My name is Lorena and I am from Germany. I just finished school and now I’ve started a placement at EuroTalk for five months. This is my third week in the company and it is very exciting. I am working on a project to help EuroTalk promote their maths apps in Germany. I’m having fun thinking about this task and I have a lot of ideas!
On my third day at EuroTalk, Wednesday 18th September, I went to the Junior Language Challenge at the Cranmore School in Surrey. It was the semi-final for London (South). At one o’clock we arrived at the school and prepared the iPads so that the children could use the Greek app.
About thirty thrilled children were ready to start! 🙂
… And after the welcome, it was finally happening.
The children were split up in two groups of thirteen and each group played the games. The children with the best score came into the final. The teachers and some parents could follow which position the children were in, because there was a whiteboard with the current score. For the children it was a very exciting situation and the teacher and parents were pretty curious.
After the challenge I saw only smiling kids! They were so happy and very proud of the certificates they got from EuroTalk.
And for me was it an interesting day and I got some impression of how EuroTalk promotes languages for children.
Many people will already be aware of the national languages competition organised by EuroTalk each year, called the Junior Language Challenge. It’s open to all children aged 10 and under, and gives them an opportunity to learn three new languages and compete against other children from their region and ultimately from across the country.
The JLC starts in March and finishes with the final in October. And it’s a lot of work – from a technical point of view (our programmers have literally had sleepless nights getting the software up and running in time) and in terms of organisation. Running a competition like this isn’t an easy task, and with the semi-finals taking place over the next two weeks and the final still to come, it’s only going to get busier.
But I still love the JLC, and here’s why…
Firstly, the children taking part really enjoy it. It’s lovely for us to see their enthusiasm at the regional semi-finals and the grand final in London. Tension’s always high and sometimes there are even tears, which obviously isn’t a good thing in itself, but it does show how passionate the children have become about the competition. In 2011, Ben Fawcett from Chichester even returned early from his family holiday at Disneyworld to compete in the final – that’s what you call dedication.
Secondly, it gives children a love for languages that they can take with them into their future studies and career, and that they might otherwise have missed out on. Marliese Perks from Edinburgh, who reached the final in 2004, wrote to us shortly before she left for university to study Law and Spanish: ‘The competition inspired me to learn languages … little did I know at that age that Spanish and languages would ultimately become my passion … I can’t say thank you enough, you set me on this path and I am loving every minute of it!’ This is the goal of the JLC – to let children know that they can learn languages, and that it can be fun. Not only that but they don’t have to just learn the ones they’re taught at school; Marliese learnt Spanish, Greek and Saami. I’m not sure how often she uses her Saami these days, but what’s important is the JLC showed her she had the ability to learn it, which I think is pretty inspiring.
And finally, there’s a whole other side to the JLC. Each child who enters pays £2.50, and this money is used to purchase tablet devices for schools in Malawi, where class sizes are so huge, it makes teaching a near-impossible task. A tablet that can be shared by several children will fill the gap left by over-stretched teachers, and as a result will literally change lives. A basic education is something that every child should have, no matter where in the world they are, and the competition not only provides opportunities to youngsters in the UK, but it also makes a huge difference for children in Malawi too. I’m proud to be a part of it – albeit a slightly stressed out, panicked part.
To everyone preparing for a semi-final, good luck! To those who’ve already made it through to the final – congratulations, and see you in October 🙂
And to everyone who’s taken part in the JLC – not only in 2013, but every year – thank you.
Recent news that the numbers of pupils taking a modern foreign language to A-level in the UK have fallen dramatically did not come as a huge surprise to me. According to the latest A-level results, there has been a 9.9% fall in candidates taking French, and an even more depressing 11.1% fall in those taking German A level.
This trend has been coming along for quite some time now, but why?
First and foremost, the general attitude to language learning at a societal and educational level is very poor. To native English speakers, languages are often seen as a ‘waste of time’, as ‘everyone speaks English’. Well, allow me to dispel that notion! Although there are a lot of fantastic English speakers out there, only 22% of Spaniards, 39% of French people and 34% of Italians (for example) can speak English to a conversational level. The rates are higher in Scandinavian countries, but by no means everyone even has a basic command of English, let alone full fluency. The idea that it is ‘useless’ is even more ridiculous – even if other people do speak great English, that’s no excuse for being the person pointing at things mutely on holiday, let alone for UK politicians and businesspeople refusing to communicate with business partners and policial allies in their own tongue.
Secondly, languages are not taught well in many of our schools, and are not particularly encouraged. I was lucky enough to study French, German, Spanish and Japanese at GCSE, but there are many schools that only offer French, and even this is not compulsory. Languages are portrayed as difficult and often seen as being less necessary than maths, science etc. Whilst of course maths and science are vital, languages are essential to communication at every level, whether that is your holiday to France or a financial deal between Germany and the UK. Children also don’t start learning a language until they are around 12, when the best years for natural language absorption are coming to an end, and when teens often become self conscious about speaking a new language in front of school friends. I know I was very nervous about my oral exams at school, and still struggle to be very chatty in another language when I know I might make mistakes!
