by Anna Fawcett
My children, Ben, Josh and Saskia, have all taken part in EuroTalk’s Junior Language Challenge. Ben was first – introduced to it by their language teacher, Mrs Susannah Stockton at their school, Oakwood Prep School in Chichester. Ben really embraced it and managed to win his semi-final… although this was bittersweet, as it meant we had to fly back early from a family holiday in Disney World, just so he could compete in the final in London. It was a great experience for him and well worth it. He reminisces about finishing just one frustrating point away from the prizes! However, coming from a family of non-linguists he learnt a valuable lesson: it was possible to learn any language – even Kazakh – and what’s more it could even be fun! He loved the experience and is now in year 9 studying three languages. I honestly do not think he would have chosen to do so many languages without EuroTalk.
Then came Josh! He was determined to equal his brother, and worked hard to qualify as Ben had done before him. Josh got through the preliminary rounds of Spanish and then Greek in the semi-finals to qualify for the finals in London. Josh, like Ben, enjoyed the whole experience and is now studying two languages at his senior school.
No pressure for Saskia then! The youngest and final Fawcett sibling to enter the JLC, she has been anxious from the start; how could she not do something her brothers had done? I was keen for her to have a go, as I knew the longer term benefits of realising languages are friends, not foes. Saskia sailed through the first round and qualified in the Mandarin semi-finals in second place. She is now learning Arabic for this year’s final, and was delighted and relieved to continue the Fawcett finalist tradition!
The worst part of the competition for me is without doubt the live scoreboard, continually changing as each child answers questions. This time around, I have learnt that I have to be in the room as support for Saskia, but if I concentrate on a book in my lap I can avoid looking at the live scores!
As for me, I have gone from failing French O’Level, too many years ago to mention, to supporting my children learning 12 different languages in 5 years. My name is down at the local college to take up French again, and this time to crack it! EuroTalk and the JLC has been a mixture of emotions for us all: frustration, laughter, sweat, tears and a huge sense of success and achievement for all three of the children. More importantly, it has eradicated the fear of a new and often relatively unknown language and therefore culture.
As you may know, EuroTalk is a proud supporter of onebillion, a non-profit organisation working to transform education for one billion children in developing countries. You may even have used their maths apps with your child (if you haven’t discovered them yet, they’re on the App Store). To find out more about onebillion’s fantastic work, and how far they’ve already come, read on…
Zahira is a six-year-old Malawian child. As a young girl in Malawi, she only has a 50% chance of finishing primary school, and a 50% chance of being married off before she’s 18. In this short TED talk by onebillion’s co-founder Jamie, he explains how our oneclass project is helping to change her future. onebillion’s educational apps are being used in schools all across Malawi, to provide accessible and effective maths and literacy learning to primary school children. This time a year ago, we had a oneclass centre in two schools in Lilongwe. Today, we have the funding to open almost a hundred new centres in schools all over the country, and bring transformational education to another 30,000 children over the coming three years. This talk was given by Jamie at TEDxYouth in Lilongwe last year: watch it to find out more about onebillion’s project and where we’re headed.
For more information, visit onebillion’s website.
There’s also still time to enter the Junior Language Challenge, our annual competition for primary school children in the UK, which has already raised over £5,000 for onebillion. We’d love to make it £6,000 (or more)!
Today we welcome back language teacher Kelly, with some advice on engaging teenagers in language learning. Have you tried thinking outside the box with students? Tell us about it in the comments…
Musicians have been flogging this particular dead horse for years: stop treating teenagers like an alien species that we have no relation to. Language teachers: take note.
Textbook learning: a one-trick pony
It doesn’t matter how much you enjoy language learning. Even the most enthusiastic learner will want to escape to a blanket fort at the prospect of studying purely from a textbook. And with good reason. Language textbooks, no matter the effort put into making them interesting, are one of the dullest resources to use when learning a language. And, incidentally, to teach one.
In my day…
Cast your mind back to your own time in school. Who doesn’t remember the tattered books on our desk with the rude scribblings in, the out of date ‘modern’ pictures and the stale, dated language that was being taught? There’s no easy way to jazz up your role play ordering of a baguette if you only know the standard fillings. Cheese? Ham? Tomato? Teacher: ever heard of Subway? We want to choose our own bread, avoid the olives, embrace the jalapeño and yes, of course we want it toasted.
