Thursday, 26 February 2015

"Nobody in the world speaks French"

I have a couple of Google News Alerts which bring me each day a few interesting stories about languages and a lot of not interesting ones.  This morning's Alert featured a story that I had seen on the Languages in Primary Schools Facebook page last night, and about which there was a lot of discussion.  Here is the beginning of the article from today's Telegraph:

Mr Fraser believes that French is of no use to the modern world, especially to modern trade, and that children should be learning Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin or "even German" instead of French "to help them to get ahead in business".  He is disappointed that his own children learn French at school for this reason.  Now, we have heard things like this before, but you can imagine the reaction that this has provoked in the many teachers whose life's work has been to teach the French language to children all over the country.  In my opinion, Mr Fraser speaks before he thinks, and lacks the requisite knowledge and wisdom to see the bigger picture about language learning.

We cannot deny that the language skills of the average British Joe Public are lamentable.  The recent changes to the curricula of both England and Scotland to enable primary school children to learn at least one foreign language are one step to remedying this situation.  It is also widely acknowledged that learning one language opens the door not only to a new world of culture and ideas, but also to a whole raft of Language Learning Skills (LLS) and Knowledge About Language (KAL) which can be easily transferred to the learning of a new language.  The learning of any language, surely, is better than none.  Even French, Mr Fraser, is better than none.

As language teachers, we all know what we think.  But what do our non-teaching friends think about the situation?  The same Telegraph article has a survey asking what language children should learn at school.  Here are the results so far:

I shared this story on Facebook last night, and would like to share with you my dad's response.  My dad spent over forty years working in business and finance, the very world for which Mr Fraser thinks that today's children need to be prepared by learning a language other than French.  Here's what my dad said:

"Methinks I detect an old fashioned anti-French agenda - which is odd, bearing in mind that Scotland and France are supposed to be friends and allies from way, way back.

Since I was in the sixth form (50 years ago!) we have been told we should be learning Russian and Chinese ("Optimists learn Russian, pessimists Chinese", went the joke of the time). The role of speaking Spanish for business purposes is clear - though has the speaker missed the fact that in Brazil, one of the fast-growing economies, they speak Portuguese? And the advantages of being proficient in Arabic have never been more pronounced. And yet, and yet...

French - the language of the EU, of our big eponymous neighbours across the Channel, of parts of Belgium, of Luxembourg, of the French Caribbean - should not be written off as suggested. Quite apart from being valuable for success in the European community as the preceding sentence suggests, there is a tradition of teaching it in UK schools and the resource to do so - not only books and other materials but also trained, experienced, and passionate staff. Why does that matter? Because what is really important with young children is to arouse their interest in and habits of mind for learning ANY language. From French, and the disciplines and interest in learning it instills, they can indeed go on to other languages - not just those listed above but also business gobbledygook and Masters-speak!

And how would you properly understand ENGLISH history and, especially, our language without a knowledge of French?  French and France are accessible. Our students can fairly easily travel to France to build upon their classroom knowledge.

So come on, strange Scottish politician, expand opportunities, don't chuck 'em out!

So nobody speaks French, Mr Fraser?  Well, as you can see from the top of this post, Peppa Pig speaks French.  Dora the Explorer speaks French.  Bob the Builder speaks French.  I don't think the TV companies would have spent time and money producing French-language versions if "nobody in the world speaks French", do you?  There are many millions of little children who do, many millions of little children who would love to make friends with our children via a shared language.  Because there is more to language than business.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Be my Valentine

For the last few days people have been asking for Valentine's resources.  Then yesterday, completely by chance, I came across this Valentine's origami box on Pinterest.  I have simplified the idea to make a Valentine's card-cum-minibook, which would also be ideal for writing about likes and dislikes at non-Valentine's times of year.

To make it, first of all download the template from here.

1.  Cut out the shape, around the solid lines.

2.  Fold along the long, "internal" dotted lines.

3.  Fold out the two halves of the heart, along the dotted lines.

4.  Decorate the outside.

5.  Write inside!

UPDATE 15.02.15:  Due to popular demand I have created some more shapes for this design of minibook.  You can now download:

Easter Egg minibook
Christmas tree minibook
Smiley face minibook
Star minibook

Saturday, 31 January 2015

What's in the box?

