous amount of work that goes into a course like this and I am sure many schools are very happy with it.






Monday, 23 March 2015

A review of Allez Book 1



O.U.P. sent me an evaluation pack of their course Allez (Book 1) to review. I should point out that they do not pay me to do this, but it is of professional interest to me to look at courses and from Oxford's point of view they may feel that any publicity is good!

Allez is written by Corinne Dzuilka-Heywood, Yvonne Kennedy and Katie Smith with help from Geneviève Talon. It is designed to be suitable for teaching the new KS3 curriculum, with its greater emphasis on grammar, literary texts and translation. I'm having a look at the pupil book, Teacher Handbook sample, Kerboodle sample and Grammar and Skills Workbook by Michael Spencer and Liz Black.

There are many aspects you need to consider when weighing up a new course. I listed my own criteria for assessing courses here. Ideally you would like to be able to see all the books over a key stage to see how content, progress and revision are catered for, but the rushed nature of curriculum reform means that we get to see one book at a time in general.

Teachers may be looking at a range of contenders this summer, including this course, Tricolore (for higher ability) and the popular Studio from Pearson.

So what does Allez have to offer?

Although aimed at the full ability range Book 1 seems to offer a high degree of challenge in terms of grammar and vocabulary presented. The material is less finely graded than in Tricolore, for example, and builds up in complexity quite quickly. Each of the nine units has a topic title, subtitled with the key vocabulary, grammar and skills covered.

Unit 1 gets straight into nationality, gender with definite articles (indefinite articles are often encountered first in books), prepositions with countries, je m'appelle and je suis, numbers up to 30, expressing age with avoir, colours and adjective agreement, physical features and objects (including materials and shape). This shows the authors are not overly concerned with fine-tuning the selection and grading of language. I am slightly uncomfortable with this approach, but it may suit some teachers who worry less about such matters. It may also reflect the greater degree of challenge we are supposed to be seeing as well as an assumption about what children may have done at primary school. Whether students cope with it is another matter.

Unit 4, Boire et manger, adopts a conventional approach with pictures, short texts, gap-filling with du/de la/des, matching with translation, listening with tick boxes and true/false, short paragraph writing, menus to read, a dialogue to do, some pair/group work, quite a lot of questions in English (which involves translation), unjumbling of sentences etc. There is undoubtedly a lot of material, most of it usable or adaptable for other activities. Difficulty level seems not far short of Tricolore, but there is significantly more English content. Immediate future tense is introduced at this stage - I would have left it until later, maintaining the focus on embedding present tense.

So, in general, exercise types are mainstream. Matching, gap fill, simple listening tasks, use of pictures to stimulate oral work, box-filling, a little translation, true-false with statements in English, sentence writing, situational dialogues to read and perform. Teachers would have to provide their own repetitive drill-style oral exercises, dictation, translation, if this is their preferred approach.There are grammar boxes with simple explanations and "strategies" boxes which help students how to improve their skills. This is a notably prominent and strong aspect of the book - helping pupils how to learn effectively. In addition, there are "plenary" boxes to encourage students to assess how well they have picked up points.

One pleasing inclusion is video listening. Each unit has video material with exercises to do in the pupil book. These videos feature in the Kerboodle package too. More about this below.

Units also have "labo-langue" pages in green which essentially focus on grammar and writing. These include large "strategies" boxes to help students develop techniques of memorisation and writing. Reading tasks include some of a literary nature, as one would expect with the new curriculum. This really feels like lip-service to me, as I said in the review of the Tricolore book. To me, the poem on page 18, Pour dessiner un bonhomme, for example, is not of great use for practising language and as a teacher I would have ignored it. Each unit comes with a short test of the four skills and a summary vocabulary list which many teachers would find useful for rote learning.

I should also mention that the back of the book comes with a customary and useful alphabetical French-English glossary, verb tables and set of grammar explanations. There are no extra extension tasks as in Tricolore, but the Grammar and Skills workbook provides this. This 63 page student booklet offers a good range of grammar activities, clearly laid out, with brief explanations and exercises with a decent number of examples. There is, notably, a greater stress on translation into English. I find this regrettable, but understandable given recent curriculum changes. This is a classic case of the "backwash effect", exams leading pedagogy, and not in a good way.

A word about the online Kerboodle package which goes with the course: as with Tricolore from the same stable, there are two purchase options - the more popular one, I would think, will be the interactive assessment and other resources. The second would add on an online course book for every student. This may be worthwhile for schools who do not give out textbooks to keep and take home. Kerboodle is tablet-friendly, customisable, editable and teachers can add their own resources. The online samples are limited, but I did look at some video featuring children talking about a a time capsule (to practise objects, materials etc). This is the same video used at the end of Unit 1 in the pupil book. The language is authentic enough, clear, on the fast and hard side for Y7 and a little "acted out", but the children play their roles well.  Teachers may find it useful to extract short snippets for intensive practice and modelling. It must be noted that the annual licence adds a lot of cost for cash-strapped departments. Resourcing an MFL department gets more and more expensive.

