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Hallelujah for reverse psychology
2012.05.12 20:54:19

The boys have been complaining about going to French school on Saturday mornings for some time now.  I was ignoring them, but recently I decided to take them seriously and see if I could find another solution.

A French friend of mine offered to teach them privately, and as she is a mum at the boys' school, we agreed that we would try to convince the school to allow her to teach the boys during their regular French lesson (which, as it often covers only things like numbers and colours, doesn't benefit the boys much anyhow).

Scotty, however, caught whiff of this plan and protested.  "I don't want to be taken out of my French class!  I like it!  I'd rather go to French school on Saturdays!"

Funny enough, there was no whining this morning en route to French school.

What a wizard wheeze that was!


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Hollande in, Sarkozy out
2012.05.06 20:41:24

One of the advantages of learning a new language is being able to follow the political commentary from within a country, instead of from outside.  One of my friends recently added French tv and has been glued to it with the French elections.

The problem is, you might understand the words, and even the sentiment, but the results don't always compute....

The world being so interconnected these days, these results matter to the English (almost) as much as the French.  Nous vivons dans des temps intéressants.....


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Start early? Or it's never too late?
2012.05.05 18:07:23

Just heard about a woman who took up Russian at age 50 so she could read Pushkin, and by 60 was a world expert.

She said that when she goes to Russia now all the Russians say she speaks like someone out of the 19th century!  :-)

Despite this blog's focus on starting early, it's obviously never too late to learn a language well - maybe more difficult to learn the vernacular from great literature however!


As a result I might be inspired to pick up Spanish after all - as long as someone can teach me to roll my "r".  That would help me with Pushkin too...


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It's all about motivation (2)
2012.05.02 21:07:18

I heard a great Radio 4 broadcast today about the jobs that interpreters play.  One guy was explaining how as a Brit growing up in Germany, he became bilingual, and when he became a professional footballer he was often asked to help translate when British teams came to town.  He now runs his own business interpreting for premier league football.

Listening to this it occurred to me that language teaching in schools potentially lacks career focus:  do students learning French, German, japanese, Russian understand the career potential of those languages?  I studied languages for fun, because I was good at them, and with the knowledge that I wanted to travel the world and they would help me.  Had I known about the use of languages in multinational firms, for instance, it might have helped me go from just dabbling to true specialisation.

I might just suggest to the boys that Spanish should be next, and they can learn to be translators for Rafi Nadal.  They'd love that!


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It's all about motivation
2012.04.26 20:58:24

I found a lovely article today on a project seeking to communicate with dolphins.  It describes how trainers can talk to dolphins - by training them to understand and execute commands - but how we still haven't been able to get them to "talk" back to us.

This is where the article made me chuckle.

"It is difficult persuading dolphins to learn some arbitrary signals, like a whistle signifying a ball, and then use them in a social context, admits Gregg. “They don't seem to run with it the same way that chimps or bonobos have. The big stumbling block is motivation. Dolphins don't seem to care.”

I love that line:  "Dolphins don't seem to care."  Doesn't that remind you of your own children when you are trying to teach them a few new words?

Click here to read the full article, and have a laugh yourself.  Go on, you're worth it.



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Levels of language fluency for teaching
2012.04.25 13:59:22

I found myself wondering today (because I'm considering going into teaching) how fluent you need to be to teach a language in a secondary school.

Ideally, of course, you would be a native speaker of the language.  But if you are not, what do you think is most important?  Perfect grammar?  A wealth of vocabulary?  A good accent?  What is your experience?

Let's just assume that even the brightest secondary school students are not going to become fluent during their time under your tutelage.  Does that mean basic fluency - the ability to hold a conversation in French - is enough for a teacher to get by?

I can imagine that in French the downfall of any non-native speaker would be the gender of an object.  For me, that would be the biggest hurdle to get over.  When it comes right down to it, it is the small details like that which non-native speakers will struggle to master.

On that analysis, however, we'd all have to give up any teaching aspirations.  All rather depressing....


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It's a Carnival!
2012.04.22 21:32:08

I've lately started to come across lots of fab bilingual family blogs.  You know, you come across one site, and it's posted some links to another site, and on and on, and all of a sudden they all seem to be coming out of the internet woodwork in droves.  It's amazing!

And now I've found something called the Bilingual Carnival, where once a month, one bilingual blogger agrees to report on what every other blogger (who's found out about this Carnival) is talking about.

What a great idea!

I'll post the link, so that you can follow it too.

Oh, btw, some of it is in Italian.  And French.  And German.  And so on.  But I guess in this business you'd be expecting that, wouldn't you?



