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Choosing a language: the big elite or the up and comers?
2015.01.23 13:20:42

The Economist has a great article online this week (click here to read it) on language and power. In sum, to become globally famous, it really really helps to know English, French, Spanish or German.  The others are all peripheral.  But to be useful (and therefore well-paid!) it might help to learn a big peripheral language as well, such as Chinese or Russian.  Which would you choose?  Famous or well-paid?



Tags: language importance | which language to learn

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Early exposure to languages makes a permanent imprint
2015.01.05 23:00:16


I love this article:  scientific proof that learning another language at the earliest months in development really leaves a mark.  Fascinating!





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We need a revolution in children's education to fix this problem.
2014.11.08 10:42:42

The Guardian recently published an article on young people's attitudes to learning languages which pretty much broke my heart.  In a nutshell, most young people in the UK think foreign languages are useful, and yet the vast majority find them either boring or too difficult.  It seems to me that the entire educational establishment needs a wake up a call: everything needs to change, and change at an earlier age, to enthuse children about languages and show them how easy they are to learn.  It is soooo frustrating!


Read the article here.



Tags: secondary school language education | primary school languages education | children learning languages

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Focus and bilingualism
2014.10.14 08:53:29

The most recent study on children and bilingualism points to something perhaps on the face of it quite surprising:  bilingual children are able to filter out noise in a busy classroom to do tasks and answer questions.

I say, "on the face of it", because you wouldn't think that noise and language learning go together necessarily.  However we all know that in learning a language you have to focus very closely on the words being said, more so than in a native language.

Given how noisy classrooms can be, this is an enormous advantage to give our children.

Add that to the already very long list of reasons why to learn a language!  It just proves the cognitive and social benefits can be just as important as the language itself.

To read the BBC article, click here.



Tags: cognitive benefits of learning a se | bilingualism

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Multilingualism and politics
2014.08.10 21:50:46

It's funny, but one of the things that's been bothering me lately is my ability to speak a bit of French - in England.  One of my close friends is French and it gives me great pleasure to practice my French with her.  But out of courtesy, of course, if there are others around, we switch to English.  But what if others are around, doing their own thing, and not part of the conversation?  Do you speak English, in case they want to be part of the conversation, or speak French, which is more fun?  Is this rude?  Insensitive?

In today's politics, Farage is known to have complained about the Romanians speaking - yes, you guessed it - Romanian on the train.  That seems to prove to him that they don't belong here.  Even though they weren't speaking to him.  He was obviously denied thatbasic English right to eavesdrop on other people's conversations.

The Economist recently published an article on multilingualism in Spain and the ructions that has caused.  The correspondent there suggested that perhaps the best approach would be for everyone to learn each other's languages.  Seems eminently sensible to me.

Then they can all eavesdrop on each other's conversations in peace and harmony.  All except the poor Romanians that is.  And me, too, in my feeble attempts at speaking French in England....




Tags: multilingualism | multiculturalism

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Trying too hard
2014.07.23 20:08:14

Let's face it - languages aren't logical.  And our logical adult minds have trouble with that -unless we learned the language as a child.  Here's the research that proves it, as featured this week in TIME magazine.

TIME article



Tags: children learning languages | adults learning languages

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How to cheat at creative writing
2014.07.03 18:59:31


Scott came home today both proud and sheepish.

"So, Mom, is it cheating if..."  He paused.


"Well..." He started slowly.  "You know how it was Big Write today at school?"

"Yes, and?" I waited.

"You know how I was supposed to do think about it last night and decide what to write about?"

"Yes, and?" I waited.

"Well, I forgot to do that."

"Yes, and?" I waited.

"Well, you know the French story that we listened to on the way to school?"

"Yes, and?" I waited some more.

"Well, I wrote that down instead."

"Oh." I said, thinking that perhaps I should say it was cheating, but feeling instead rather proud instead.

"I did use my own words, so it's not cheating, is it?"


"Yes, and....?" He said, waiting.




Tags: foreign language books | translation | creative writing.

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Exchange arranged!
2014.06.18 19:37:13

Last month, I nervously wrote an email to the headteacher of James and Scott's old school in France proposing an exchange between his son and James.  My thinking was that (a) James and Scott both need another big immersion experience to re-ignite their French brains; (b) James is nearly at the age he can do one and (c) I had a feeling the headteacher of the French school would love to have his own son have an immersion experience in English.