Could you use this course? Definitely. Some teachers may be wary of the level of difficulty for their classes and look elsewhere, some may feel there is too much clutter on the pages, some may feel there are not enough examples of grammar practice to embed knowledge. Compared with Studio the presentation and content looks staid, but the pedagogical approach looks generally sound. There are plenty of input and output tasks, but I would repeat that caveat about the selection and grading of language. Unit 2, for examples, gets pupils to recognise past tenses. Is that necessary? Could it confuse? Does it all move along a bit fast? Can we challenge more? Or do we risk overloading too many students?



Thursday, 19 March 2015

The 2014-15 Language Trends survey

For thirteen years there has been an annual Language Trends survey which "charts the health of language teaching and learning in England". It is currently administered by  the CfBT Education Trust and British Council. As a Head of Department I used to dutifully complete its questionnaire every year. This year a total of 648 primary schools, 529 state-funded secondary schools, and 128 independent secondary schools responded to the survey, published yesterday, yielding response rates of 22, 27 and 26 per cent respectively.

The survey revealed a couple of significant trends.

Most notably, perhaps, is the fact that the policy of compulsory languages in primary schools is having the desired immediate impact. The report found that 99% of the schools who responded now offer languages in some form, with 12% saying they began this academic year. That's the good news.

The not so good news is the fact that, unsurprisingly, there is a larger percentage of primary teachers who have no more than a GCSE qualification. In addition, secondary teachers continue to report a wide range of experience in their pupils arriving in Y7. 44% of reporting primary schools said they had no contact with their secondaries.

I don't wish to go into the primary languages debate to any great extent, but it is probably fair to say that the quality of languages provision in primary schools is variable, sometimes excellent, sometimes poor. This is to be expected given the varying skills possessed by teachers and the pitifully poor financial support there has been for training. Further, even if there was more liaison between primaries and secondaries (hard to do in practice with so many different feeder schools in some areas), it is unlikely that Y7 teachers would be able to assume a good deal of embedded knowledge on which to base further progress. This will always be a messy area.

At KS3 a growing phenomenon has been noted this year, namely the "disapplication" of more and more pupils from languages, particularly in areas of social disadvantage, to allow them more time to work on maths and English. This is clearly the consequence of Ofsted pressure on schools to improve their RAISEOnline scores in the core subjects. I find it of cultural note that SLTs default to languages when they are looking for something for pupils to drop. Why not art, music or design technology? The answer is that languages are perceived as both hard and less important.

I do think there is an equal opportunities issue at stake here. Notwithstanding the fact that language learning can make a serious contribution to the development of literacy and communication skills, it is surely only fair that all students should get to have a go at learning a language during the whole of KS3. The status of MFL has already fallen at KS4, where 44% of schools who responded exclude some pupils from language study. Are we to let it wither at KS3 too? This is a concerning trend.

The report reaffirms what we know about A-level study. Enrolment has declined for a range of reasons including harsh grading compared to other subjects, poor arrangements for languages at KS3 and KS4, tight budgets (making it hard for schools to run small groups) and student perceptions of the risk of taking a subject which produces lower grades. The DfE is hoping its new MFL GCSE and A-levels will be more motivating to students. Regular readers of my blog will know what I feel about that!

As regards preferred languages, Spanish has seen rising take-up in secondary schools, whilst French and German continue on the decline. This has to do with the perception that Spanish is easier, especially phonologically, has cultural associations which young people value more highly and the fact that there has been a growing supply of qualified Spanish teachers over time.

This is, alas, not a golden age of language learning and teaching. Was there ever such an age? I would love to see better timetabling at KS2, KS3 and KS4, a greater degree of compulsion at KS4 to raise the status of MFL, less conservative A-levels, fairer exam grading and a broadening of post 16 provision to allow more students to continue a language after 16 without fear.

The executive summary of the survey is here.
The full report is here.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Va-t-on interdire l'embauche des mannequins ultra-minces?

Here is a text I wrote today, loosely based on a piece in The Guardian who apparently sourced the story from Le Parisien. I did an initial translation using Google Translate (good time saver), which I corrected where necessary, adapted and simplified to work with AS level students. The theme is the French government's intention to introduce a bill to prevent fashion houses and modelling agencies from employing very thin models. Paris, I have heard, has a particular reputation for doing this.

On frenchteacher.net I added a range of tasks for discussion and translation. Here is the piece:

Selon le ministre de la Santé le gouvernement français compte soutenir un projet de loi interdisant les mannequins trop minces. Les agences de mannequins et maisons de mode risqueraient des amendes et les agents eux-mêmes à la prison pourraient aller en prison.

La France, soucieuse de son style, ses industries de mode et de luxe valant des dizaines de milliards d'euros, se joindront à l'Italie, l'Espagne et Israël, qui ont tous adopté des lois contre les mannequins trop minces sur les podiums ou dans des campagnes de publicité au début de 2013.