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Useful new media 2, useless mama nil
2012.04.21 15:30:32

Scotty had to do some homework for French school this morning.  He sulked about it until he came to the bit where he had to look up the names of musical instruments in French.  I pulled up Google Translate and let him go at it.  He loved typing in "guitar" and seeing "le guitare" appear, and then "drum" to see "le tambour" appear, and on and on.

Of course, what did I do to encourage this?  Well for one, I forgot to charge the battery on the laptop.  It died.  The sulking began again.



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Useful new media, useless old mama
2012.04.19 21:54:37

James has to do a short presentation at French School on Saturday, so we agreed to put together a little slide show about his year in France.  We chose some photos and some music, and I loaded them onto iMovie.  Then we agreed the text (in French) to put on each photo, and a little set of questions for the end for him to quiz his classmates.

Eureka!  James sat happily sat in front of the rolling iMovie, enjoying the show and practicing his lines.  A perfect language learning opportunity.

Afterwards, I decided that before committing the film to DVD, I ought to double check the headings.  Lo and behold, I had made errors on every page.  So much for my French.  I hope Google Translate knows its stuff!  I wonder whether James will notice all the changes.

How embarrassing.....


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Unintended consequences
2012.04.15 20:11:53

Today we took a little outing up to York.  James will be studying the Vikings next month at school and we remembered a great little Viking centre in York called the Jorvik Centre.  It was even better than we remembered, with Vikings wandering around telling us about old times and a waxwork interactive display of Coppergate, the old street we were on, with the Viking waxpeople (looking eerily real, as always) talking to us in sing-songy Norse, or whatever it was that Vikings spoke 1000 years ago.  In any case, I learned that the word for cake comes from the Vikings.  For all their raiding and pillaging, they can't have been all bad if they gave us the word for cake.  :-)


Being very susceptible to suggestion, we headed straight to Betty's Tearoom, yum!


Then, as an added unintended benefit, the boys agreed to watch Asterix and the Vikings in French on the way back.  A gourmand-ish history and French lesson all in one, not bad for a ilttle outing!


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Life is a bowlful of cerises
2012.04.12 20:15:32

I haven't spoken French in the car for weeks.  I can't get them to listen to their lovely new French audiobooks that came through the post today.  Big long faces at the thought of going back to French school next Saturday.

Then Scott & James were thinking up silly yoghurt pot names before bed.  "Bagsy Banana," said James.  "Perfect Peach," replied Scott.  "Curly carrot," giggled James.

And Scott said quietly:  "Chubby cerises."  And he looked at Dad, and smiled, and thought about it.  "That means chubby cherries, Daddy."  And then off he toddled to bed, very self-satisfied indeed.

And so were Daddy and I.




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Give me a kloo
2012.04.10 20:58:01

Yesterday's story game reminded me of a new game out called Kloo, where you pull out cards and have to make sentences from them.

I need inspiration like that to keep me going on this more difficult 8 year-old plus time of life.  Games, puzzles and books to keep them laughing and interested.  Instead of obstinate and silent.  I think I ought to invent a few, namely:

KLOO - but for creating funny stories

MAD LIBS - where you supply a word in the language instead of a particular part of speech.

BINGO with kids' funny toilet-humor items (in the language).

Word jigsaw puzzles, where you have to put together the pieces of a story (with both words and pictures).

Knock knock jokes about French words.

Any of these out there?  That would make my day!





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Silver linings
2012.04.09 21:24:00

Yesterday we went on a roadtrip.  In order to earn the right to watch a DVD (in English) in the car, we asked the boys to play a simple French game:  to create a story together, just saying one line each.

Sadly, they refused to play!  When finally Scott realised we were serious, and that he would be without DVD for the entire journey, he gave in but James was obstinate.  Finally I convinced Trev to start without James.  "Il y a deux vaches... " Trev started, (the only French he knows well is a joke about mad cow disease).  I continued "elles parlent ensemble."  Scotty added something silly and giggled, and so did Trev and I, and before long Scotty was giggling away and we were well and truly into the story.  James noticed how much fun we were having and began to participate!  In the end we probably spoke for five minutes straight in French, with everyone contributing.

Then the story ended, the DVD went on, and Trev and I looked at each other with dismay at the initial reaction from the boys.

At least we found a good game to play, even if it takes nerves of steel to force them to play it....


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Home schooling
2012.04.06 20:19:27

I just read that the UK's 2011 census documentation had to be translated into over 50 languages.  That means that there are at least 50 languages spoken in the UK on a regular basis.  This includes Chinese, Polish, Sinhala, Pashto, Amharic, Yoruba, and Tigrinya.

