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Notes from the Chair

As Head of a large modern languages department where seven languages are offered on timetable at (I)GCSE level, and also in my role as Chair of ISMLA, I try to stay 'language neutral' at all times, for 'fairness', I suppose. I do also believe that as linguists, whatever our specialism, we should be encouraging our pupils to pursue and enjoy whichever languages they choose or sway towards and not enter into debates about which one is the most useful or important. They are all important and will provide our pupils with a sought after skill in the future. That said, as a Germanist, I do, of course, have a big soft spot for my beloved German language, the language I have studied since I was eleven years old and which I feel often gets a bad press for being difficult (which I strongly dispute), or harsh-sounding (also not true, to my ear anyway) or for its history (indicative in my opinion of ignorance and stereotyping). I feel that as a Germanist, in the current climate I need to speak out for its cause. German is in severe decline in many schools. In 2002 there were 6,367 candidates entered for A-level, but last summer there were only 3,624, meaning that its numbers have almost halved in the last 15 years and continues a trend which is not all that new and can be traced back to the 1990s. It is now, however, in danger of becoming extinct. I have recently been asked to both speak on the topic of how we can improve German's chances in school and, as a graduate of Edinburgh University, also write an article on the same topic for SCILT's Scottish Languages Review. I will post a link to my article on the ISMLA Facebook page when it goes live online this summer, and would welcome any responses, but I believe that German's success in language departments comes down to the following five main things which I highlight and explain fully in my article: 

  • Choosing a challenging and rigorous course at both (I)GCSE and Sixth Form levels (as Ian Bauckham said at the conference, cognitive challenge leads to enjoyment and interest. Feeling a sense of achievement leads to pupils' engagement with and commitment to the subject)
  • Making the content more exciting and relevant (including sometimes being brave enough to go away from the (topic-based) scheme of work and follow pupils' interests. Using FLAs well is part of this too)
  • Recruiting staff with expertise and energy (perhaps easier said than done in today's climate – I have more recently been contacting university language departments directly to catch the best talent in their final year at university. German teachers need to be resilient and positive.)
  • Extending learning beyond the classroom (as I am sure many of you do already, involvement in competitions, events celebrating cultural events, contacts with universities, using Skype, trips abroad, teachers networking outside of school regularly)
  • Support from your school leaders (the timetable needs to work for German, keeping the SLT involved in what you are doing, the MFL Pedagogy Review has a useful section on this too)
  •  What I have found over the years is that most pupils will not buy into arguments of the utility of learning German. We all know the educational, social, business, political and these days even humanitarian arguments in favour of its case. In my experience, young people are more concerned about the here and now, not what the future brings, and if they are enjoying learning the subject and feel they are progressing in a highly successful way, they will keep learning it. For this reason, I am often disappointed when interviewing for a new language teacher, when I do not get 'inspiring teaching' as an answer to my question about how they would recruit more pupils to the language. Now that I have said my piece about German, I will tell you about what I have been doing this term whilst representing ISMLA. I have continued to attend the 'MFL SCITT' steering group meetings whilst the collaborative state-independent project develops. I hope that those of you who attended the conference in February were able to speak to Gaynor Jones from Silverdale School who is heading up the project. Speaking of which, I mentioned at the conference that we are on the look-out for a new committee member to be responsible for ITT and NQT matters. If you are interested or would like more details, please get in touch. Nick Mair and I also attended an HMC academic policy committee meeting where HMC pledged its support to the language cause in any way it could. Our patron Duncan Byrne continues to keep us up-to-date on the guidelines affecting exchanges too. I have also had the opportunity to visit other school such as The Perse School, Cambridge, and Bolton Girls' School, which I always find fascinating, as well as such good CPD for myself!

    Much of my 'ISMLA time' has been taken up with liaising over the new logo and website which will appear very soon and which we gave delegates a peek of at the conference. I think it is looking great. You will have noticed that we have started to send out e-mail bulletins approximately once a month via aconKevin Dunne. I hope that these are useful. Every member of the committee now has a specific role too. Hopefully this will mean that you can contact the right person more easily and on the new website you will be able to do so even more easily via a contact box. Please ask colleagues at other schools (including prep schools) if they are an ISMLA member. The more of us we are, the stronger and more effective we are. Headmaster Peter Hamilton quite rightly pointed out at the conference that we are the most active subject association out there. ISMLA owes its existence in part to one of its founding members Anthony Earle whom I was lucky enough to meet at the last two conferences and enjoyed several lively conversations and subsequent e-mail exchanges with. I was extremely sad, at the last conference, to hear of his recent death following illness. Finally, I wanted to thank the conference team of John Wilson, Kevin Dunne and David Cragg-James for organizing such a fabulous conference at Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School in Elstree on the 4th February and for the 130+ of you for all coming and making it such a productive day. We are now starting to think about next year's conference and it is always our aim to make them better each year. All the best for the examination season.