«Il est important de dire que les mannequins ont besoin de bien manger et prendre soin de leur santé, en particulier les jeunes femmes qui voient d’autres mannequins comme un idéal esthétique, » a déclaré le ministre de la Santé, Marisol Touraine.

La loi ferait respecter des contrôles de poids et imposerait des amendes allant jusqu'à 75,000 € pour toute violation, avec un maximum de six mois de prison pour le personnel impliqué, selon le quotidien Le Parisien.

Les mannequins devront présenter un certificat médical montrant un indice de masse corporelle (IMC) d'au moins 18, environ 55 kg (121 lb) pour une taille de 1,75 m (5,7 pi), avant d'être embauchées pour un travail et pendant quelques semaines après.
Les amendements du projet de loi proposent également des sanctions pour tout ce qui pourrait être perçue comme encourageant la minceur extrême, notamment sur des sites Web pro-anorexie qui glorifient des modes de vie malsains.

En 2007, Isabelle Caro, 28 ans, ex-mannequin anorexique française, est morte après avoir posé pour une campagne photographique pour sensibiliser le public à la maladie.

30-40,000 personnes en France souffrent d'anorexie, la plupart des adolescentes, a déclaré Veran, qui est médecin.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Fun Learning Activities for MFL



This is a review of Jake Hunton's book Fun Learning Activities for Modern Foreign Languages (Crown House Publishing Ltd, £19.99 inc. CD Rom). I am grateful to him for having a copy sent to me.

This idea-filled 250 page book with accompanying CD Rom (containing pictures pdfs for display) has eight chapters:

1. An introduction explaining the philosophy behind Jake's ideas - how he came to formulate his activities. He explains how, through experience, he evolved sets of activities which engage pupils and allow them to retain much more language than they had with traditional methods he had previously been using. How could he get children to remember more words for the exam? He sees vocabulary knowledge as fundamental to proficiency. He draws on Hattie's Visible Learning research and the theory of spaced practice and introduces the reader to his two key acronyms: VFLAs (Vocabulary Fun Learning Activities) and FLAs (Fun Learning Activities).

2. In Chapter 2 Jake writes about Magic Whiteboards and mini-whiteboards. The former can be stuck on surfaces around the classroom (walls, windows, cupboards, doors) and allow students to write up model answers for other pupils to see, create mini-classrooms within a classroom, create a "gallery of work in progress" and be a variation on the traditional way of having students hold up their mini-whiteboards to the teacher. Jake uses both types of whiteboards for many of his VFLAs and FLAs.

3/4.  Jake next introduces and describes his VFLAs. He explains 18 separate activities with intriguing names such Bob-Up Classic, Mexican Wave, Vhispers, Vlotto and Mimey Mimey. He explains that the philosophy behind all the games is that as many pupils as possible are involved and that the teacher should use whatever means possible to show as much language as possible to students. Jake prefers to go beyond single words wherever possible.

Just to give you one example: in Bob-Up Classic Jake shows a Powerpoint slide with 13 TL sentences relating to personal descriptions; e.g. J'ai les cheveux blonds; J'ai les yeux verts. The class is divided in two with each half having a captain (who gets to wear a football captain's armband). The captain distributes cards with numbers on them, 1-13, one to each pupil on each team. The teacher calls out a number at random and whoever has that number on each team has to "bob up" and say the phrase in TL and translate it into English. The quickest student wins a point for the team. Jake stresses that this is not a frivolous game and that it helps with retrieval of previously learned language beyond the single word level. I can certainly imagine it working well. Jake correctly notes that boys in particular tend to respond well to competitive games.

The other 17 VFLAs are explained in detail, with variations offered. In Random Random it is easy to show how games based on individual words can generate paragraph length target language. Mexican Wave looks like a noisy and exciting way to start a lesson - the teacher will need, as with other games in the book, to have a good rapport with the class and firm class control. Not all of the games are teacher-centred - Toy Time involves groups of four pupils passing around a soft toy. Verbal Volley is done in pairs and played at speed.

5. Chapter 5 lists no less than 40 FLAs (Fun Learning Activities, remember?). Some take 10 or 15 minutes, others a whole lesson. Titles include Pic 'n' Mix, The Three Amigos, Walkie-Talkies and Mobile Phun. I'll leave you to imagine how these games might go. Jake explains how he has sometimes adapted his games from others he has seen, sometimes in other subject areas.

Here is an example: Relay. In this activity a dozen or so numbered English sentences are written on separate pieces of paper. Students form groups of three or four and assign themselves roles: scribe, runner (takes the translation to the teacher) and two researchers (who consult textbooks and dictionaries). The teacher goes to each group, hands them a one of the pieces of paper, says "Go!" and the groups have to race to see who can get the TL translation to you on a mini-whiteboard (you could use rough paper).

