Mini-beasts and modern languages

We have been running some German and Spanish sessions at a local infant school, introducing Year 1 pupils to modern foreign language learning. As well as hello abee3_mimooh_01.svg.hind goodbye songs we decided to link in with their current topic which is ‘mini-beasts’. The vocabulary for various creepy crawlies in German, French and Spanish can be found here.

Below are some of our ideas for using ‘mini-beasts’ to teach some German, Spanish and French:

Flashcards and sign language
Choose 6 mini-beasts and create picture flashcards (we used fun cartoon versions, but more realistic images would also be good). Introduce the vocabulary for each of the pictures whilst signing the word. Encourage the children to copy your signs or to make up their own movements, as using gestures helps children remember vocabulary. If you are stuck for inspiration, you could use the signs for the language you are teaching. Signs in many different languages (including British English, German, French and Spanish) are available here.

(I know most classrooms have interactive whiteboards these days, but during one session, the technology failed on us, so I have stuck with low-tech flashcards for these examples :-))

Flashcards and literacy
When introducing the vocabulary for the mini-beasts, hold up a card with the target language vocabulary for each creature, so that the children can see how these new words are spelt. (The Year 1 teachers were keen on introducing elements of literacy as well as oracy into the language sessions). Interesting features can also be pointed out, for example accents, or how to say ‘die’ in German (as opposed to how it is pronounced in English).

Being a bit literal
Cartoon Grasshopper.svg.hi One way of learning vocabulary is to point out some of the literal meanings of words. For example, slug in German is die Nacktschnecke, which literally translates as ‘naked snail’. In French, a grasshopper is une sauterelle and the verb sauter means ‘to jump’; and similiarly in Spanish it is called un saltamontes, where the verb saltar means ‘to jump’.

Flashcards and movement
Make enough flashcards for the whole class, as well as yourself, (multiple copies of the 6 mini-beasts) and distribute at random amongst the children. Hold up a flashcard and then ask those children also holding that card to stand up/wave/wriggle about like the mini-beast. Second time round, just say the word (no flashcard), using sign language to prompt the children if necessary.

This activity could also be used reinforce the vocabulary for ‘stand up’ and ‘sit down’ (getting the children used to responding to those commands).

Alternatively, if the children have been making mini-beast masks in class, these could be used instead of flashcards. The children could also wear them and practice greeting each other in the target language. (Printable mini-beast masks can also be found easily on the web.)

How many legs?
Introduce numbers and counting by looking at pictures of the following mini-beasts and seeing how many legs they have: snail, ant, spider, woodlouse, caterpillar, centipede, millipede!

Incy Wincy Spider
Year 1 pupils still enjoy doing finger rhymes, so here are links to different versions of Incy Wincy Spider:cartoon-spider-hi
In German: Imse bimse Spinne
In Spanish: Araña arañita
In French: L’araignée Gypsy

Sections of The Very Hungry Caterpillar can be read out in the target language. This is a useful activity in and of itself, so that the children can listen to long passages read in the second language and enjoy the rhythm and intonation. It is a familiar book with great illustrations so the children can infer meaning from context.

An alternative activity is to ask pupils to listen out for certain words (e.g. die Raupe/la chenille/la oruga) and put up a hand when they hear it. This book is of course also useful for teaching numbers, food and days of the week.

Here is a video of the author, Eric Carle, reading this book in German, his mother-tongue. In French, this story is called ‘La chenille que fait des trous’ and in Spanish ‘La oruga muy hambrienta’.


I hope you find these suggestions useful and let me know if you have any comments!


Summer Spanish starting this Friday

Our first Summer Spanish class will take place this Friday in the St James’ Park Community Room, Shirley, Southampton. The session will run from 2.15 p.m. to 2.45 p.m and is for parents/carers and pre-school children.

Looking forward to seeing you all there!

¡Hasta pronto!   See you soon!


Summer Spanish at St James’ Park!

Introducing pre-school children and their parents/carers to Spanish using songs, games and activities

Where?          The St James’ Park Community Room (behind the café)

When?           Fridays: 13th, 27th June & 11th July – 2.15pm-2.45pm

How much?   £10 per child for the 3 sessions (discounts for siblings!)

Please do get in touch to find out more!


¡Hola amigos!

Just before the Easter break Wolfi, our German-speaking puppet, said a fond ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ to the children at nursery, as we are now switching to Spanish and saying ‘Hola’ and ‘Adiós’ instead. The children have been excited about singing songs and playing games in Spanish once again, especially those involving the stretchy cloth!

