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