Lovely languages and cool cultures

あけましておめでとうございます (akemashite omedetō gozaimasu!) Frohes neues Jahr! Bonne année! ¡Feliz Año Nuevo! Happy New Year!


It’s a new year and with it comes plenty of new opportunities for language learning. Year 2 children will get to discover a different language this term – Japanese! We will explore elements of this fascinating language during our in-class sessions and fun craft activities in MOOT (Manage Our Own Time).

The Lovely Languages and Cool Cultures after-school club will also start this Friday (8th January). This year the club will be running throughout the Spring and Summer terms for both Year 1 and Year 2 pupils. The idea behind the club is to introduce the children to a number of different languages and cultures from around the world. We will do this through lots of fun activities including games, crafts, art and music.

When we do craft activities the children will be able to take their creations home with them; and by the end of term they should all have a passport and phrasebook brimming with images and words from the places that we have ‘visited’ on our classroom travels.

Looking forward to meeting you all and introducing you to some of the 6,500 languages that are spoken around the globe!


Let your fingers do the talking

This has been a great term of language learning! In addition to the pure language sessions that I’ve been doing with Year 2 pupils, I have had the opportunity to do fun craft activities and introduce the children to some foreign words at the same time.

During MOOT (Manage Our Own Time) sessions children can choose between different activities and each week I have a ‘language and culture’ table. In the summer term origami was very popular and fitted in nicely alongside the Japanese lessons. But at the start of the new school year I thought I’d begin with something more general – finger puppets! It’s a great way of getting kids to speak in another language and as the puppets I chose were of animals, we could learn how animal noises sound in different languages. (If you’d like to learn more, there’s an interesting Guardian article on the subject and of course James Chapman’s fab Soundimals book.)

Our languages this year are going to be German, Japanese and French, so I produced these fun sheets. We went through the pronounciation of each of the sounds – I think the Japanese onomatopeia  were the favourites as they were so different from the others. The children chose a finger puppet to make then drew a picture and wrote down the associated sounds. They then ran around with their finger puppets practising their new-found words.

Y2 - MOOT - GE 1 - pig.pages copyY2 - MOOT - GE 1 - mouse.pages copyY2 - MOOT - GE 1 - horse.pages copyY2 - MOOT - GE 1 - cat.pages copy

Just before Christmas I got the children making simple pop-up Christmas cards. On the front they wrote ‘Frohe Weihnachten’ and some simple German greetings inside. My version is quite dull compared with the colourful creations which were made in class!

Weihnachtskarte   Weihnachtskarte 2

The most popular vocabulary learning activities this term were: Jump-up numbers (you need strong thighs for this one as you start crouched down and count slowly from 1 to 10 in the target language, ending with jumping up with arms in the air and shouting out on 10); the companion activity is of course reversing the countdown and the movement, speaking more quietly as you go. Calling out ‘lecker!’ & ‘igitt!’ (yum! and yuk!) when I showed them pictures of traditional German Christmas foods was also great fun!


Le Petit Nicolas et mes petits gars

Le_petit_NicolasBook cover of ‘Le petit Nicolas’, by Goscinny & Sempé, Denoël, 1960

It’s back to school and my boys are now in Year 3, where they will soon be starting formal language lessons! Hurray! Their Junior School has decided upon French, so I thought I would get them used to the idea with 10 minutes of language learning here and there. But how to make it fun, and also relevant to two boisterous 7-year olds who would rather be running around outside with their friends? Enter ‘Le Petit Nicolas‘ helpfully available in 12 minute bursts (and longer) on youtube. This is the animated series based on the classic French children’s books written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Jean-Jacques Sempé. Nicolas runs around with his friends, loves playing football and exasperates his parents and teacher.  So my two were hooked straight away 🙂

So did it matter that they didn’t know any French beyond ‘Bonjour’? Nope. They just wanted to watch what happened to our French hero and fell about laughing because of the slapstick comedy. For example, there is an episode where a football is stuck up in a tree, so one of the boys throws up a football boot to try to free it. The football boot falls back down and bonks its owner on the nose (much hilarity here) and a second attempt sees the boot stuck in the tree next to the ball (oh no!).