Isabelle Jones revealed to me the delights of Pinterest at #ililc4 last year.  Digging around on it is a good way to spend a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon.  I've been using it enough now for Pinterest to start suggesting things for me.  I always seek out the pins that say "Picked for you", as I know that they will reveal some unexpected treats.  As I have a minibook board on Pinterest, many of the pins that are picked for me are to do with foldables, and today there was a link to an origami box.

My husband and my 11 year old daughter are both keen on origami, but I have never had the patience for it, despite the many minibooks!  I often get to a certain point with the folding, and then can't do the next step and abandon it.  However, my daughter has made a lot of these little boxes, and so I thought I would give it a go.  You can see my box at the top of this post.

While I was making it I had some ideas for how little boxes could be used in language lessons:

  1. Tell the children the name of the object that is in the box.  They have to use adjectives to guess what colour, size or shape the object is.
  2. Children list what they think is inside the box.  They can use the dictionary to find the words they need.
  3. Children decide what they think is inside the box and describe it as thoroughly as they can.
  4.  Inspired by the book Not a Box, children say what other things the box could be used for.  They could stick extra pieces onto their own box to make it look like something else.
  5. Tell the children that the box is a treasure box.  They say what treasures they think are inside.  Alternatively they could make some treasures for their own boxes or bring some treasures from home so that they can describe them to classmates.
  6. Children use simple opinions to express what they think is or isn't in the box.  "A mon avis, il y a un chien bleu, mais il n'y a pas de chat noir."

The box inspires activities which range from word level, therefore suitable for Year 3, to complex sentence level for Year 6.  The activities also tick quite a lot of the boxes (no pun intended!) of the Key Stage 2 Languages Curriculum, for example:

  • communicate and understand ideas, facts and feelings in speaking and writing
  • express opinions
  • describe things orally and in writing
  • key features and patterns of the language (use of adjectives in particular)
  • use a dictionary

Friday, 30 January 2015

Un triangle, un carré et un rond

I thought I would share with you a series of lessons that I am just completing.  I have designed them to introduce the children to the dictionaries, and, just as importantly, to introduce them to the concept of nouns and gender.  All these, of course, are things specified by the new Programme of Study.

It all started when I found the book un triangle by Néjib in Montréal last summer.  I mentioned the idea that I had for it in a previous blogpost.

We began by learning the names in French of ten classroom objects, and also did some activities to highlight some of the phonemes in those words.  (You can find the resources here.)  Then we found out what gender is all about in French, and how we can spot it when we meet a new word (resources).  Next I showed them our new French dictionaries, and we did a series of short worksheets to help us to get used to using the dictionaries (resources).

Next, we read un triangle for the first time.  We talked about what the word on each page meant, and looked for the cut-out triangle in each picture.  We also worked out if each word was masculine or feminine, and the children told me how they knew the words' genders.  We also looked at the colours that Néjib uses - only blue, red, yellow and white.

I showed the children pictures of the other two books that Néjib has written in the same series. They are called un carré and un rond.  We talked about what we might expect to see inside them.

I issued the children with the challenge of making their own version of un carré.  Because we were going to use folded minibooks, they would have to think of seven things which are square or which have squares as part of them.  They would have to list the words in their exercise books and then use the dictionaries to find out how to say the words in French.  Very importantly, they would also have to make a note of whether the word was masculine or feminine.

What came next was lots of hard thinking about square things!  One of the (solid gold) Year 4 TAs said she thought it was a good activity as it was really making them think hard as well as be creative.  If somebody was really stuck, I showed them how they could open up the dictionary at a random page and look at all the words there to see if any would suit.  We found some unexpected words this way.

Once the children had their list of seven words, I checked them, and they made their minibooks.  On the front cover they wrote the title un carré.  Then on each of the seven pages they drew a picture of their "square word" and wrote the French word, preceded by un or une as appropriate.  This is why they needed to know the gender of the word.  They enjoyed colouring their pictures using only blue, red, yellow and white.  The camion at the top of this post is one of my examples, and here are some sample pages from Year 4:

Those who have finished asked if they could start a book for un rond.  And they are determined to do their own un triangle after that.  I have now purchased un carré and un rond as well, and I'll show them to the children when they have finished their own books.  I think a lot of the children have had better ideas than Néjib, so it'll be interesting to see what they think!