     Sara Davidson

    Notes from the Editor

    Firstly, we do hope that you like our new layout, logo… really, everything! We are delighted to have a fresh new look, which hopefully does justice to the excellent work that committee representatives are doing on behalf of members, not to mention the creative and inspirational practice that ISMLA member ML departments are delivering on a daily basis. If you would like to share your school's success stories, or have another idea for an article, do get in touch. Similarly, if you would like to submit a review of a teaching resource, foreign language novel or website, our Reviews Editor, Melvyn Bardou, would love to hear from you – and may well throw in a free copy of the tome in question! Equally, we invite your suggestions as to the content of the newsletter; do let us know if there is something specific you would like to see here.

    The new specifications have taken up much departmental time this past year and a recent visit to the Wallace Collection with Year 10 summed up for me the positive nature of much of the changes. The free workshop Les Belles Choses takes pupils on a carefully chosen tour (mostly in French) of highlights of the collection and gets them to complete short tasks, culminating in a presentation in French of an 18th-century piece of furniture to the rest of the group. Our group's feedback revealed them to be particularly enthusiastic about the history that they learnt, from the Sun King's collection of high-heeled shoes to the kindness Marie-Antoinette showed to her favourite artist, Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun. The have a wealth of new vocabulary from the day which they didn't see as a chore to learn at all, because its relevance was so obvious to them (une pendule, la rampe d'escalier, un seau à glace!). I have seen the same attitude in my A Level students who are so excited about Francophone music that they don't see writing an essay about it as a dreary prospect. Let's hope it continues…

    Davina Suri

    Safeguarding Update

    Exchange visits abroad

    You will be aware of the ramification of the word 'should' in the now famous Annex E which forms part of the DfE advice on exchange visits. At the ISMLA conference a quarter of the delegates raised their hands in agreement that 'their school had cancelled or was seriously considering cancelling an exchange as a result of the safeguarding advice'. Many schools have spent money on lawyers' fees and almost all are unhappy that time has been spent on an issue where clear guidance 'should' have been expected and would have been welcome.

    Baroness Coussins and the French and German embassies have all written to Nick Gibb as Minister of Schools to ask for helpful clarification. There is now some hope of action before July 2017 (which was date indicated by the DfE when the wording would be revisited).

    Some French schools have flatly refused to ask families to carry out the third version of the 'extract du casier judiciare' and consider they would be legally at fault if they tried to do so.

    My highly personal view is that the rough benchmark of a well organised exchange in Year 9 and above can be expressed as two general rules:

    • an exchange is worth half a grade at GCSE or A level
    • each day, with the exception of the first and last day, is the equivalent of one week of classes

    Both the British Council and Franco-British Council are clear that for many it was an exchange visit that opened linguistic and cultural eyes.

    We very much hope there will be clarification - for many the word 'must' in preferable to the word 'should'.

    Exchange visits to the UK

    There should be no doubt in your mind that the Department for Education have confirmed that schools will be found to have acted criminally if someone without a DBS check is involved in an exchange as the host.

    Nick Mair 

    Update on grading issues in MFL examinations

    These brief lines are to confirm what I had said to delegates at the recent ISMLA conference. 

    OFQUAL has confirmed that a number of decisions regarding MFL examination grading were taken taken at the meeting of the OFQUAL Board in December 2016. These will be communicated in the near future (likely to be February and early March) with a formal statement in March.

    I have been told, in a wonderfully enigmatic phrase, that the languages community 'are unlikely to be tremendously disappointed'.

    Colleagues will remember from the last ISMLA newsletter that HMC and ASCL have considerable interest in this issue and that they were prepared to make significant statements had there not been some improvement in the summer A level grading. Our extensive survey conducted on results days itself related that roughly half of independent school respondents saw a rise in A* grades and a better rank order (this meaning that the good pupil scored well and the less good less well). Less happily half of respondents said they saw no change in either grading or reliability of rank order. It would certainly be true to say that languages now have more A* grades than are achieved in similar arts 'facilitating subjects' (e.g. history, geography).

    There appeared to be no change in the awarding of grades at GCSE.

    The situation remains that, if the OFQUAL statement is considered to be unsatisfactory, then HMC and ASCL will take action.

    There can be little doubt that modern languages are drinking in 'le salon de la dernière chance'.