So how are my little monkeys actually learning any French? Well I started by picking an episode at random and bicycle_01.svg.medasking them to listen out for the word in the title, in this case ‘le vélo‘ (bike). Sometimes they shouted out “he said vélo!” but mostly they just enjoyed watching the show. Even though they only understood a couple of words, they were actively listening (at least some of the time) to authentic conversations in another language. I think this is important because they can hear how it sounds different to the languages they already know (English, and to some extent, German).

We have also listened out for phrases such as ‘Je suis malade!‘ (I’m not well!) but the word of the moment is chouchou (teacher’s pet), which seems to get said by Nicolas and his friends quite a lot! So far we have a list of about 20 different words and phrases that have been explained and are recognisable (in context). And the theme tune is very catchy too!

I must admit, they do ask me to translate some of the exchanges between the characters. Sometimes I oblige, if it’s not obvious from the context and it seems important to the plot. But mostly I just ask them to enjoy what’s happening on the screen and listen out for certain words.

There is also a feature length film (not animated) that would be great to watch some time. And I will be looking out for the original books so I can introduce my little men to Nicolas in print as well as on screen. For the moment though I think I’ll just show them this little cartoon, the next time I try to get their hair cut …

Chouette me voilà! Tout ça l’enfance!


Zen and the art of Japanese calligraphy

I have found a quiet pleasure in trying my hand at Japanese calligraphy. The true art (shodo) is practiced with brushes and ink, and some say it is a way of achieving inner peace, but of course us mere mortals can simply pick up a pen and enjoy making marks on paper.

Perhaps counterintuitively it has also been a way of calming a class of boisterous seven year olds. During last Tuesday’s Japanese session some members of the Year 2 class took a while to settle and weren’t fully engaged with singing our greetings song; but when I handed out mini whiteboards and pens a certain peace descended on the classroom. Every child wanted to have a go at writing. Then a sort of Mexican wave began as children started holding up their boards to show me, with pride, that they had written トラ (tora) – tiger in Japanese. We moved on to 3 character animal words and they also rose to the challenge of 4 character words such as シマウマ (shimauma) and ライオン (raion) – zebra and lion respectively.



(shimauma – zebra or literally “striped horse”)

As well as busily scribing away, some children made observations about the Japanese script – repeated characters and what the shapes made them think of. I was blown away when one girl who had done the Lovely Languages after school club pointed out that the character ‘ka’ in カバ (kaba) – hippo – is also in her name (I had given each of the children sheets of paper with their names printed out in katakana, but that was at least 2 months ago!)

So the children aren’t at all phased by writing in a different script and some (my children included!) seem to prefer copying out Japanese kana or simple kanji to writing in English. Perhaps it’s the novelty factor or because it’s more like drawing than writing, but it has been a great way of engaging children with language learning and combining it with an element of literacy at the same time.


A passport to language learning

The past five Fridays have just been great, as I really enjoyed running the ‘Lovely Languages and Cool Cultures’ after-school club for Year 2 pupils. Today I can start all over again with children from Year 1 – hurray! I don’t want to give too much away, but we will be travelling by magic carpet, playing language games and enjoying some fun culture-related crafts.

However, our first task today will be to fill in our passports and draw the flag of our first destination. Just to give you an idea, here are some pages from the passports completed by Year 2 children:passport pics

Fantastic aren’t they?

Looking forward to meeting everyone later!


Lovely languages and cool cultures

koinoboriHomemade koinobori

I now have the pleasure of running an after school club dedicated to language and culture! This will run over the summer term for Year 2 and Year 1 pupils. The idea is to introduce the children to different languages from around the world by looking at cultural elements such as art, music and festivals.

The club will run for 5 weeks for each year group and we will look at a different language each week. This week will be Japanese, so we can further build on the language learning we have been doing in class. Our activities will include: writing our names in katakana (one component of the Japanese writing system), making koinobori (carp streamers) for Children’s Day and playing language games.

では、また   Dewa, mata

See you later!