We are also looking forward to starting our afternoon club for young children and their parents/carers, after half-term. More details coming soon …

¡Hasta pronto!   See you soon!


From little linguists to language graduates?

One of the joys of teaching pre-school children is how they respond in class. When I ask ‘Wo ist Wolfi?‘ (Where is Wolfi?) they instantly leap up, shouting and pointing out his hiding place; there is enthusiastic knee-slapping and foot stomping whilst we sing our Guten Morgen song; and some children instantly fall in love with certain toys and puppets that we bring along.

In noticing how much the children are growing in confidence, especially after only a few weekly sessions, I feel pride, and also hope that they will find it easier to engage with and enjoy formal language learning at school. This is especially because this September languages will be introduced as a compulsory subject area for pupils at Key Stage 2. This means that all children 7 years and up will get the chance to start learning any modern or ancient language, such as German, Spanish or Latin.

This is a fantastic opportunity for children to learn different ways of thinking and communicating, and about other cultures. I’d like to think it could also improve the general standard of foreign language ability at secondary school. Rather embarrassingly, the 2012 European Survey on Language Competences ranked English teenagers as some of the least proficient overall in terms of foreign language skills, when compared with their European counterparts. Unfortunately, foreign languages cease to be compulsory at Key Stage 4, but hopefully the additional years of tuition will give a further boost to the numbers choosing a language GCSE.

I also have the vague and distant hope that today’s little linguists might in turn be inspired to go on and study languages at university. Why? For the sheer pleasure of it, for the myriad benefits of multilingualism but also, more prosaically, because it might help them get a job. As there are fewer students taking a degree in modern languages at UK universities, language graduates are currently in high demand in the workplace. And if the high tuition fees are offputting, then those language skills could be used to study somewhere in Europe where studying for a degree can be much cheaper than doing so at home.

Of course thoughts about a career are a long way off for today’s pre-schoolers and their parents. A more relevant question might be: Why aren’t languages being introduced into the infant school classroom as well as at junior school? If we truly want to reverse the decline in language skills shouldn’t we start whilst children still have a high degree of linguistic sensitivity? In fact, north of the border young children will soon be learning not one but two foreign languages! The Scottish Government has committed to children learning a second language at Primary 1 (Reception year) and a third no later than Primary 5 (Year 4).

Our little language learners and nurseries are so enthusiastic about speaking and singing in German and Spanish. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if our infant schools and teenagers could be encouraged to do the same?


Word of the week – das Knie

Wolfi’s word of the week: das Knie    [das k-nee]

Das Knie is the word of the week because we have recently been learning about parts of the body. I was wondering how I could bring this topic to life when I remembered that one of the distinguishing characteristics of Der Grüffelo (The Gruffalo) is his knotige Knie (knobbly knees). So we looked at the book together and discovered that he also has schreckliche Zähne (terrible teeth), feurige Augen (fiery eyes) and of course, a giftige Warze (poisonous wart) on the end of his Nase (nose). So, a great book for learning about the various bits of our body, not to mention colours (because of his orange eyes, green wart, black tongue and purple prickles!)

Now, a small note on pronunciation. You actually say the ‘K’ at the beginning of the German word Knie, unlike the silent ‘k’ in knee or, say, knight. We used to pronounce the ‘k’ sound, back when Old English was spoken in these Isles. This might explain why French knights, in the time of King Arthur, said ‘k-nigget’ instead of ‘knight’ …*

Anyway, I digress. Naturally the song ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’ also comes to mind when teaching parts of the body. In German it goes as follows:

Kopf, Schultern, Knie und Zeh’n, Knie und Zeh’n
Kopf, Schultern, Knie und Zeh’n, Knie und Zeh’n
Augen, Ohren, Nase und Mund**
Kopf, Schultern, Knie und Zeh’n, Knie und Zeh’n.

So to finish, as it’s Valentine’s Day today, here’s hoping someone makes you go weak at the knees (weiche Knie bekommen) 🙂

*“I blow my nose on you, so-called Arthur-king, you and your silly English K…k-niggets!”
**The words for nose and mouth are swapped around to better fit the tune


Parents’ Corner

Thanks to all the parents and children who came along to Parents’ Corner this morning and met Miguel y Maria, and Wolfi and all his friends! We really enjoyed introducing you to songs and games in Spanish and German and hope you can practice some of the new words at home.

¡Que pases un buen fin de semana y hasta la próxima!

Schönes Wochenende und bis zum nächsten Mal!

Have a lovely weekend and see you next time! 🙂