Whilst I have reservations about the reliance on translation in this game (I would normally prefer to keep the lesson in TL as much as possible), I can see how this game would embed language and be motivational. It's simple and effective. Running dictation was a favourite in my own narrow repertoire of games, so I know how competition motivates and gets pupils to work at speed.

6. Chapter 6 looks a bit more at the benefits of "spaced learning" and offers to examples of how a teacher might plan a sequence of lessons to make the most of spaced practice. Jake is on to something powerful here. A good textbook builds in an element of constant revision, but with the poor timetabling languages often gets these days in schools, regular spaced practice can be hard to achieve. It needs to be planned for.

7. Chapter 7 lists 10 maxims Jake chooses to follow. They all make good sense. I like this one: talk to the students about why you are doing an activity. "Sell the rationale" to students and be positive. I wonder if teachers do this enough.

8. Jake briefly shows how VFLAs might be adapted to other subjects and then make some concluding comments.

I like this book. I would happily try out most of the games. They are adaptable to various age groups and abilities. I would have the book in my departmental library for colleagues - if you don't have such a small library, why not start one? Looking at individual activities would make a good activity for departmental meetings and stimulate teachers to come up with their own ideas. Not all the games will suit every teacher and every group, and, let's face it, you don't have to do games to teach well - good classroom control is a prerequisite, but as lists of games goes, this is a very good one, supported by some sound pedagogical theory.


Tricolore - 5th edition review



Textbooks have come under fire from many quarters, whilst traditionalists implore schools to use them more. My view is that the argument is poorly framed. Textbooks are good when they are good and language teachers can save themselves a lot of time using them. Of course, Tricolore was always more than just a text book...

Full disclosure: I taught using the Tricolore course from 1988 up to 2012. I saw it gradually metamorphose from Tricolore, into Encore Tricolore, Encore Tricolore (Nouvelle Edition), then latterly Tricolore Total. Suffice it to say that I know the previous courses intimately which make my review well-informed, if somewhat biased. This latest fifth edition is just called Tricolore (5e édition) and has been published to accompany the latest version of the National Curriculum.

The fact that the Tricolore brand has survived so long and thrives in grammar schools, independents and upper sets of all ability schools, says something about its suitability for the market it explicitly targets: "higher ability" pupils.

So what's the latest Tricolore like? Well, very much like the previous version. Think of it as a facelift, rather than a new model. In fact, my impression of the Y7 book Oxford (which swallowed up Nelson-Thornes) sent me is that this is the most subtle of revisions yet, at least as far as the pupil book is concerned.

The Tricolore approach is to build a course around grammar and topics, with a greater than average emphasis on the grammar bit. Grammar is carefully selected and graded in a way we have seen for years, vocabulary limited to higher frequency words, revision built in across the units. There are bags of opportunities to practise structures.  The Y7 book follows a very typical sequence of topics: introductions, the classroom, where you live, home and family, pets, holidays and festivals, leisure, town, school, food and sport. Weather and time make their customary appearance. The structure of each unit is clear, pages quite densely packed (though more clearly laid out and organised than the oldest versions). Because the course has been around for so long, the publishers have been able to respond to detailed teacher feedback over issues such as unnumbered exercises, cluttered and confusing layouts.

Each unit features a fair amount of reading material, vocabulary lists, clear illustrations, grammar explanation boxes and one new element, boxes highlighting points of French phonology. Target language is used nearly all the time, with a small number of comprehension questions in English (which, to some degree, tick the translation box). There are revision sections to recapitulate work from previous sections. My experience was that these were only needed with some groups, but they do offer more extra practice.

Thankfully, the book has avoided taking on board too seriously the DfE's desire for more translation and use of "literary texts". However, there are, within the Stratégies boxes tips on translating from French with short "find the French tasks", not fully-fledged translation. Perhaps we'll see more translation in future books, including into French, in the books to come. The Stratégies boxes also feature encouragement on how to develop writing skills.

There is little sign of literary texts, unless you include the Tom et Jojo cartoon (carried over from the original book in the 1980s) and Mangetout the cat. These, by the way, are popular with pupils and lend themselves to useful intensive question-answer practice. Page 28 features a "poem" for listening to and reading aloud. Page 77 has a song called La Chanson des saisons. The words lip and service spring to mind.

Cultural information is featured well enough, for example in the sections on holidays and festivals. La Rochelle remains the featured town, giving it greater importance to generations of British pupils than a town of its size may merit (beautiful and interesting though it is!). There are readings devoted to religious festivals, Astérix, healthy eating, French icons, francophonie 

One aspect I like about the pupil books is that they are very usable in lessons. Texts can be easily exploited for rigorous repetition, drilling and question-answer. The vocabulary lists are just right for test learning, if you like that sort of thing. Grammar explanation boxes labelled Dossier Langue are clear and there are plenty of exercises, including those in the Au Choix section at the back of the book to provide extension work if required. Crucially, nearly all exercises are worthwhile and contain a good number of practice examples to embed knowledge.