Teaching Japanese one fold at a time

origami cranesOrigami cranes

So we are now into the summer term and what an exciting year it’s been so far for language learning! We started off with German in the Autumn term, moved on to Spanish in the Spring term and for the next couple of months we will be trying something new … Japanese!

For our first lesson I bet the class they already knew some words in Japanese and showed them pictures of a samurai, ninja, origami, karate, judo and sushi. We also talked about standing up and bowing to the teacher (せんせい sensei ) at the start and end of lessons, which the children did happily!

Of course for our first lesson we learnt some greetings. We practiced them by tapping out the rhythm of these new words on our laps and by singing a song.

The original topic for this half-term was ‘monsters’, so Godzilla made an appearance as well as the ogres (おに  oni) from the Spring festival of Setsubun. This was a golden opportunity to teach them a few lines from the ‘Monster Pants’ song (Oni no pantsu).

‘Monster pants are great
They are very strong, they are very strong
Monsters pants are great
We put them on, we put them on …’

To complement the language learning I have been showing the children how to do some simple origami. In class, we have so far made dogs and fortune tellers (do you remember making those when you were a child?) I also showed them the more complex figures I have been making at home (cranes, water bombs and x-wings and tie-fighters from Star Wars) – wouldn’t it be great to dedicate a whole day at school to origami projects? 🙂

flying xwingorigami tiefighters


Making a song and dance about language learning

One great gibson_sg_kamil_st_pi_sk_01.svg.medway of inspiring people to learn about new languages and cultures is through music. In the classroom we should perhaps ‘put down the textbook and pick up a drum‘ but also burst into song as, according to researchers at The University of Edinburgh, ‘singing can facilitate foreign language learning‘. Of course there are plenty of simple nursery rhymes and, at this time of year, Christmas carols that we can start off with, but if you are craving something a little more contemporary there are few suggestions for German songs below. (Thanks to the Goethe Institute (London) for its Spotify playlist which is how I came across some of these tracks). From an educational point of view these are great for hearing language in context, learning colloquialisms and picking up elements of German culture from the lyrics and the accompanying videos. But more importantly they have great singing, catchy choruses and fab melodies. I would also say that you don’t need to understand the words to appreciate the music. Enjoy!


A favourite tune in Germany this year as it became the anthem for the World Cup but it was originally written about going out and having a good time with friends. A great feel good song: Andreas Bourani – Auf uns. And there’s also a version with the lyrics so you can sing along.

And if you’re a fan of lyrics in a large font across your music videos, you’ll like this one from Chima: Das große Schweigen

Gorgeous song, gorgeous girls – Laing – Neue Liebe.You will come away singing ‘Ich bin so verlieeeebt‘ (I’m so in love)

Ziehst Du mit‘ by MINE – lovely singing voice and great for hearing how the German rolled ‘r’ should be sung (from 0:52, at the start of the female vocals)

An oldie but a goodie – Die Fantastischen Vier were popular back when I was at Uni …! Lots of great travinyl_disc_philippe_coli_01.svg.medcks to choose from but have plumped for ‘Sie ist weg‘ [Ja, ja, wunderbar / tolle Rede, Mann!] and ‘Tag am Meer‘ (a chill out track)

This one is cheating a bit as the lyrics are in English, but this beat combo is Austrian: Klangkarussell – Sonnentanz. A nice dance track.

But for some proper dancing about, you can’t beat ‘und du tanzt‘ by faakmarwin. Also great for learning how to conjugate the verb tanzen [‘..und er tanzt, und sie tanzt, und du tanzt!‘]

Probablydjmixing_patricia_fidi_01.svg.med not for young kids this one: SEEED – Augenbling but great bass line and a definite Ohrwurm.

Another somewhat grown up one due to the lyrics: Neonschwarz – Hinter Palmen. Fab for dancing around to or at least some vigorous foot tapping.

Do you like expensive cars? The Bilderbuch – Maschin video is for you.

A great rap from Blumio: Hey Mr Nazi

[Hey Mr Nazi komm auf meine Party / Ich stell’ dir meine Freunde vor /
Das hier sind Juspi und Kati, Thorsten und Nefatih / Wir haben den selben Humor /
Und wir sagen hey Mr. Nazi komm auf meine Party ich zeig dir meine Kultur / Das hier sind Sushi und Technik, Mangas und Origami / ich kenn das seit meiner Geburt]

And finally, fun pop that celebrates multicultural relationships – what’s not to like? SAM – Hallo?!


