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The decline of foreign language learning and teaching

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

  1. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

    True. And not just single words.
    It depends what they're doing in the lesson. Although I tend to agree that you don't want to spend all your time learning vocab.
    No alternative... really? Is this a universally held view? (Sounds to me like an opinion...)

  2. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    Hi Siegen81to82
    "2 in 3 Britons cannot speak a single foreign word"
    Another survey that is printed in a national paper bemoaning British people's lack of foreign language skills. Must be a slow news day. Another paper will do it in a few weeks time and BBC Radio 5 Live will do their annual discusson/hand ringing for an hour or so at some time. And so it goes on. Every so often a govt report will come out making it official. The British are **** at learning a new language. No wonder most kids hate languages. It's ingrained from an early age.
    The teaching they get only serves to multiply the prejudice because kids feel stupid if the method they are being taught is not effective for them.
    I don't totally blame teachers because they have so much to fight against. The battle is almost lost for them before the kid even enters the classroom.
    But i'm afraid they compound the problem for most kids. Because at the moment, I've said it before and i'll say it again, they tell their kids WHAT to remember but not HOW to remember.
  3. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    To miapworth
    Thanks for answering my post. You say
    "No alternative... really? Is this a universally held view? (Sounds to me like an opinion...) "
    of my high regard for the linkword method .
    Can you give me a better one?
  4. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

    To be honest, while I agree that you can't get anywhere unless you have the vocab, I don't think it's the learning of loads of vocab items that is the most important. I think it's much more important to focus on functional use of language and the ability to build on prior knowledge to construct more complex sentences. This is why I tend to prefer approaches such as those used in the Michel Thomas for Schools materials, which aim to get students using language in meaningful ways from the outset and build on grammatical constructions to enable students to express themselves in a wide range of contexts. You can always learn the vocab separately (or look it up in a dictionary).
    One of the criticisms of modern language textbooks is that they are too focused on lexical groups. eg. rooms in a house / school subjects / school bag items / names of all the animals etc etc. and learning all the topic vocab for a particular topic, rather than building up students' ability to express themselves.
    When it comes to learning vocab, there are all sorts of ways of doing this. Lots of repetition is crucial, and I'm not saying anything against the method that you quite clearly favour - just that it's not a panacea; it doesn't deal with all the other stuff, just the vocab items. I think most teachers try a range of strategies to help their students to learn vocab, including the kind of thing that is done with linkword. But why focus on just one method to the exclusion of all others?
    By the way, I'm thinking of changing my username to miapworth - it's got more of a linguist feel to it. [​IMG]
  5. That's the single-user price. I couldn't find a reference to a network licence at the Linkword website. I guess that this is because the Linkword approach is probably more suited to use by individuals in their own time rather than by a class of students in school time.
    Schools have very limited budgets these days, and they have to consider the purchase of network licences very carefully. One network licence could eat up the whole of a departmental budget for one year, so that might be one explanation why schools are cautious. I write from previous experience as a software producer.
    Graham Davies
  6. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    1) I do apologise for calling you miapworth instead of mlapworth. I do need some new glasses.
    2)I am glad to see you are using the Michel Thomas method. At least it's an alternative method which if it gets 'students using language in meaningful ways from the outset....' that can only be a good thing. I cannot judge the Thomas method too analytically as when I tried the method I did not 'get it'. Seemed to rely a lot on repetition but that is a vague memory because it was a long time ago and have misplaced the CD a while ago but not been motivated enough to dig it out. My bad.
    Students do seem to be receptive to it which is great.
    I have just been catching up on a guy today, from a link that Graham Davies had on one of his posts, who seems to have great success with the Thomas method. A downside that I got from him was, that the lack of vocabulary question, is only addressed by him in the latter stages of any course. And he seemed to feel that would sort itself out. Which may be right if you have motivated students on your hands and he does seem to have that. But even he, had to amend his course to include the reading and writing of the language which the original Michel Thomas method does not have to make it acceptable for his school.
    3)When you say that Linkword 'does not deal with all the other stuff' apart from vocabulary I think you are quite wrong. Grammar is dealt with, as are gender assignations. The repetition factor is there in Linkword but not in the learning of the words but in their usage, whether in tests which are regularly presented or in a class situation where students can carry out conversations.
    The need for the keywords drop away as the words become internalised and shift into medium and long term memory. But hopefully by then you will have a motivated student who will be open to any other aids that will help.
    4) I am focused so much on linkword at the moment because at this moment in time with the decline in MFL ( and I just saw some of the graphs in the Dearing Report 2007 today which was scary) it seems the only way to go in terms of simplicity, cost and time restraints.
    And finally not to give false flattery it is probably not the teachers who contribute to/visit this forum and others like it who I am trying to get through to that need a wake up call. You are here because you already use a variety of tools but want to learn something new and knowing you don't have all the answers are willing to ask. You'll probably get your students through one way or another.
    It's the ones who just do the minimum who I perhaps should be addressing but the restraint order barring me from entering schools prohibits this ( Just kidding)
  7. noemie

