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The decline of foreign language learning and teaching

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by GroovyGuzi, Nov 9, 2011.

  1. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    Can I please refer to anyone following this thread to check out the forum entitled "Vocabulary acquisition:What?How?Where?When?Why...".
    A lot of my views are reflected in this forum which fizzled out in 2007 and has no contributions since then but there are some interesting views. Particulary from those who find learning words by rote is the best and easiest way for them and expect everybody else to be like them in having perfect recall. Very humorous.
  2. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    Dear Siegen,
    Other countries can put us to shame in their attitudes in learning English. But we should not be too hard on MFL teaching in the UK. English being the language that it is in the world has inbuilt advantages (eg most popular music, films and books are English based) compared to people in the UK learning any other language. If French was the main language on the internet I'm sure the kids would be lining up to have extra classes in French.
  3. Dear Minka,
    I'd like to reply to your thoughtful message piece by piece if that's OK.
    Thank you Minka - yes, I have read it and have already contributed to it.
    I have to say I don't do this - learning another language/culture should be interesting enough in itself. In any case they all have different interests.
    I belong to that group of teachers. You have to make progress in the grammar - the vocab can be bolted on as you go along. Babies have five years of 24hr immersion to learn their native language before they even start school; Year 7 kids don't.
    The happier kids would presumably be those who have made the most progress. I suspect however that we have different definitions of what that is. In any case our remit shouldn't be about making kids happy, it should be about teaching them well.
    Some people are better at learning foreign languages than others. It ceases to be definable as a talent if everybody has it.

  4. There are a long list of reasons for the poor state of language teaching in Britain and Ireland- the 'hegemony' of English being just one of them. As a trainee MFL teacher, I have to agree with a lot of the comments made above about the lack of grammatical rigour in modern MFL teaching. It strikes me that children are not really being taught grammar or the 3Rs properly at primary school. Secondary school pupils I have taught seem to have a very rudimentary or fragmentary knowledge of the parts of speech. The teaching is more concerned with getting them to pass controlled assessments rather than actually learning to speak or write the language as well as possible. On a practical level, developing much better teaching of grammar in both English and MFL at primary and secondary school level would be a good first step. On a broader level, improving MFL teaching requires some serious decisions being taken by members of the political classes to seriously invest some hard money and resources into improving language capabilities. As far as I can see, that will really only come about, whenever the need to learn other languages becomes a matter of serious economic necessity, and the political class wakes up to the reality of Britain's diminishing economic and political significance. As the history of education in England shows, real change and improvement is only often driven by economic necessity.
  5. Good post Celtic.
    I don't think money is what's needed though. Good teaching should do the trick.
  6. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    Hi Stuart
    Thanks your considered reply regarding my comments. Obviously we have opposite views. I would not say diammetrically opposed because in a face to face discussion where you don't have to shorten points like in this forum we would find many common points.
    I did not want to use metaphors on here but perhaps one would clarify my view. Imagine a golf pro giving a golf lesson. He would say things like swing back, keep your shoulders straight, point your toes, keep your head up, look at the ball - I mean so many instructions to get the perfect swing. Substitute perfect swing for perfect fluency and hopefully what I'm trying to say makes sense. Imagine a kid represented with all these rules when all he wants to do is to hit a few balls. If he's not allowed to do that until he's got his stance right, he's soon going to get disinterested. And may be put off all together.
    Words and grammar learning should go hand in hand and it does in linkword. It's not ignored.
    Words with little grammar can hinder fluency but you can be understood. Grammar with few words is of little use to anyone.
    In the end perhaps our differences are on what is empasised.
    I think a love for learning languages can be instilled even in the most unlikeliest student, at first glance, who may have an initial prejudice against the country being studied. You've got to meet them halfway. Even the naturals use techniques like linkword or other coping and enabling strategies even though they may not use them consciously.
  7. Herringthecat

    Herringthecat New commenter

    I hope to train to be a teacher of MFL next academic year. You might be interested to know that I sat in on a geography lesson for year 7 conducted in French in a (Ofsted outstanding) comprehensive school in Northamptonshire. where they do 'immersion'.