As luck would have it, the headteacher said yes!  And proposed next summer!  And after I had finished dancing for joy, I realised, "S**T, I haven't asked James yet."

Oopsy doopsy.

So very casually, over breakfast, I explained to James that the headteacher and I had had an exchange of emails and that the teacher's son Hugo wanted to come over here and would like to invite James there.

To which James replied....  Yes!

Phew.  That was a close one.

Now, all I need to do is figure out what to do with Scott...



Tags: children learning languages in a fo | private foreign language exchange | immersion in French

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Racism and foreign languages
2014.05.23 18:34:58


It is 23 May and the day after the local and European elections here in the UK, and I feel like I've been slapped in the face:  UKIP, the anti-immigration party, have made significant gains in England, and even in my very own city.

What can be done to prevent such closet racism and "us vs them" attitude?  A quick search online revealed this blog which made perfect sense to me:  learning one or more foreign languages at an early age is one powerful tool to prevent such attitudes taking hold in society.

The UK is re-introducing mandatory foreign language learning in primary schools - let's hope that in 10 years' time the ugly shadow of UKIP and other such parties is erased from this country.



Tags: racism | primary school languages education | Foreign languages

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happy holidays
2014.04.22 21:03:17

We just went back to France to the town we lived in 3 years ago for 8 months.  The boys were thrilled to be there, ice skating and skiing.  The weather was lovely, the friends as close as ever.  But the highlight for me was arranging for the boys to go back to school there for a day.  The headteacher was ever so gracious in letting them come visit at short notice and I was amazed at how the boys accepted it - looked forward to it!  And how happy they were, and how easy they fit in again.  A day back in a French school was more French than they would have had in 2 months of French lessons. And more than that, solidifying their connection with that other, wonderful world.  All = One very happy mum.  :-)


Tags: French | France | cultural ties | language immersion

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The reason behind why children learn so little foreign language vocab in primary
2014.03.26 19:52:43

I'm always frustrated at how little children learn in terms of French or Spanish or German - whatever language is taught - in primary school.  Maybe at best some numbers, colours, animals and food.  Hardly any verbs of any use, hardly anything of any real use in fact.  It's not because the children can't learn it - it is because the teachers don't know any more than that.


A new BBC investigation has found that many teachers haven't even studied a language past GCSE, leaving schools woefully unprepared for the language requirements starting in September.  If only parents demanded more, eventually the Government would have to listen and start giving children the basis in languages that children receive in every other subject.


So frustrating!  :-(


Tags: primary school languages education

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Learning a new language...as an adult
2014.02.27 21:29:29

One of my aims, when I was a teenager (admittedly, a strange teenager) was to learn the basics of one language in each of the main language groups.  So, once I learned a bit of French, instead of improving on it or trying a related language, which would have been easier, I went on to German, then Chinese, then Russian.  My idea was to have a basis so that if any time I needed to learn a new language, for work or social reasons (tall, dark, handsome stranger) then it wouldn't be so difficult if I knew the basics.

Soon after university, I was given a job covering the Balkans, and took a crash course in Serbo-Croat.  That Russian sure came in handy.  i never was brilliant at it, but I wasn't afraid to try.

And that I think makes all the difference.  Learning a language may not be as easy as when you are child - but adults have other advantages that can compensate for this, such as focus, determination, and a wider context in which to absorb vocabulary.  But what many monolingual adults now lack is confidence and a willingness to try.

That is why giving your children the confidence early can pay dividends later on.

If you are interested in how adults can learn languages, check out this TED Talk by Chris Lonsdale, a great advocate of adult language learning.



Tags: children learning languages | adult learning languages | monolingualism | TED talks | Chris Lonsdale

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Primary school in England to teach foreign languages
2014.02.16 08:43:46

According to this BBC news clip, finally the legislation is coming into force, and children in England are going to have to learn a language from September 2014.  But why from age 7 up only?  And to what standard?


While it is a step in the right direction it is terribly frustrating how small a step it is....  From my own experience at school the expectations for language learning are so small that being able to count to 10, name a few animals and a few colours and that's it, job done.  Ridiculous.


Hrmph.  Must be in a cynical mood today!




Comments 1 | Hits: 299 |

Christmas shopping? Really?
2013.12.24 21:18:53

Today I was in Waterstones searching for last minute gifts when I "happened" to stop at the educational books section.  And noticed that there are actually study guides and workbooks for Key Stage 3 (Years 7-10) French.  And "just happened" to pull one out to see what level of work was expected.

