On Friday 16th October, our 33 Junior Language Challenge finalists came to London to battle it out to win the trophy. The children have learnt three languages during the course of the competition, with Portuguese being the first language, moving onto Mandarin for the semi-finals and Arabic being chosen as the final language.
All three heats at the final were extremely close, with several children having nearly perfect scores! Once all three were completed we paused for a lunch break, where a second competition took place… This year we decided to give the parents and teachers a chance to experience the JLC for themselves, and to see how they got on with the tricky Arabic language. This was as tense as the children’s rounds (with the parents obviously feeling pressure to do well!). It was clear to see many parents had been practising with their children, as some of the scores were amazing – congratulations to Sarah, who did brilliantly and definitely earned the bottle of champagne she took home with her!
The final round for the children got away and the top five places were constantly changing. Our resident evil genius, Franco, added to the suspense by keeping the top two scores a secret, so the winner wouldn’t be known right until the end. We were extremely lucky this year to have the winner of Channel 4’s Child Genius, Thomas Frith, to announce the winner of the JLC 2015….
Congratulations to Tudor Mendel-Idowu, the winner of this year’s Junior Language Challenge! Tudor gained over 300 points during the final round and won the top prize of a family trip to Malawi. This gives Tudor and his family the opportunity to see the excellent work that our charity, onebillion does there. Tudor, who like Thomas has been on Child Genius, has entered the Junior Language Challenge three times, coming third in 2013. “I’m very proud,” he told us afterwards. “All the hard work has paid off, because it’s been quite a long time! My favourite language this time was Mandarin, because I enjoyed the way it related to other languages I’d learnt before.”
Tudor’s prize was awarded by 12-year-old Thomas, who knows exactly how he feels after winning Child Genius earlier this year. Thomas also presented a cheque for £5,545 to Andrew Ashe from our charity, onebillion. The money will go towards the development of a solar-powered projector for teachers to use in primary schools in Malawi.
Our runners up this year also did amazingly in the final, with Aalaya Sanjeeva who came second and Isobel Eason who was just behind in third. The final was an excellent example of how brilliant all the children who took part in the JLC are at picking up languages – and also of the importance of perseverance; our top three had all taken part in the JLC in previous years. Every one of the 33 children that made it to the final should be so proud; you were all incredible! So thank you to: Olivia, Severin, Benjamin, Andrey, Gavin, Farah, Ritisha, Leyah, Saskia, Isobel, Aalaya, Nithya, Cristina, Cassandra, Anais, Isabella, Laura, Jamie, Reuben, Lydia, Aurelio, Rona, Ethan, Abigail, Monisha, Ben, Benitto, Grace L, Grace B, Louis, Sumayyah, Emma and Tudor, for taking part and putting so much effort into the JLC!
If you would like to know more about the Junior Language Challenge and how to take part in 2016, please sign up to our mailing list on the JLC website; you can also find out more about the JLC there too, or email us with any questions.
In the words of our brilliant guest, Thomas: “Languages are really important, they’re fun, they stretch your mind and let you talk to other people, which I feel is polite, rather than expecting everyone else to learn English.” We couldn’t agree more.
The JLC will return in March 2016 and we hope it’ll be bigger and better than ever!
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 🙂
On Friday 17th October, 31 young linguists from all over the country came to London for the final of our national competition for primary schools, the Junior Language Challenge. Since March, they’d learnt Italian for the first round, Japanese for the semi-finals and they’d spent the last few weeks studying the African language of Somali in preparation for the final.
As the final got underway, one thing became very clear – it was going to be close! We started with three tense heats, from which only the top 12 overall would gain a place in the final round. After a break for lunch (and a spot of African drumming to let out the tension), the top 12 returned to the iPads for the final showdown…
Congratulations to our champion, Yash Suribhatla, who put in an amazing performance to win the top prize of a family trip to Malawi. While he’s there, Yash will have the opportunity to see the work being done by our charity onebillion. Well done also to our runners-up, Nathan Govender from Surrey and Shane Bowden from London.
But we don’t want anyone to feel disappointed – with over 1,100 children registering for the JLC back in March, to reach the top 31 in the country is an absolutely amazing achievement and one we hope all our finalists will be very proud of. So we’d like also to say a huge congratulations to all our superstars, not only Yash, Nathan and Shane but also Christian, Nicole, Olivier, Edward, Christopher, Maciej, Rosie, Grace, Tara, Nithya, Aalaya, Matthew E, Isobel E, Matthew W, Tudor, Aryam, Georgia, Ben, Gregor, Cara, Eleanor, Isobel P, Jennifer, Sharvari, Harry, Saarah, Maryam and Theo!
And finally, a few words from our champion 🙂
Hello, my name is Yash Suribhatla and I attend Fairfield Preparatory School in Loughborough. I won the EuroTalk JLC final, 2014. This once in a life-time experience really interested me in learning new languages and I would describe it as one of the best learning opportunities I have ever had, which will remain with me for the rest of my life. I was glad to see all my hard work, trials and tribulations and occasional tears pay off in the very end. Realising that I had won was mind-blowing. What made it even more special was that I had never won such a big trophy in my life!
