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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!! 😀

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Always have another trick up your sleeve

Around bonfire night, it was of course a chance to talk about fireworks and throw in some vocabulary relating to colours. I thought it would be a great idea for all the children to have pretend sparklers (die Wunderkerze) to wave Wunderkerze strawsaround so I handed out bundles of coloured straws. Helpfully one child said that he had played with red sparklers over the weekend, which helped reinforce the idea. I waved my sparklers around whilst saying the German words for each colour and asked the children to do the same. I then challenged the class to wave the correct colour in response to me just repeating the vocabulary. Happily some children made the connection between the similar sounding words in German and English: rot – red; blau – blue; grün – green; gelb – yellow.

We then sang a song about fireworks – courtesy of Janet Lloyd’s fabulous blog ‘Primary Language Learning Today’ (there are versions in French, Spanish & German). This time our straws became fireworks (die Feuerwerke) and they blasted off into the sky during the song. And just to add a little more noise we practiced saying firework noises in German too 🙂 Krach! Puff! Rums! Bums! Wums!

By the way, die Wunderkerze literally translates as ‘miracle candles’ or ‘wonder candles’ – isn’t that great?

Now, the lesson I learnt from the children during this session was that, if you do one magic trick, you have to be prepared to do another. Last time I pretended that the children were working magic by waving magic wands at the whiteboard and making new images appear. Of course, this time round, some children wanted to use their pretend sparklers as magic wands, but as I wasn’t prepared with my hidden clicker, their magic spells didn’t work … I will have to think about how to sneak a magic trick into a future session!

ZaubertueteI think it didn’t help that I produced the ‘sparklers’ out of my Zaubertüte (magic bag) which many of the children took to be a kind of witch’s hat, as it is modelled on the Schultüte that children in German receive when they first start formal schooling. Schultüten are normally filled with sweets, toys and stationery. We did talk a little about the fact that German children start school at the age of 6 but the class was more interested in the idea that I might have lots of sweets in my version …