Jingle Bells

Xmas images banner.pagesIt’s the last 2 weeks of term before the Christmas holidays – yay! In between nativity performances and such like we have managed to sneak in a German session all about the festive season. We talked about German traditions at Christmas time such as decorating the tree and opening presents on Christmas Eve, and having real candles on the Christmas tree. I then showed them lots of pictures of German Christmas food such as Karpfen (carp), Kartoffelsalat (potato salad), Lebkuchen (German gingerbread) and die Weihnachtsgans (Christmas goose) – and we all decided whether we thought each item of food would be lecker! (yummy!) or igitt! (yuck!) along with very exaggerated facial expressions! Most things were considered to be lecker 🙂

Next it was time for a seasonal tongue twister: Sieben Schneeschaufler schaufeln sieben Schaufel Schnee (seven snow-shovellers shovel seven shovel-fulls of snow). With the help of pictures on the board for each word we all managed to say it a couple of times in German and it was actually equally difficult in English!

Slow reveal is always a good activity to do. This week I printed off pictures of Christmassy things and then for each one started by just showing a small part of it. The class was encouraged to guess what it might be (it became quite competitive) and had to ask in German if they wanted to see a bit more of the image. In this way we learnt some festive vocab (in amongst the excited shouting!)

To finish off I sang a couple of verses of Jingle Bells in German and got them to listen out for certain words (Schlittenfahrt, Winter, Schneeballschlacht). [Warning: Schlittenfahrt sounds a bit rude to young ears …] 🙂

Frohe Weihnachten!



Linking language teaching and history

Der Untergang der TitanicDer Untergang der Titanic – Willy Stöwer

This half-term, Year 2 are learning about The Titanic. They had a school trip to the Sea City Museum and there will also be a dress-up day soon (now where did I put those top hats ..?) So my challenge this week was to introduce some German vocabulary whilst referring to the Titanic disaster. During the previous session we had practiced a couple of simple responses to ‘Wie geht’s dir?‘ (How are you?), so it felt like natural progression to talk about die Gefühle (feelings) this time round. We started off by thinking about different emotions and practiced the German vocabulary with exaggerated expressions and gestures. I then put up different lego smileys on the whiteboard to reinforce the learning. The children found each one absolutely hysterical (which was slightly unexpected!)lego smileysWe then looked at photos relating to the Titanic (from its launch, departing Southampton, different lasses of passengers, icebergs!, the sinking, crowds waiting for survivors & a group of survivors) and talked about how people might have felt at each point during the tragedy – a further opportunity to practice the vocabulary.

As we were discussing historical events, I took the opportunity to talk about the Berlin Wall. One pupil told us that she had been to Berlin and another pointed out that the wall had come down 🙂 Cosmopolitan and historically aware 6 year olds! As well as looking at photos, I divided the class into 2 with a long piece of string and we discussed how the children might feel if they lived in a divided city, separated from family and friends.BrandenburgerTorDezember1989

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin on December 1, 1989

To finish, we sang ‘Wenn du glücklich bist …’ (If you’re happy and you know it …) with appropriate grimaces/gestures and actions for glücklich, traurig, wütend and aufgeregt (happy, sad, angry and excited).

On a related note, I came across an article this week on the importance of tapping into emotions in the foreign language classroom. Not the learning of vocabulary relating to feelings, but getting students to feel emotionally invested in their language learning activities. An example is given of teaching an ‘outrageous’ song to adult learners in the target language as “teachers need the liberty to do unexpected, challenging and funny things”. I hope that I am doing this within the primary classroom and helping to create a life-long love of language learning.

December update: I did this session again with a different Year 2 class and their response to the ‘Berlin Wall’ part was wonderful. After I had separated the class with the piece of string and asked them how they felt about not being able to be with their friends on the other side (angry, sad, frustrated), I took the string away. The whole class immediately came together in a group hug!! 😀