There is also a nod to the trend for stressing phonics with regular Phonétique boxes focusing on particular sounds and letter combinations.

The back of the book has traditional grammar summaries and a comprehensive alphabetical French-English vocabulary list.

The Tricolore course is accompanied by clear recordings, teacher's book, transcripts, model answers for teachers, grammar workbooks for students (worth investing in - pupils like them and they are great for homework and cover lessons).

In addition to the more traditional resources in the package, there is the "next generation" Kerboodle online resource. The Kerboodle package includes interactive and printable resources, online assessment, support and lesson ideas and online versions of the Student Book. There are mini-readers with podcasts, record and playback, editable worksheets, grammar presentations, a bank of starters and plenaries, interactive phonics activities and more. It all works on tablets, of course. If you want access to unit assessments and repromasters you will need to buy into Kerboodle.

There are two purchase options (both requiring an annual licence), the first with teacher access to the student online book, the second (more costly) allowing students to access the online book. Could you get away with buying the online book and not the printed one? I would not. I would probably avoid the online book to save money for other things provided you can afford to give every students a book to take home. (Hint: make sure they are well backed and they can last five years or more. Could you persuade your supplier to throw in some free plastic covers??)

For an online kerboodle evaluation:

http://www.oxfordsecondary.co.uk/tricolorekerboodle

I confess that when our department reviewed the Kerboodle package back in 2011-12 we were not overwhelmed and chose not to invest - mainly because we had access to printable unit tests and repromasters.  Looking at the latest offer I am still left slightly underwhelmed. The interactive grammar is done better by Languages Online for free, whilst the interactive assessment material in the evaluation package seems a bit, well, dull - maybe the amount of publisher investment available means it has to be this way. Still, if you have to buy into Kerboodle I am sure teachers will find it useful for the ICT room, tablet or homework.

Though not the last word in creativity and excitement, Tricolore is a course free from gimmickry, with a good shelf life and one which pupils can use a lot and depend on. We have yet to see how later books in the series work out. My guess is that Book 2 will be a gradual evolution and Book 3 something rather different - the tricky Y9 book has always been a tough one to get right. Tricolore is challenging, easy to use and prepares students well for the long haul. The publishers have probably done enough to tick the literary texts, transcription of sounds and translation boxes at this stage, whilst the course was already strong on grammar and writing. It is, as they say, tried and tested. It is a complete package which writes your scheme of work for you. Critics will say the content is predictable, too focused on form and of little intrinsic interest to young people. Fans will say it provides lots of meaningful target language exposure along with structured learning. I think it places language development at front and centre. If you teach students of above average ability it should be at the top of your list for evaluation.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Method evangelists

I have been enjoying reading Barry Smith's blogs recently. Barry teaches French at the Michaela Community School in Brent, London. He is full of enthusiasm for his work in what is a brand new "free school". He is proud to be something of a maverick in that he rejects what he sees as the language teaching orthodoxy of the moment. I think I represent him correctly when I say that he rejects the use of single word target language teaching with pictures, avoidance of English and translation, traditional textbook grading of grammar and vocabulary (although he clearly believes in simplifying and selecting for clarity), textbooks, strict lesson plans, teaching "topics". He embraces close analysis of texts and the written word, use of parallel texts, learning useful set phrases, close translation, dictation, quick-fire target language question-answer, a teacher-led didactic approach.

Barry sees the current "orthodoxy" as lacking challenge, patronising and failing. He believes language teachers should be more challenging, place the emphasis on literacy and use of the first language; in short he thinks we should "teach like linguists".

For a flavour of Barry's thinking: https://hackingattheroots.wordpress.com/

Barry's passion for what he is doing in his school, and his pride in the school, border on the evangelical and I can't fault him for that. From what he says, it works, the children are motivated and making excellent progress. Barry and the students are also having fun in a shared process of learning. It's what all teachers long for.

Barry is not the only teacher to challenge "orthodoxy" (I write this word between quotation marks because I am not persuaded that there is a language teaching orthodoxy as such in UK schools).

I am interested to follow on Twitter American teachers who are evangelical about the TPRS approach. (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling). I might as well quote the Wikipedia definition of this approach:

TPRS lessons use a mixture of reading and storytelling to help students learn a language. The method works in three steps: in step one the new vocabulary to be learned is taught using a combination of translation, gestures and personalized questions; in step two those structures are used in a spoken class story; and finally, in step three, these same structures are used in a class reading. Throughout these three steps, the teacher will use a number of techniques to help make the target language comprehensible, including careful limiting of vocabulary, constant asking of easy comprehension questions, frequent comprehension checks, and very short grammar explanations known as "pop-up grammar". Many teachers also assign additional reading activities and there have been several easy short novels written by TPRS teachers for this purpose.