    So it does happen! It was fascinating! I think the teacher had got A-level French back in the day, and had kept it up to an extent. I certainly noticed the odd mistake in her French and her accent was very English. That brought out the inherent linguistic snob in me initially, but actually it probably contributed to the kids' understanding. It would be wonderful to see more of that happening elsewhere, but of course the logistics are always going to be problematic.

  8. noemie

    noemie Occasional commenter

    The other way round is to teach another subject during our language lessons. That's what I've started doing, and although it's quite a bit of work getting to grips with the content and understanding of the topic, it's actually easier than I first thought. I've uploaded the resources I've made if anyone would like to try it out (I did the first module on the French revolution with Y9 and I'm currently doing art). Kids certainly find it more interesting than usual, and being a language teacher it means I can still teach the grammar etc which I would want my pupils to know, which a history or geography teacher wouldn't necessarily have the skills to do, no matter how proficient in their own language.
  9. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    Hi noemie,
    When you are teaching the French Revolution or Art in your French classes don't the History and Art teachers at your school take umbrage and complain you are teaching a subject you are not qualified (I am presuming) to teach in. Just kidding. I commend you on your actions. Good to see the kids and you are enjoying it.
  10. Apart from the reasons listed above, one (the most important I fear) reason of the decline of foreign language learning and teaching has to be the decline in English language learning and teaching. Difficult to explain German grammar if you have to start explaining what a verb or a noun is...
  11. John Ford, the American film director (1894-1973), once said, "It is easier to get an actor to be a cowboy than to get a cowboy to be an actor."
    Regarding the teaching of PE, football, cricket and other subjects, who are the cowboys and who are the actors? I used to teach swimming (in English) in my first post back in the 1960s.
    And, yes Minka, you have a point about golf. As an amateur golfer who has struggled to get his handicap below 18 for the last 25 years, I have read several books that explain the technicalities of the grip, the stance and the golf swing. In the end, however, the explanations just get in the way and I usually play better when I just stand beside the ball and hit it. The same is true of skiing, although I did find my instructor's technical explanations (in German) about shifting weight from one foot to the other in the beginners' classes (back in the 1980s) helpful. Now I don't really think about what I am doing when I execute a parallel turn.
    Graham Davies
  12. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    And I'm sure a ranch owner would say exactly the opposite.
    Re your point of who are the cowboys and who are the actors. And forgive me if I'm struggling with this metaphor a bit. We are all cowboys and actors at one time or another.
    The general point I'm trying to make is that too many teachers aim for perfection from their kids from day one and tend to forget they were learners once. You don't get a kid interested in football by insisting they understand the offside rule before they kick a ball. Let them have fun with the language at least in the first few weeks. It's not going to hurt those who eventually will end up as fluent speakers which I think some teachers do worry about.
  13. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    <table cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0">

    <td class="black" colspan="2" align="left">http://www.unforgettablelanguages.com/TES.htm

    <td class="black-headline" colspan="2">
    for the Memory
    <td colspan="2">[​IMG]</td></tr>
    <td class="black" colspan="2">How do you remember the Spanish word for
    cow? Elaine Johnson watches pupils learn languages by the use of bizarre images
    I can still recall a lecture on memory that I attended at Swansea University
    in which psychologist Professor Michael Gruneberg explained how mnemonics could
    be used to teach languages. That was nearly 20 years ago.

    So I welcomed the opportunity to try out his Linkword technique, which was
    originally developed for adults, in school.

    At Hove Park Language College, Brighton and Hove, head of languages Charmian
    Hartley felt the CD-Rom format would help promote ICT for modern languages in
    the school. We sampled the Spanish and German courses.

    Linkword is based entirely on CD-Roms for each chosen language, without other
    materials, and uses mental images to link an English word to another English
    word that sounds like the corresponding foreign word. The Spanish word for cow
    is vaca. The learner is asked to picture a cow with a vacuum cleaner cleaning a
    field. The German word for tie is schlips and learners are asked to image a man
    slipping and getting caught up in his tie.

