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Primary Education News
News How to encourage students to pursue languages at GCSE and A-level
Modern foreign language teachers share their expertise and tips on how to inspire students to continue with languages beyond key stage 3
Jane Driver, Head of Languages at Hinchingbrooke School.
It's no good putting on a languages day at the end of year 9 if we want our students to study languages post 14. We've got to get our students excited and interested in languages right from the moment they arrive at secondary school (or, even better, before they come). The first place to start is raising the profile of languages in your school – as we can get a little hidden. We run a Eurovision song competition in year 7 which kick starts some great phonics work.
I'm really keen on making links with other subjects and that really helps the uptake of languages. For example students who love maths but not languages can discover they do enjoy them when we are working on maths in a foreign language (see German numeracy passport
and the Spanish numeracy passport).
I started the Foreign Language Spelling Bee in my previous school Comberton Village College and now four years later it's gone nationwide. Last year 50,000 students took part. I saw what our students were lacking at GCSE so I created the spelling bee to kick start my year 7's skills in phonics, to get students to read, and write, pronounce and learn the word. I took it further after chatting to Sarah Schechter, project coordinator for Roots into Language East whose brief is to promote language learning in FE and higher education. I produced resources and teachers' pack and then we spread it through her network.
We did it all through students. Teachers want to run spelling bee clubs but are so overloaded with work so why not get the students to do it? The year 8s run the year 7 club, for example. Using near peer role models is something that really works. My students even set up a Spelling Bee website which allows the competition to be sustainable and free to enter. They have created mobile phone apps and a programme of starters and plenaries. It's really incredible.
Isabelle Jones, head of languages at Radclyffe School in Oldham
It's vital to make languages relevant and interesting and to find a hook to encourage students to take them further. A great way is to use music as a motivator. We have done some really inspiring projects funded by the Creative Partnerships initiative which sadly closed for funding in September 2011. But it is possible to replicate some projects with very little funding.
One of the most exciting I've been involved in is a rap project in French with disaffected boys from year 8. It wasn't supposed to be just boys but the vehicle of rap put some girls off so that's how it ended up. I started off introducing the boys to some French rappers (I recommend McSolaar, Grand Corps Malade (slam more than rap) and Sexion d'Assaut). I worked closely with the boys on their rhymes in French and recorded myself saying what they wanted so they could get the pronunciation exactly right. Pupils were also surprised to find the commonality between French and English and that they could write some really sophisticated rhymes as so many 'ism and 'tion words are actually the same in both languages.
The boys chose their own themes and some of the subjects really surprised me including peace in Palestine – this coming from disaffected boys who were not that interested in school. The project gave the boys was the chance to be really playful with the French language. What was really interesting was how the project kept the boys on board throughout all their language lessons, there was a complete change in attitude and relationships in class. When I saw languages on some of these boys options forms I was so happy. We worked with a local MC and a music producer, but if a school is willing to support a music and languages department to work together it's really practical to carry out this project in house with very little funding.
Read more about the project and lesson to some of the music created on Isabelle's blog.
Elspeth Wiltshire is languages college and international coordinator at Devonport High School for Girls in Plymouth
The Comenius scheme and eTwinning have had a huge impact on our school and although all girls have to take at least one language GCSE at Devonport, these projects are a big part of the reason why they actually want to. The real connection with schools in other countries is so inspiring.
With Comenius you can apply for bilateral projects working with one other school or multilateral projects with up to six other schools who work to bring a project together. At the moment we are applying to work with schools in Poland, France, Republic of Ireland and another school in Plymouth for students with learning difficulties. We are all schools in coastal towns and who want to look at the influence of the sea on our communities. If we're successful each school will get up to 25,000 Euros for a two year project.
It's the impact of using a language in a real context that really gives these projects the edge and where students pick up the value languages and want to take them further. Students who have been involved in working closely with other countries across the curriculum are more likely to realise the value of languages. It's a lovely moment when students say: "I can't believe it, she understood me and I understood her!" The funding means pupils whose families couldn't afford for them to go abroad can have these opportunities and that's vital.
I can also recommend getting involved in Euroscola which is run by the European Parliament in Strasbourg. We always take between five and 10 of our pupils every year as part of a group of students from the south west. The four day trip is subsidised by the EU and a great opportunity. They are with 500 other young people from other EU countries and it's an amazing opportunity to do something with languages outside the school environment.
David Ceirog-Hughes teaches general studies and languages at Winchester College
I find introducing the students to poetry and short stories as soon as possible provides a real context for learning. I'm a particular fan of Philippe Delerm "La première gorgée de bière" who writes these little essays on French life, and the poems of Jacques Prévert. It makes the language learning process more meaningful. In France there's a tradition of learning through poetry and we have a poetry recitation competition in the target language which pupils take seriously.
If you can stop language learning being remote that's the key to unlocking so much interest. I'm no computer wizard but I did a fantastic British Council-funded course as part of the Comenius programme in Malta where I learnt how to use web 2.0 tools. Integrating these into the class I've found languages can be made more 'real'; so I do a presentation on Prezi or create a booklet using www.issuu.com or create MFL cartoons with Creaza. You can also use computer games in lunch periods locked down in target language. Soon they'll be a queue outside the room – it's a such a great motivator.