    noemie Occasional commenter

    Hands up those of you who also got an inbox message from minka urging them to buy linword.
    This is bordering on harrassment, Minka.
  8. Which course you prefer is a question of personal taste. As I indicated in an earlier posting in this thread, the Michel Thomas course was the only course that worked for my wife - and she tried many different courses and approaches. I tried to teach her German too, but that's like teaching your partner to drive a car - a sure way towards divorce.
    Graham Davies
  9. padjo

    padjo New commenter

    Hi Graham,

    I was very interested to see the links that you posted about vocabulary acquisition. I think this is a key issue with any MFL that we teach (whether at Primary or secondary).

    I have been involved in ELT for a lot of years, but this autumn will start a Primary PGCE after which I hope to be able to include French, German and perhaps even Chinese as part of my teaching in Primary. I've had a lot of interest in vocabulary acquisition during the ELT time so find it very interesting to think how to improve the vocabulary acquisition of children learning an MFL in this country. There are a couple of points I'd like to add to the debate:

    1. There seem to be big differences in people's preferred learning styles for foreign languages, and specifically for vocab learning. Some people completely thrive on learning from bilingual lists, but others find these very confusing (they can remember the words but forget the link to the right English word). Some people only learn vocabulary by using it, so the more they speak, the more they learn. So how can you apply vocabulary learning methods that make best use of the different strengths of each child? Is this one area where we can make effective differentiation and what are the range of methods available?

    2. While learning Chinese I have come across the interesting question of how to remember newly-acquired characters. One of my teachers had a really productive method of getting us to make up stories for new characters, imagining the different parts of it as objects that we could link together. If anyone has any links describing this technique, I'd love to hear.
  10. Having started this discussion over six months ago, I am tickled pink to see it still going. Actually, joking apart, it shows the concerns we all have for language teaching in this country. Any GCSE language moderator cannot help but be aware of the poor quality of language teaching and learning as they struggle to decipher the oral assessments. When pupils' five years of learning to speak is assessed twice in as little as four minutes each time, when they are only assessed on two topics, when they are given the questions in advance and often helped to write their answers, and when the one supposed 'unpredictable question' asked is often not unpredictable, we know we are in trouble. Moreover, when many teachers conducting the oral exam would not gain a grade A in GCSE (let alone an A*) because they have been coerced into teaching a language they are not suitably qualified to teach, things do not look good for the future of language teaching. Furthermore, when the exam board only re-marks as little as six candidates in a cohort of one hundred (and only one of each candidate's two topics), the system is certainly open to 'creative marking' by the centre. Many AS level teachers privileged this year to have been teaching last year's top grade GCSE students would have been horrified by the fact that students gaining GCSE A grades often cannot string a sentence together unless it has been pre-learned.
    Why is this? It is simple. We have low expectations and are constantly making it easier and more fun. But language learning is not meant to be easy. It is a discipline requiring hard work; the fun comes later when you have a degree of mastery and competence. By all means let the less linguistically able play games and have fun but don't try to pretend they will ever gain any fluency. If we want fluent speakers we need to reinstate a more structured approach. Use whatever works best for you the teacher; whether it is text book driven, interactive whiteboard based or even Michel Thomas geared, it doesn't matter. But we have to get back to basic, traditional learning and understanding of grammar and learning of vocab. And proper testing and assessing in classrooms and by exam boards! Otherwise language teaching is doomed to remain one big, farcical game. Yes, the results will continue to improve but pupils' competence and confidence will continue to fall. If we want our grade A GCSE students to answer 'Quel age as-tu?' with 'J'habite Manchester' and 'Hablame du tu familia' with 'Sir, which question is that?' then let the games continue as they are. But if we want to produce a nation of linguistically aware citizens (I dare not suggest with any degree of fluency) then the government, exam boards and schools need to wake up. For many years now language teaching in this country has been a sow's ear. Christmas is coming around again and the cows keep coming home, but if a flying pig is needed to stir the powers that be to action, then I say 'bring on the flying pig!' After all, do we not all want a silk purse?

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