    The CD-Rom is divided into 10 sections which include animals, home, colours,
    clothes, shopping, food, drink, and travel. At Hove Park, we used the Spanish
    Linkword CD-Rom Level 1 to teach the topic "animals" to a Year 7 mixed-ability
    class. The German Linkword (Section 5 "In the restaurant") was trialled with a
    Year 10 group. These are keen classes, although Gruneberg says the method is
    particularly suitable for weaker and reluctant learners.

    Our intention was for pupils to learn new words and reinforce gender and
    adjectival agreements. Sarah Godsall, French and Spanish teacher, says that
    before the lesson she felt the resource would be too complicated for her group.
    Afterwards she changed her mind: "Just because it isn't in the course book does
    not mean the pupils cannot cope with it. The CD-Rom pushed them on by using more
    extensive vocabulary, tackling many new things we had not covered in Spanish.
    Brighter children learned to write sentences in Spanish using the verb estar and
    practised accents, gender and adjectival agreements. They made reference to
    French to think about word patterns."

    During the plenary at the end of the lesson, Sarah and I checked pupils'
    learning against the objectives and listened to their opinions about Linkword.
    Year 7 wanted pictures to be added to the Spanish CD-Rom and suggested the
    foreign and English words be written in different colours to avoid confusion.
    Pupils were also keen for a mark out of 10 to be given at the end of each
    section. We all agreed the CD-Rom should have a rewind as well as a forward

    Learning support assistant Saminara Malik says her statemented pupil was much
    more motivated than usual but the resource needed to be supplemented with mime
    and visuals to support special needs and English as an additional language.

    The mnemonic images were too hard for younger children to imagine and we had
    to explain some of the English words. The Spanish for dog is perro. The learner
    is asked to imagine a dog pirouetting, but many Year 7 pupils did understand
    what pirouette meant.

    The children did not have headphones to hear the correct pronunciation of the
    words, but they overcame this by using the English word spelt phonetically in
    brackets. For example, pig puerco (poo erko).

    Sue Brigliadori, deputy head of languages, was impressed with Linkword,
    noting that her Year 10 German group was very motivated with a longer
    concentration span than usual.

    Here are some examples for German words:

    * The gender of plate, der Teller, is masculine. Imagine a boxer smashing a
    plate over his opponent.

    * The gender of fork, die Gabel, is feminine. Imagine a little girl poking
    you with a fork.

    * The gender of knife, das Messer, is neuter. Imagine poking a fire with a

    Year 10's reaction was mixed. One boy said: "It is difficult to remember
    words as well as mental images. At first you don't think it's helping you but
    subconsciously it is."

    Another pupil said it was easy to remember the male image of a boxer with
    masculine nouns and the image of a girl with feminine nouns but it was harder to
    remember the image of fire with neuter words.

    Most of the Year 10 German class used headphones and said this made it more
    interesting. They unanimously agreed that Linkword is suitable for teenagers.
    High praise indeed considering many language courses do not match adolescents'
    age and interests. Linkword definitely boosted pupil self-esteem. Older pupils
    enjoyed working independently. "You are able to work at your own pace, nobody
    knows if you get it wrong," one said. Both classes were engaged and motivated
    throughout the lesson, even though this was the last week of term before

    The real test will be whether the pupils' long-term memory improves and they
    can form correct sentences. Michael Gruneberg stresses Linkword is only
    effective if learners are tested immediately and, on a full course, are tested
    again two days later. Early this term we are also going to retest the children
    on their learning during our trial. We plan to buy Linkword Level 2 French for
    Sarah's disaffected Year 9 French class.

    Elaine Johnson is a former head of languages and is MFL consultant for
    Brighton and Hove

    Linkword Spanish (European) and German level 1 CD-Roms &pound;24.95 each.

