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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!

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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?!

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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 …

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Modern languages and magic tricks

Children love magic. My six-year olds still aren’t quite sure how I’m able to make coins disappear from my hands and reappear from behind their ears 🙂 And of course doing magic tricks is also a great way of teaching modern foreign languages. A little more preparation is needed to impress a whole class of Year 2 pupils but some misdirection and the sneaky use of technology works wonders! Doing some magic was also a way of linking in with Year 2’s current topic of ‘Hocus Pocus’.

Hexenhut Wolfi Zauberstab Wolfi with his magic wand and wizard’s hat

We started by practicing greeting our carpet partners with Guten Tag! and Hallo! and then singing our Guten Tag song which has four different actions – waving to each other, patting knees, stamping feet and clapping hands (wir winken uns zu; wir patschen auf die Knie; wir stampfen mit dem Fuß; wir klatschen in die Hände).

I then put a picture of a witch (eine Hexe) and a wizard (ein Zauberer) on the whiteboard and we all tried saying the words in German. Ein Zauberer sounded particularly magical to us as it began with a ‘z’; and one child pointed out that eine Hexe sounded like the English word ‘hex’.

Zehn ZaubererThis was followed by suggestions for magic spells and we learnt a German one: Hokus Pokus Fidibus!

Wolfi waved his magic wand around (ein Zauberstab) whilst the children used their invisible ones and, as if by magic, a different picture of a wizard appeared on the screen alongside the number 1. Amazingly (for the children) this happened all the way to 10! [I had hidden a presentation pointer in my pocket and pressed the button to move to the next slide, whilst the children were distracted by wand waving and calling out ‘Hokus Pokus Fidibus!‘]

We practised saying the numbers in German from 1 to 10 by saying the words whilst writing the numbers in the air and then counting out the numbers on our fingers.

To finish off, we made a magic potion (ein Zaubertrank). I had labelled 5 bags with the numbers from 1 to 5. Inside each one were ingredients for the magic potion (eine Maus, zwei Frösche, drei Dinosaurier, vier Käfer, fünf Spinnen). Volunteer witches and wizards put on a witch’s/wizard’s hat and helped me discover what was in the bags. As a class we counted the ingredients into the pot.

Fuer den ZaubertrankIngredients for the magic potion

Perhaps next time I’ll teach the pupils to fly broomsticks around in the playground … There were certainly enough Harry Potter lookalikes at school on witches and wizards dress up day!

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Let it go!

Friday 26th September was the European Day of Languages and it was a great opportunity to kickstart modern foreign language learning with Year 2 at a local infant school. We had delivered a couple of sessions with different Year 1 classes before the summer but we are now looking forward to a term of German followed by one of Spanish.

So on Friday afternoon, I took a special assembly for Year 2 where we talked about the number of different languages spoken by children at the school (around 25) and the number of different ones spoken around the world (over 6,500!) The children were very keen to tell me about the languages they spoke or knew of and we learnt to say hello in a few different ones (after they took a guess at what some of the more exotic scripts might be!)

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The highlight for the children though was watching the version of ‘Let it go’ from the film ‘Frozen’ sung in 25 different languages and we finished by learning how to sing the first part of the chorus in German: Ich lass los! 

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Summer brain boost!

I recently came across an article about teacher parents who plan to take their two daughters out of school for a year of learning on the road because they felt “…the girls weren’t flourishing in the same way at school as they were during the family time.” This struck a chord with me as over the summer holidays my six year old boys became much more open to sharing their knowledge and learning new things. In relation to languages, they asked me to read books to them in German (instead of their usual resistance to the idea), for the first time tried reading the occasional German or French word themselves and actually responded to me when I spoke them in our semi-adopted second tongue. Some people talk about the summer ‘brain drain’ where children’s learning regresses somewhat over the long holiday but for us it seemed that the opposite happened.

Home (or indeed on-the-road) schooling isn’t an option for us right now but we are working hard to maintain this enthusiasm for language learning at home and in our classes. We can launch right in with preparing activities to celebrate the European Day of Languages on 26th September – this is a celebration of all languages, not just those spoken in Europe and is a great way to get children excited about communicating in another tongue. I’ll be asking questions such as: What languages are spoken in your family? How do children around the world say hello? In chinese it is ni hao! (你好!) and in russian it is zdra-stvooy-tye! (Здравствуйте!) This would be a great opportunity to introduce children to different written scripts and the musical quality of other languages.

Latest research: Even more reasons to study a foreign language: Bilingual babies benefit from learning faster and learning a foreign language can increase the size of your brain.

News round up: Scottish independence is of course a hot topic but our friends north of the border are also leading the way with language learning in primary schools. The plan is to introduce the European Union 1+2 model where every child will learn two languages in addition to his or her mother tongue. Let’s hope they find the funds to actually make this happen! And of course formal language learning for Key Stage 2 pupils has now commenced – will this stop the decline in the numbers taking a language at A-Level?

Upcoming events: We have signed up for the Language Show Live in October. Looking forward to meeting other passionate linguists and language teachers!