Teachers who embrace this approach, started by Spanish teacher Blaine Roy in 1990, are heavily influenced by the "comprehensible input" acquisition hypotheses of Stephen Krashen. They attack traditional grammatical, "drill and kill" approaches, conjugations, textbook teaching and over-emphasis on grammatical analysis. They use their own jargon which most teachers would not recognise such as "affective filter" (taken from Dulay, Burt and Krashen). They say their students make great progress and enjoy lessons. For more on TPRS try this: http://www.tprstories.com/what-is-tprs

Another body of teachers strongly advocate the AIM language Learning approach. AIM stands for Accelerative Integrative Methodology. This approach, developed by Wendy Maxwell, makes great use of gesture, mime, speaking, play-acting, task-based activity, an inductive approach to grammar, simplified vocabulary and group cooperation. Sylvia Duckworth and Pauline Galea, two Canadian teachers, who you can find on Twitter, are passionate about this approach, along with many others in various countries. As with the TPRS approach, grammar is somewhat downgraded in importance, there is focus on target language, but less emphasis is placed on "input at all costs".

All three of these approaches seem to work for their advocates, even though there are significant differences between them. Barry's places unusual reliance on translation and grammatical analysis, TPRS lays the stress on reading and input, AIM on play-acting. Barry's approach makes language and grammar central, TPRS places meaningful messages at the centre, whilst AIM focuses on activity.

My guess would be that, in practice, the three approaches have quite a bit in common too. They all involve plenty of target language input, they all involve listening, reading and speaking in some form, and, crucially, they all require enthusiastic teachers to make them work.

The history of language teaching is characterised by methods which have failed for most children: grammar-translation, audio-lingualism, the strong communicative approach, situational, and functional-notional approaches. I bet that in the right hands and with adequate time and lesson spacing allocated to language teaching all of them could work with most children. In any case, teachers rarely stick dogmatically to one method. I tend more and more to the belief, expressed once by Brian Page, that we shall never have a convincing theory of second language learning and teaching which can point teachers to the "best way" of teaching a language. There will never be a best way for all learners and teachers in all contexts.

Is this another way of saying "anything goes"? Not really. Students need lots of TL input at the right level, some grading, some analysis, lots of practice and activities which hold interest and motivate.

In the end, if the teacher is enthusiastic about their approach and gets the children to buy into it, if a school's structures create a good learning environment, it will work for the majority. The key is to do things well and with a passion.



Friday, 13 March 2015

Practising "ce qui" and "ce que"

Ce qui and ce que are not the easiest to practise, but students who manage to use them spontaneously (see - I got the s word in there) usually have a good level of spoken proficiency.

One little way to practise these in a natural, communicative way would be to get students to make a written list of things they love and hate in life. I thought of this after looking at some of those awful random hate comments you find on Twitter - it makes you despair sometimes, doesn't it? In pairs, or with you, they could then share their pet hates and likes, introducing them with these formulae:

(Tu sais) ce que je déteste, c'est...
Ce que j'aime le moins...
Ce qui m'embête...
(Tu sais) ce qui m'agace..
Ce qui me met en colère...
Ce qui m'énerve ...
Ce qui me fait chier (argot) ...

Ce qui me fait plaisir, c'est...
Ce que j'aime beaucoup...
Ce qui me rend heureux...
Ce qui me plaît beaucoup...

Or even (if a bit forced? )

(Tu sais) ce dont j'ai horreur...

I'd suggest giving them some of your own likes and hates. Students might find these interesting or amusing. How about these:

Ce qui m'embête, c'est les commentaires abusifs sur les réseaux sociaux comme Twitter.
Tu sais ce qui m'agace, c'est les commentaires négatifs dans les journaux en ligne.
Ce que je déteste, c'est l'homophobie et la discrimination en général.
Ce que je n'aime pas du tout, c'est les gens qui ne font pas la queue.
Tu sais ce qui m'irrite, c'est les chauffeurs qui s'approchent trop près derrière vous.

Ce que j'aime beaucoup, c'est me réveiller quand il y a du soleil et un beau ciel bleu.
Ce qui me fait plaisir, c'est quand ma femme va me chercher une tasse de thé le matin.
Ce qui me rend heureux, c'est quand je vais à un concert de mon chanteur préféré.
Tu sais ce que j'adore, c'est quand je décolle en avion.
Ce qui me plaît beaucoup, c'est la générosité des autres.

In pairs, once students have written in note form as many likes and dislikes in about five minutes, they can then start saying one each to each other. The first one to run out of things to say is the loser. This usually gets students talking happily and hopefully developing their use of relative pronouns!.

A-level revision links 2015


Here are this year's interactive and other for A2 Level French revision. I would not overload students with long lists of links. These are fine.

With regard to listening, if you subscribe to frenchteacher.net already, you could make a stapled booklet of video listening worksheets. Students will prefer active listening to just general listening to the radio or websites.

