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HOW DO THEY DO IT?

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by claggytrev, Jan 11, 2011.

  1. Despite having recently retired, I still reflect on, and discuss with ex-colleagues, the difficulties facing those in state education. Hence I'm drawn to the TES forums.
    Much has been written in the MFL forum about the difficulties, problems and failures relating to foreign language teaching/learning. One question which constantly arises in my own discussions is "Why are the countries of Europe so much better than we are at learning a foreign language" (the accuracy of this question is rarely challenged!)?
    Can anyone explain why English is more successfully taught/learnt in countries such as Germany, Holland etc than are MFL in the UK?
    - Is it simply a case of motivation? Students abroad know that an inability to speak English is likely to hold them back in pursuing their chosen profession? They are, of course, surrounded - in the media, in the world of sport, music, business and technology - by English (or should that be American?). The same cannot be said of our students of French, German, Spanish etc.
    - Is it a question of time allocation? Many postings highlight this as a factor.
    - Is it the age at which learning of a foreign language begins? (One can only imagine the howls of protest from bored 14 year olds if they have to study our subject for longer!)
    - To what extent does a sound knowledge of one's mother tongue facilitate the learning of a foreign language? And the opposite of course!
    - Is it the case that 'a lack of rigour' in the curriculum of many secondary schools has a negative effect when pupils are called upon to apply themselves to the 'more demanding' subjects?
    And just <u>how</u> do foreign teachers teach English? What methods do they use? Are they 'book based'? Are they 'grammar based'? To what extent do they use and/or depend on ICT?
    On this very notice board, (19/12/10), there is an invitation for MFL teachers to attend seminars on 'The use of new technologies for language teaching in schools.' Is this a tacit confirmation that 'the old methods' are gone forever? A prerequisite for teaching/learning today seems to be 'fun activities', and new language courses all seem to have to include glossy, easy-on-the-eye pupils' books, along with suggestions for ICT etc. Is this really the way forward?
    Surely, the following extracts from replies to an earlier post (The teaching of MFL - 20/01/2010) have a simple logic, and an obvious merit.
    "From an international business point of view, what is needed are people with a good command of grammar, a wide vocabulary and decent pronunciation in an MFL" (JUBILEE 20/04/2010).
    "Although the emphasis in those days was on grammar and translation, what I learned was a solid foundation for communication... I knew how to construct accurate and quite complex sentences on paper before I went to Germany, and I could understand written German. I just needed more practice in transferring these skills to speaking and listening." - GROOVYGUZI 20/04/2010
    Any thoughts on this cri de coeur?
     
  2. HelenMyers

    HelenMyers New commenter

    A fairer comparison would between people teaching, say, French in Spain with those who teach French in the uK.
    This cuts through any argument about methodology. The issues are just as, if not more difficult in other countries. A talk by David Graddol made me feel much better when he plotted our success with langauges other than English against other countries' success in languages other than English.. here's what he was saying 5 years ago .. http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2005/apr/20/guardianweekly.guardianweekly11
    I think it's becoming more and more accepted that English will gradually become (and already is in some countries) more of a 'core skill' rather than a 'foreign language'. I'm just getting ready for a second trip to Norway where most TV programmes in English don't even bother with subtitles.
    I always try to appeal to people not to beat themselevs up about what 'we' are doing wrong. The context is totally different. That's not to say we should be complacent, and I think we have a great community of teachers who are always striving to find out what works for 'their' students in 'their' situation.
     
  3. Many thanks for your reply, and the information and advice. I enjoyed reading David Graddol's paper. I have also read a number of posts on related or similar topics (eg 'teaching in the TL'), and I realise that despite my experience, I am not really sure how 'immersion teaching' works: to what extent does immersion preclude or exclude actual (formal) teaching?
    I acknowledge all you say about the position of English in European schools, but I am still curious about the methods employed: I imagine that oral skills are regarded as most important, but to repeat my earlier question, are they rooted in book based and/or grammar based teaching?
    PS As a consequence of TL teaching, I remember attending numerous seminars on TL testing: we had to devise questions and answers in the TL, and I recall many of them being simplistic and/or artificial (eg where guessing or deduction could easily produce a correct answer). I was unconvinced, and even now, I am of the opinion that to test a student's comprehension accurately and fully, the mother tongue should be used.
     

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