    Also available in Spanish (South American), French, Italian, Portuguese,
    Dutch, Hebrew, Greek, Russian, Welsh, and Japanese.Linkword Languages, 54

    from: TES Teacher
  14. &pound;24.95.
    So do we have to pay that for every computer terminal or can we buy one copy and install it onto all school machines?
  15. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    Hi Stuart
    That was a post from 2003. I do not know about the economic niceties at the moment. But check out linkwordlanguages.com or contact them at
    0800 085 5700 (Freephone, UK only)
    or 01792 401 134
    Linkword Languages, 92 Westport Avenue, Mayals, Swansea, SA3 5EF, UK
    I called the number a few years ago and it was the author Michael Gruneberg who actually answered. Talk about hands on.
    And to all you cynics out there I am not making any financial gain out of this.
  16. Herringthecat

    Herringthecat New commenter

    But Michel Thomas claims to manage to do just that. Of course he seems to be all about grammar really, but doesn't say so explicitly to his students. Do you think really what they mean is 'don't confuse me with terminology'? What do you make of his approach?
  17. Yes, Michel Thomas certainly introduces grammar but without using the standard technical terms. My wife - who is totally clueless about grammar terminology - followed his German course. It is the only course in which she made any significant progress in German - and she has tried many different courses. She was handling the "verb second" rule and "verb at the end" rule in subordinate clauses within three weeks of starting the course. I can't remember exactly how Michel Tomas explains these rules, but it was clear that my wife now understands how sentences are formed in German and how they differ from sentences in English.
    The Michel Thomas approach works very well for adults. And it can work well for school-age children too. See Peter Howard's website, Michel Thomas for Schools: http://www.phoward.net/
    Graham Davies
  18. chriszwinter1

    chriszwinter1 New commenter

    Just Google "2 in 3 Britons cannot speak a single foreign word" and see what comes up today.
    And as for tortuman's comments,
    it seems that currently in Britain many people are alergic to actually studying, and anything that means "effort" gets shoved at the bottom of the shelf.
    It's quite telling the fact that every course you will always have people who turn up without a pen or a notebook, or even without their reading glasses because "they didn't know they would have to take notes". It says a lot of the way they have been raised and educated in the past... is our way of schooling producing this "spoon-feed-me" behavours?
    I can only add that, as someone now in a post-16 establishment, I am shocked at how each lesson has to start with a request from me to "get your books and folders out", followed by "you need to write this down". Spoon-feeding has led to such entrenched habits of over-reliance on us that digging the "students" out of this mind-set and making then even acknowledge that they have responsibility for their own learning are mammoth tasks.
  19. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    Hi tortuman,
    I'm sure your experience of teaching languages at school or evening classes is mirrorred by most teachers. As I was reading your message a quote came to mind by Einstein
    &ldquo;Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.&rdquo;
    For all the shortcomings, the students coming into language classes may have, I think teachers have to look at themselves in a much more critical way. Perhaps their methods are the reason for drop off.
    As regards the insanity quote. Now I think of it I must be insane myself. I have been putting forward the linkword language learning system for years to the educational establishment. Not one person has put a reasoned argument against it. Only one Graham,person has tried it for himself, and found it useful but not enough to try it in teaching.
    The irony of the situation is that past and present methods have contributed to the decline of teaching of MFL in UK. To the point it ranks about as low as it can get now in the priorities of headteachers when setting timetables. To compound the irony, linkword the method least used in the past is the only method that can correct the situation.
    Doesn't the fact that the govt is struggling to get enough people into the MFL teaching profession over and above the general problem of getting people into the teaching profession , suggest the problem may lie with teachers themselves.
  20. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    To tortuman
    "People can't remember words, because in the first place to learn something you need to be exposed to that item several times for it to become embedded in your long term memory. In theory this can be done in many ways, in practice, when learning something out of context in a classroom environment (not in an inmersion context in the country that speaks that language), probably the only way of being able to transfer this information into your long term memory is actually studying the bleeming word, by actually studying it, doing grammar drills, translation, etc "
    Repeated use of the target words is one of the best ways for them to be embedded in long term memory. Recycling needs to occur in vast amounts. Unfortunately as I keep on saying normal lesson time does not provide this. Most of the time is wasted in learning the words rather than using them.
    There is no alternative to linkword for the intentional learning of a great many new words in a relatively short period of time.

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