I was so pleased to find that it looked like something the boys could easily achieve now.  So maybe all this work isn't for nothing....

Made me feel like singing Christmas carols!

Oh yeah, I was supposed to be shopping, wasn't I?  Oops!

Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays everyone.  :-)




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La maitresse, oh la la!
2013.12.23 21:59:40

The boys' French teacher arranged a little party at her house at the end of term, where they decorated muffins and played games with a few other children.  It was only an hour, but afterwards they were buzzing with excitement and enthusiasm.

And it lasted!  About a week later Scotty asked whether they could have another French lesson at the house of La Maitresse.  I said I would ask.  They immediately said, "When? Can we go during the holidays?  Can we go every week?"

She must be like the good witch, casting a wonderful French spell on them.

Shame she's been on vacation ever since!





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Creating petits monstres
2013.12.19 21:56:23

The boys have had to sing a French song in choir this month.  It is a beautiful song - Vois sur ton chemin - from a famous French film about boy choristers.  James and Scott love it not just for the music but because they understand (some of) the words, and their accent is good. Which is great, except that the children singing with them don't worry about the accent, and are just singing their lovely hearts out.  James and Scott bless them have tried to correct their friends' pronunciation to no avail.  On the night of the concert,  you could hear Scotty trying to shout out the right sounds above all the rest, and it was near cacophony.

Which is more important, he asked me later, the words, or the music?

In this case, Scotty, the music.  The music.  The music.

I've created some petits monstres.  Uh oh...



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And the results are in....
2013.04.10 16:03:13

Our French immersion week is over.

What a week!

What a success!

The boys spent something like 40 hours in a French-only environment, with one hour of French semi-private lessons in the evening.  It was perfect.  James as predicted jumped right in and made friends right away, conversing in French maybe not perfectly but without hesitation.  Scott by his own account got away with saying "d'accord" to everybody and everything but seemed happy enough.

Definitely got to do this again.

Oh, and did I mention the skiing was perfect?

The one downside is the 8 pounds I put on with all the croissants and cheese.  Oops!


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Cartable A La Neige
2013.03.23 20:29:39

Boys have missed 4 weeks of French school this term due to snow and other commitments:  almost every other one.  Whoops!  And though they are watching French tv from time to time, and listening to little French stories in the car on the way to school, their French is dropping.  FAST.

Time for emergency action:  a (heavily discounted, yay!) French ski week immersion. For the kids, a French ski club in the morning, French kids club in the evening, French food at mealtimes, and the pièce de résistance:  "Cartable à la neige"- a few hours of French instruction in the afternoon.  Poor kids won't know what hit them.  Maybe, just maybe, we'll be able to retrigger those French-days inspired neurons.

If not, well, Trev and I will have fun!



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2013.03.09 22:19:27

The boys recently figured out how to watch YouTube videos on their little iPods.  Nervous as I am, I'm keeping a close eye on what their watching until I can figure out parental controls and all that malarkey.

But I'm trying not to be intrusive, so I just keep one ear tuned in from a short distance, pretending not to notice.  First it was ASDF (not so keen on that one) and then (phew!) a collection of old Scooby Doo clips.

And this weekend, lo and behold! my ears picked up something amazing:  Beyblade, IN FRENCH.  Episode, after episode, after episode, the boys' attention was rivetted to the little Japanese manga characters, combatting each other en français.

Needless to say, no screen time limits today.  Sweeettt! said the boys.

Couldn't have said it better myself.



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Language and your future
2013.02.23 09:21:18

Examples of language influencing behaviour are few and far between, but each fact that is proven is fascinating.  For instance, there is language that does not use "left" and "right" but instead compass-based words for orientation and direction:  so people who use that language learn to know their north, south, east and west instinctively.

According to the BBC news today, recent research has shown that what language you speak influences how well you plan for the future.

Languages like English which make a clear difference between now and the future (I will go to college) unconsciously separate your current self with your future self.  So you are less likely to save, more likely to smoke, etc.

Languages like German and Mandarin that use the present tense with future markers ("It rains tomorrow") tend to merge the future and present selves, making it easier to relate to your future self.

I wonder what bilingual speakers of say Engish and Mandarin are likely to think then?  I wonder what influences which thinking system becomes dominant?

All very philosophical for first thing in the morning on the weekend... I'll just drink some coffee and forget about my future caffeine addicted self...



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