First stop
http://mfl.jimdo.com/resources/french-a2-level/
(a mine of all sorts of material: essay planning, vocabulary and vocabulary)

Interactive grammar

Listening

Reading

Essay writing
http://www.alevelfrench.com/home/file.php/1/sample_resources/LET-EDEXCEL-milieu_social.pdf (literature essay with tips)

There is also plenty of free reading material with exercises on frenchteacher.net, bien sûr.


Thursday, 12 March 2015

Lingu@net World Wide


The About page says:
 
Lingu@net World Wide is a multilingual, online resource centre for learning languages.
In 2013-14, the Lingu@network project, funded by the European Commission’s Lifelong Learning Programme, turned Lingu@net World Wide into a dynamic and interactive website in which users can participate actively by contributing with their resources and creating communities to exchange ideas and experiences about language teaching or particular areas of pedagogy across languages.

Lingu@network is being carried out by a consortium of more than 30 partners led by The Languages Company, UK, and the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain.

The main function of the site is to provide links to reputable language teaching resources worldwide. You can choose from a wide range of languages to navigate around the site, which is clear and unfussy in design. If you enter a search inquiry you are given a list of links, each of which you can select for more detailed information. The site found all the reputable resource sites I tried and gave quite detailed, largely accurate summaries of their content.

In fact certain quality criteria have to be met for sites to be linked to. They say:

  1. Is the content reliable in terms of linguistic and factual accuracy?
  2. Is the site user-friendly in terms of: ease of navigation; user support (e.g. online help) and interface design?
  3. Is it up-to-date and (where appropriate) is there any evidence that it will be maintained and regularly up-dated in the future?
  4. Is the resource free of offensive material or links to offensive material?
  5. Is it from a recognised provider i.e. 'an acceptable source' such as:
    • international, national or regional organisations and centres supporting the teaching and learning of Modern Foreign Languages;
    • publishers and broadcasters;
    • professional networks and associations;
    • other individuals and institutions involved in foreign languages teaching and learning whose online resources fulfill the quality criteria above.

A search for "French listening" came up with 195 hits. Each one is identified by its site title and a symbol which suggests what the emphasis of the site is: listening, reading, assessment, teaching and learning (most have this symbol), literary texts, interaction and events, authentic materials, newspapers. A search for "French grammar" produced 175 hits including the well known sites such as Tex's French Grammar, Frenchteacher (!) and French in a Click.

There is a tutorial which explains how to upload your own resources to free web space. You should also be able to catalogue your own selections.

The "Community" part of the site includes a forum (which, when I looked, seemed to have been the victim of spamming). My attempt to register to access all the site's features failed - something may be amiss.

I can recommend this site for its search facility and the relatively detailed information it provides on each link. The fact that links have been vetted is a major plus over a standard search engine search. Whether people use its forum and web space for resources is another matter. My guess is that the very breadth of the site may discourage teachers from doing so.


AS French level revision links 2015

It's that time of year again. Here is an updated list of revision links for students preparing for AS level French examinations in England and Wales, though I daresay it would be useful to students preparing for other assessments. I particularly recommend MFL Online from Jim Hall. Most of the links are free, but I have taken the liberty of including my own which are behind the £20 paywall. You can always omit these if you want to make a hand-out for free resources only.

For reading the Languages Online material is good because students get instant answers.

As far as listening is concerned my AS video listening worksheets are probably the most useful for students because they involve structured doing as well as listening. Teachers who subscribe could always hand these out as a booklet so students would not pay. Many have model answers.

Grammar

http://www.laits.utexas.edu/fi/ http://www.class.uh.edu/mcl/fll/french/frexercises/chapitre5/index.htm   
http://fran-lang.vaniercollege.qc.ca/prep/default.htm
Carmen Vera's grammar through French songs. A bit more fun maybe.

Listening

http://ielanguages.com/frenchlistening.html
http://www.audio-lingua.eu/spip.php?rubrique1
http://www.rfi.fr/lffr/pages/001/accueil_exercice_ecoute.asp
Video listening sheets on frenchteacher (behind paywall) - do not share teacher logins

Reading

http://atschool.eduweb.co.uk/rgshiwyc/school/curric/HotPotatoes/index.htm

Vocabulary

http://mfl.jimdo.com/resources/french-as-level/

Essays

http://mfl.jimdo.com/resources/french-as-level/ 
(not error-free, but very useful examples)


Speaking test

http://mfl.jimdo.com/resources/french-as-level/ (scroll to bottom)

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

GCSE and IGCSE revision links 2015

It's that time of year again. In England and Wales, when those blessed GCSE controlled assessments are over, you can focus totally on comprehension and vocabulary building for the remaining exams. Here is a handy list of some good interactive revision links for this level. These links are also good for intermediate exams in Scotland, Ireland and other English-speaking countries. You could copy and paste this to print off for students.

I do recommend the free print-off from frenchteacher.net (see Reading link below). I designed it for pupils working at the grade A-C level at GCSE. Good for individual work and students like the booklet format.

