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!


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!