I felt so frightened as I entered my name at the start of the grand final. Going behind on points in the first three rounds, made me determined to fight back in the next few rounds. Luckily, I managed to pull it off and maintain my lead until the end. I was truly speechless when I won and managed to smile at my teacher, who smiled back in delight.
Well done, Yash!
If you’d like to know more about the Junior Language Challenge and how to take part in 2015, you can sign up to our mailing list on the JLC website, where there’s also more information on what the competition is all about. Or you can email us with any questions.
Today we welcome back guest blogger Eve Pearce, with an interesting article about the demand for language learning in Spain, and its implications for the future.
It is rather ironic that while numbers of Brits studying a foreign language to A-level have dropped dramatically over the past few years, nearby Spain – officially out of one of the deepest recessions in its history but still struggling in terms of its high rate of unemployment – is undergoing a veritable boom in foreign language study, with the English language taking pole position, since some 78 per cent of all job offers demand this language from successful candidates.
The Spanish crisis, which has rocked the nation since its commencement in 2008, has also led to a greater demand for German and French language learning, since many Spaniards are considering migrating to these countries given the bleak economic forecast. In many private nurseries and schools, the study of Chinese is all the rage as well, since parents see this language as the difference that could make or break their child’s job application in the future. This level of competition is only logical, since the forecasted unemployment rate for 2014 stands at 26.4 per cent of the population. Vice-President of the European Commission and commissioner of Economic and Monetary Affairs, Olli Rehn, recently declared that although the unemployment rate in Spain has stabilised, it continues to be “unacceptably elevated”. The situation, he claimed, was similarly bleak in Italy.
Interestingly, despite the general consensus as to the value of learning foreign languages, the Mayor of Madrid, Ana Botella’s recent address to the Olympic Committee during Madrid’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics was deemed by many to be representative of the current failure of the public educational system to meet the demand for spoken English at an acceptable and truly functional level. In many ways, this is owing to the small number of hours dedicated to English in the public system curriculum, as well as the heavy focus on textbook-style teaching (which leans heavily on grammatical exercises) rather than on fluency and bilingualism/multi-lingualism. As a result, while most students are able to successfully complete intermediate-level exercises (involving the use of the simple past tense and conditionals, for instance), they are far less comfortable when asked to speak in public or to conduct business by phone. Meanwhile, those who are able to afford it are relying more on private classes with tutors, who are able to offer students conversational practise, one of the most sorely lacking activities in many schools and academies. Many adults (who are also flocking to EFL academies or completing online courses) frequently lament not having adequately learned English at the optimal point of their lives (i.e. in their early childhood) and now, more than ever, dreams of moving to greener pastures are being put on the back burner owing to this glaring failure in the system.
What, then, is the solution for this crisis-struck nation, at least in so far as language learning is concerned? There are a number of measures educators and those governing alike need to adopt, some of which may be:
An increase in the hours dedicated to English
If students are to gain the confidence they need to speak fluently in a variety of both social and professional settings, schools should consider not only elevating the number of hours dedicated to learning English, but also, perhaps, taking a leaf out of the book of many costly British and bilingual (Spanish-English) schools, where core subjects such as mathematics and science, are also taught in English. It is of great utility for students to be confident when counting in English and to learn to solve practical problems they can encounter in daily life in a second language (e.g. dividing into fractions, comparing items by weight, adding and subtracting, etc).
Learning other subjects in English also wrests from the necessity of contracting separate ‘conversation’ classes, since students grow accustomed to expressing their thoughts in English in a more effortless manner. During his time in office, ex-Spanish President, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero acknowledged that the flawed system of education in English was an “evident problem“, and vowed to implement new strategies into his government’s education plan. In Madrid, one in every three public schools offer between 30 and 50 per cent of their classes in English or another foreign language. The aim is to raise this figure to one in every three schools by 2015. Interestingly, neither Zapatero nor current President, Mariano Rajoy, speak English.
Government-funded EFL classes for mature-aged students
Greater access to classes run by fully qualified EFL teachers will not only help unemployed adults hone their language skills, they will also promote spoken English within the home setting, which is bound to benefit children in both a direct and an indirect manner.
The provision and adoption of useful materials in class
As spoken and listening skills are the biggest stumbling blocks for most students, the encouragement of learning through audio-visual material (films, songs etc.) should be encouraged, to increase levels of comprehension.
Specialised teacher training
Although the number of bilingual schools has increased in recent years, the number of truly bilingual teachers is currently insufficient to meet the demand. Therefore, an investment should be made in encouraging teachers to complete courses in English-speaking countries, which ensures that they will obtain the sufficient level of fluency required to elicit the same from their students.
The solution to the Spanish crisis may lie in the distant future, yet there seems little reason to wait so long for the adoption of new methodologies when it comes to learning foreign languages at school. Recent budget cuts to the Department of Education, however, have seen the country take a turn for the worse in so far as public schools teachers’ salaries and University costs are concerned, leading us to wonder if the government is willing to back the admitted need for improved language learning, with the necessary funding. Investment in education is always wise, but it is no less than crucial in times of crisis.