As far as apps for students are concerned, I would suggest the Cramit one, Memrise and Learn French which is pretty good for vocabulary. For Android devices the French Vocabulary app is well reviewed. For listening, you could suggest Coffee Break French from Radio Lingua Network (iTunes podcasts).

Listening
http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/french/ (Foundation/Higher)
http://www.hellomylo.com/ (Foundation/Higher)
Reading
http://www.bonjourdefrance.com/index/indexappelem.htm(Foundation/Higher)  
http://www.frenchteacher.net/free-resources/samples/ (Foundation/Higher) - look in Y10-11 section for GCSE reading booklet to work through and common signs to interpret.
http://platea.pntic.mec.es/~cvera/hotpot/exos/index.htm (Higher)

Listening and reading 

http://www.frenchrevision.co.uk  (Foundation and  Higher - £5 to sign up)

Vocabulary

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Picking up a new language as an adult

My wife Elspeth Jones, herself a linguist and linguistics graduate, recently taught herself some Romanian whilst on a working trip with universities there. She reflects on the process of learning a new language from scratch as an adult. There may be one or two useful lessons for language teachers....


On a recent visit to Romania I was challenged to learn 100 words over the two weeks by Adrian Georgescu, one of my team members. For a linguist this shouldn’t be too difficult but it was a long time since I’d learned a new language from scratch and some of the first words I learned did not seem to relate to other languages, such as "mulțumesc" for thank you and "bună" dimineața, good morning.

I have lived in several countries and speak a number of languages to various levels of fluency: Romance, Germanic, Slavic and Oriental. It turns out that Romanian has some unusual characteristics and influences from several language groups. A word one might expect to be easy such as ‘to speak’ is actually ‘a vorbi’. And then at other times the word is easily recognisable from French, Spanish, Portuguese or Italian, like ‘foarte’ (very). So I became increasingly interested and soon my patient teacher’s challenge changed. I was to 1) provide 25 Romanian words of my choice 2) give the Romanian for 25 words provided by my teacher 3) produce six sentences of at least eight words 4) in conversation, answer two unknown questions in a sentence of at least eight words.

As regular readers of this blog will imagine, the question of ‘comprehensible input’ is a frequent topic in our house, so when I came home we discussed the language learning strategies I had used for this challenge. Adrian was endlessly patient and what luxury to have a native speaker willing to answer my incessant questions. It also helped that everyone I met was delightful and apparently positively inclined to my halting efforts. Of course I was also surrounded by visual clues – signs, advertising hoardings, shop names and so on.

But what were the strategies I used and was there anything which might offer pointers for language teachers in the classroom?

Moving from words to sentences I couldn’t understand why verb forms always seemed to be ‘irregular’, and what on earth was going on with articles and possessives? So I took to the internet for some answers. Perhaps naively, I hadn’t expected to find so much information on a language spoken by a relatively small number of people. Once I understood that there were four verb conjugation types, things began to make more sense, although it wasn’t any easier to learn them! Grammar lessons are never wasted on a learner like me.

Memorising patterns, writing everything down, reviewing everything I’d learned at the end of each day, learning chunks of language and then breaking them down into meaningful sections, were all important, being able to visualise where the word was in my notebook and which other words were around it, which words were not as you’d expect from other languages and conversely which were as predicted, even remembering where we were when I asked Adrian for a new word or sentence, all of these helped me to remember vocabulary and eventually full sentences.

I also have some Romanian friends on Facebook and picked up words from their posts. Motivating factors were that my teacher was willing to be mercilessly exploited but I also wanted to please him, the sense of progress being made and the ultimate challenge of ‘examination’ on the return flight to Bucharest were all part of the challenge, and it was just great fun. Also I’m a pretty motivated linguist, it has to be said.

Some of these strategies are a function of being an experienced adult linguist and knowing what works for me, but they also reflect the importance of different learning styles. There were words which stayed with me just from hearing them but others I had to write down and constantly revise.

So comprehensible input is all very well, but how would I step up to the conversation part of the test, listening to questions with new vocabulary and making up novel sentences? I was reminded that being able to break down chunks of language depends on knowing at least some of the words involved and trying to guess the others you don’t know and this relies on knowing where words begin and end.

The first time I heard Steve discussing with a friend "l’effet de serre", I thought they were saying ‘f é deux r’ and I simply couldn’t get it. Equally, one of the questions in my exam was ‘Spune-mi ceva frumos despre soţul tâu’ (tell me something nice about your husband) – all I could hear in the middle was ‘d’espresso’ because I hadn’t come across the word ‘despre’ before.

Lessons to be learned? Motivation plus comprehensible input, using personal learning strategies and having the opportunity to practise results in success. This was a privileged period of intensive learning in an immersion context, but still with the same fundamental tactics. The only problem is that if the motivation is lacking, everything becomes more difficult. Sadly I can’t offer any insight into how that is developed. I now need a Romanian friend to practise with or it could all disappear!

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