Here at EuroTalk we know that languages are not only essential but also loads of fun! So what’s the solution? Fortunately it seems that GCSE uptake of languages is on the increase, so maybe there is still hope. But from my perspective we need to introduce languages at a much earlier age in schools, offer a wider range of languages such as Mandarin and Arabic (both official UN languages), create a more open culture of chatting in another language without feeling embarrassed and worried about mistakes, and dispel the ridiculous notion that any other language than English is useless. Even if everyone else in the world learns English, we should be ashamed not to return the favour and at least have a go at saying ‘hi’ in their mother tongue.
Today we have a guest post from Elizabeth Stewart, from the Cornish Language Partnership, on why Cornish is a great language to learn.
The Cornish language, or Kernewek as it is known by those who speak it, is enjoying a hugely successful revival. Those who are fortunate enough to live in the Duchy, or visit it on holiday, have only to look around them to see proof of this, with bilingual road signs springing up on street corners and businesses proudly asserting their origin by naming their products in Cornish. It’s an exciting era for the language, and learning has just become easier and more enjoyable with the release of three new EuroTalk resources in Cornish.
Cornish is a Celtic language and is most closely related to Welsh and Breton, though it also has strong links to the other Celtic languages of Irish Gaelic, Scots Gaelic and Manx. Up until the mid sixteenth century it was the main language spoken across Cornwall but pressure from English caused Cornish to decline and retreat to the far west. By the beginning of the nineteenth century Cornish had all but died out as a community language, but in 1904 Henry Jenner published a Handbook of the Cornish Language which kick started the revival of Cornish as a living, spoken language.
Since then the number of people learning and using the language has escalated, with Cornish receiving official recognition as a minority language in 2002 under the Council of Europe’s Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
Today Cornish is one of the fastest growing languages in the world, and this is set to accelerate with more schools than ever choosing to teach Cornish, from pre-schools (including a fully bilingual one that teaches through the medium of both Cornish and English) right through to secondary schools.
Businesses are also embracing the use of Cornish. Local enterprises such as Polgoon Vineyard have made a point of choosing Cornish branding as a mark of local origin and several of their products are named in Cornish. Meanwhile national companies such as JD Wetherspoon have a policy of putting up bilingual signage in their Cornish pubs, as well as giving them names in Cornish such as “Try Dowr” (Three Rivers) in Truro and “Chapel an Gansblydhen” (Centenary Chapel) in Bodmin.
Cornish is also used in the community, with Scouts and Guides learning their motto and promise in Cornish, gig rowers naming their gigs in Cornish and an increasing number of individuals using Cornish for everything from house names to children’s names, wedding vows to tattoos.
If you would like to join the growing number of people who are taking an interest in Cornish, order your copy of either Talk More (suitable for adult beginners) or Talk the Talk (suitable for younger beginners) from EuroTalk today, or if you’ve already been learning for a while try taking your Cornish a bit further with Talk Business.
For more information about the Cornish language, visit www.magakernow.org.uk.
I visited Malawi for a week last month. My first impressions were the enthusiasm and happiness shown by so many Malawians. But real problems are just under the surface. For example, a serious petrol shortage means at least eight-hour waits at petrol stations.
During my visit, we installed gadgets (iPod touches) in two locations:
Here we supplied the iPods to ten Standard 1 and 2 teachers (the first two years of Primary education) in a primary school with 5,000 children. Each teacher has a class of more than 250 children. The whole school has 24 teachers – including the head and deputy. The deputy head is paid £80 a month – and needs to spend £40 a month on rent. He has to buy everything for his children and extended family on £40 a month.
Since I got back, the headteacher has written to me:
“How is London these days? Malawi is good and we are waiting for the first rains ready to plant crops since Malawi depends on farming. Andrew I’m pleased to tell you that our pupils have started scoring the stars on the charts using the devices. We are now giving the stars, which is encouraging and interesting.”
Here I met with some women who had had a fistula operation. These are women who have had problems giving birth. They not only lose their baby but are damaged – and become incontinent. As a result they are often rejected by the village society and treated like “modern day lepers”. I met one woman who got a fistula as she gave birth 45 years ago. Her whole life changed, as she suffered first the trauma of losing a baby and then being rejected by all around her. The operation takes about three hours, but all the ladies need to be in hospital for a month. Their lives are transformed in the most profound way. EuroTalk have donated software and gadgets for these ladies to use while in hospital. These gadgets had preinstalled language learning and maths apps in English and Chichewa, as well as Malawian music, photos, video clips, lesson plans etc.
The hospital anaesthetist has written:
“… the mothers really like the iPods to the extent that when I am busy they even call for them. Some of our young patients are turning into teachers of elderly patients.”
We are planning an update to the digital resources for the school and the hospital early next year.
I also met with members of the Scottish Government, who were visiting Malawi. The SG and EuroTalk are jointly funding the devices and software for these gadgets to go into 30 schools. It’s a really exciting project!
On a personal note, I was really encouraged by this visit. It follows so much work done by so many people. The potential for low cost digital devices and software in local languages to deliver education is enormous. Thank you to so many at EuroTalk, past and present, who have turned ideas into a reality.
Andrew (EuroTalk Managing Director)