If you can relate, pity the poor teenager in school as we speak.
Cue eye roll…
Being a teenager is an eventful enough time in your life; where’s the motivation to learn a language if all you get to talk about is school work and pets? Do you imagine that these are the only things teenagers discuss on Snapchat, Whatsapp or Kik? Have you never been on Tumblr?
Teenagers are just, as we are, feeling their way in the world. And what they are not feeling is the urge to learn languages when the methods of teaching are so out of touch. The issues that bother us are the same ones that bother them. So why not use that to a teaching advantage?
Attempting to change
A recent Guardian article looked at the ways in which an English exam board is planning on overhauling teaching languages using realia that teenagers can relate to and have a part of. Tattoos and tweets, authentic material foreign literature: things that are happening today.
For any ESL/EFL teacher out there, we hear you. We know. We have been saying this for years. If you use something relevant to the world around you to teach that your students can actively engage in, you’re going to get effective results. If you’ve ever taught at a language school with zero resources and had to make lessons out of nothing but your imagination, you’re probably looking down on the efforts being made to make language interesting in schools with well-founded ‘told-you-so’ disdain.
Teaching what matters
Teenagers – all students – want to learn about real, useable language, not tired, formal words and phrases that are technically correct but make you stand out like you’ve gone to a Slipknot gig in your preppy finest. There is nothing controversial about teaching people how people really speak; even within your own language you can learn something new every day. From colloquialisms to slang, language is a constantly evolving beast and we speakers are merely along for the ride. Digging our heels in and clinging on to the old ways is only going to result in hair (fur) pulling.
True learning comes from learning the basics and putting them into practice. Imagine learning the theory behind driving but never sitting behind the wheel of a car. Pointless and uninteresting. And while the theory is important – in the case of language, grammar and vocabulary – what is more important is putting it into practice. Role play how to find the post office all you want; what use is it if you’re needing directions to Primark on Oxford Street and you’re trying to navigate the Underground?
If you’re a regular follower, you’ll have heard us talk in past years about the Junior Language Challenge, our annual competition for primary school children across the UK. This year’s challenge is now underway, and here’s why we want every child who’ll be aged 10 and under on 1st September 2015 to join in:
1. It makes languages fun
All parents and teachers know that children learn best when they’re enjoying themselves (as we all do – not just children!). So the JLC uses games and the competition element to make languages fun. We want every child who takes part in the JLC to come away from it with a new love of languages, and eager to continue with them as they move on to secondary school.
2. It introduces children to languages they’ve never heard of
Last year, children taking part in the competition learnt Italian, Japanese and Somali. This year, they’ll be starting with Portuguese. We like to offer exciting, different languages – because once a child knows they can learn Chichewa, suddenly French and Spanish won’t seem so daunting. And it encourages them to learn about other cultures and countries, some of which they may never have heard of before.
3. It doesn’t take up loads of teacher or parent time
We know teachers and parents are busy people. That’s why the JLC is designed to be as easy as possible to set up. We’ve even created this letter to parents, which explains what it’s all about. Everything’s done online, so once you’ve got them registered, children can login on any computer and keep learning. Our system records all the scores, so the only thing we need from the grown-ups once they’re up and running is encouragement!
4. It’s for charity
The JLC doesn’t just benefit the children who take part; it also raises money for our charity, onebillion. They’re doing fantastic work creating apps to transform the education of one billion children in developing countries, and we’re proud to support them. Each child who enters the competition pays a £5 entry fee, all of which is donated to the organisation.
5. There are some great prizes on offer
The JLC champion wins a once-in-a-lifetime family holiday to Africa (our 2013 winner, Ella, wrote us this fantastic report about her trip to Malawi). There are also prizes for the runners-up – in previous years these have included iPods and cameras – and goodie bags for everyone who makes it through to round 2 and beyond, including t-shirts, pens, and other treats, as well as discounts on EuroTalk software for the children and their schools.
Registration is open now for school groups and individuals. Teachers can register their school for free, to take a look and try out the games before deciding whether to sign up any pupils.
And if you know anyone else who might be interested, please spread the word!
Good luck to everyone taking part this year. Or should we say Boa sorte 🙂