I can only make the assumption that if you want to study a language here in the UK, and you don't live in the Outer Hebrides, then you have a smorgasbord of choice.  You could probably even learn Swedish from a genuine-y Swede, and eat lots of smorgas from a real bord.  How fun!


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A true test of vocabulary
2012.03.31 20:50:38

On the way to France last year, at the Eurotunnel shops, we picked up a few essentials, like the required car kit/triangle/yellow safety vest as well as a cute book called "French for Kids." Well, today, over a year later, I pulled it out and carefully placed it nonchalantly on the boys' bookshelf and James immediately found it and pulled it out.

So I put them to the test.  One year later, do they really know French?

And the answer is:  a resounding yes.  They remember how to say all the crucial phrases, including:

"That's nuts!"

"Shove over."

"Bog off."

"Can I borrow your video game?"

"I'm dying of thirst."

And of course:  "Cheater!"

Total success.



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Do it and do it now!
2012.03.28 20:43:18

As ever I'm always pleased to see articles to the general public about the importance of learning a language early.  Parents magazine online have struck again, with this article on raising a bilingual kid.  It emphasises again how easy it is for young children to pick up a second or third language.

Knowing what I know now, these articles are spot on, except for one important exception: they never talk about the parent.  Yes, young children love to pick up new words in any language, yes it gives their intelligence more avenues and more flexibility (lateral thinking and creativity are often mentioned), yes it is a time when they find it fun.  What they don't say is that at ages 8, 9, 10, the parents' motivations change.  All of a sudden children's capabilities in all areas grow rapidly.  Schoolwork increases, extracurriculars increase, tests and competitions loom.  As a parent, helping your child decide what is most important at that stage is something that at times feels like agony rather than excitement and enthusiasm.

So in sum, read the article, and remember:  it ain't gonna get easier later on, so do it and do it now, start a new language when they are young.   You will regret it if you don't (if you have the time for regrets, that is!).


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Frustration with the school language programme
2012.03.27 21:19:47

One of my friends and I were commiserating today at the difficulty at getting appropriate level support in primary level language classes.  My boys are obviously so way ahead in French after a year abroad that it would stretch most teachers, but there are some other children who are already bilingual (in another language) and thus are picking up the French quite quickly.  In mathematics and English a big effort is made to tailor the work to the different ability levels, but I think there is much less emphasis on this in language classes.

To be fair, one or two of the language teachers are making an effort by sending home word searches and games in French, or asking my children to help others with words and pronunciation, but this is only one small aspect of learning a language.

I'd love to hear from other people who know more about how language teachers deal with this issue...



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Sense of humour failure
2012.03.25 20:13:30

I just read an article about the misunderstandings between the Francophones and Anglophones in Montreal, Quebec.  Apparently 80% of the "Anglos" are bilingual, and the language spoken in the area is slowly melding into a real Franglais.  Yet there is still significant barriers between the two communities.

I wonder then whether the misunderstandings come down not to your basic interactions on the street -which apparently both communities can do in both languages equally well - but rather to the difficulties in translating humour.

Humour is so important in our daily lives, dare I say especially in England.  We mock ourselves and everyone around us, unsparingly, and that give and take builds trust.  We trust that we understand that we're all joking.

Having just lived abroad, I think that the ability to joke in another language - to be able to time things in another language, and twist words subtly in another language - must be one of the last skills you pick up.  Without being able to joke, how can you build trust?

We obviously need to spend a lot more time joking in the language classroom, to build that skill more quickly.... for all of our sakes.


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THE essential holiday wardrobe item
2012.03.22 21:21:16

in a recent trip to Thailand, Trev came across a great new concept:  the translator T-shirt.  It had all the key phrases on it "where's the loo?" - "Thai green curry - not too hot!"  - "how much?"  written in both English and Thai.  All you had to do for conversation was point to the relevant phrase.

Trev almost bought one except for the slight problem with the concept - there wasn't any translation for the answers you'd get, e.g. "second door on the left" "chicken or beef?" "100 bahts for 2".  Might make for some funny conversations though....



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Fete des meres
2012.03.18 19:21:34

I'm celebrating Mother's Day back in the Alps, sans enfants.  Though I miss them, I get such an amazing buzz being back here.  No one warned me that a family gap year could end with such an emotional tie to a new foreign place.  Gap year guides definitely need a big warning strip over the front cover:  HIGHLY ADDICTIVE.

The nice thing was running into some French friends, I managed to strike up a conversation with them comfortably, and one of them complimented me on not losing my French!  I hope I can keep that up, even if I can't live here full time....



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