    Nick Mair

    Pearson EdExcel A Level Languages Oral: important information

    Given some confusion about the preparation for the new EdExcel oral, Gabriela Porter of Radley College and Alistair Drewery at Pearson have kindly agreed to share their recent correspondence with ISMLA members.

    From: Gabriela Porter <>
    Date: Mon, Jan 30, 2017 at 10:37 AM
    Subject: MFL A level orals
    To: "" <> , " " < >

    Dear Alistair,

    I would like to ask you a couple of questions regarding the new A level oral examination.
    Two colleagues of mine went to two separate training days last term and were told different things regarding the oral examination.

    I understand that the level of support the students are allowed to received in their oral preparation is more limited in the new specification. This is why I have been discussing with my team how to best support our students next year. One way we thought was to have them do their mocks in March 2018 with a different teacher: in other words, we would swap students for their mock in order not to infringe rules. However, one of my colleagues, mentioned before, was told that we cannot do mocks because the student cannot receive any feedback.
    Could you please clarify this point?

    I would appreciate any extra advice you may have regarding oral preparation.

    Best regards,

    Mrs. GC Porter
    Head of Modern Languages
    Radley College

    From: <> on behalf of -, TeachingLanguages < >
    Sent: 01 February 2017 18:22
    To: Gabriela Porter
    Subject: Fwd: MFL A level orals


    Many thanks for your query.

    In terms of the independent research part of the A level oral, please refer to the following guidance:

    Neither teachers nor language assistants should see or hear the presentation in advance of the examination, even if students are to be examined by external examiners. However, in order to ensure that students are prepared for the assessment and understand what will happen on the day, we would recommend that teachers give students a small practice project to complete at the end of year 1, which they could then use as a 'mock' speaking assessment. Students could even use work completed for their set work for Paper 2,so as to get accustomed to the format of the exam.

    It would not be appropriate simply to change the teacher conducting a mock examination if feedback is given. I trust that you have already seen the following support:

    http://qualifications /edexcel-a-levels/french-2016. coursematerials.html#filterQue ry=category:Pearson-UK: Category%2FTeaching-and-learni ng-materials&filterQuery= category:Pearson-UK:Document- Type%2FVideo-Resources& filterQuery=category:Pearson- UK:Level%2FA-Level

    Samples of student work and linked assessment commentaries will appear on our website in due course which should also provide further support

    Best wishes

    Alistair Drewery
    Subject Advisor, Pearson

     ISMLA Mentoring Scheme for Heads of Modern Languages

    • Question: What have you found most helpful about being an ISMLA mentee this year?
    • Answer: Knowing that there was somebody from outside my school who I could turn to for advice.

    The feedback from our first year's cohort of mentees has been entirely positive and we have been really pleased to discover that two of our mentees have gone on to secure promotions and that everyone has had their questions answered. In some cases, mentees had quite specific issues that they raised and in others, it was a case of talking through ideas for their current role and for taking next steps. If you are a Head of Department who aspire to a role in senior management, whether in the near of more distant future, the scheme could be for you!

    We will assign you a mentor, either a current or former member of senior management in the independent sector, who is also a languages teacher. We will endeavour to match you with someone who makes sense geographically, but we are able to cover travel expenses where and if necessary. Your mentor will provide (at least) the following support over the course of one year:

    • One face-to-face meeting
    • Three follow-up telephone or email conversations

    The onus is on the mentee to be proactive and to initiate contact in each instance.

    If you would like to take advantage of the scheme, please email Ruth Crabtree at

    Oxford German Olympiad

    Every year, the Oxford German Network calls all young learners of German to participate in its national German competition, the Oxford German Olympiad.
    In 2016/2017, we would like to explore German peoples, languages and culture beyond the borders of Germany: our theme shall be 'Deutsch(e) jenseits von Deutschland – German(s) beyond Germany'. Taking German and Germany as an example, we would thus like you to reflect on the way in which peoples have always migrated and taken their languages and stories with them, on how languages and cultures are almost never confined to one geographical area or a single nation. olympiad

    The tasks and guidelines for the Olympiad's first round, directed at pupils from year 5 to 13, are now online and can be accessed here:

    On our website, you will find plenty of historical and literary material around this topic to inspire you, including subpages on the German diaspora, exile writing, literature composed in various dialects, and contemporary Swiss spoken word poetry. We will be adding more material in due course – so watch this space. Please share these links with classmates, friends and teachers who might be interested. Spread the word!

    We look forward to receiving your entries by 12 noon, Friday 17 March 2017. If you have any queries in the meantime, please do not hesitate to get in touch by emailing

    Katharina Laszlo, Coordinator, Oxford German Network

    ISMLA National Conference 2017

    Richard Thompson, Head of Modern Languages at Habs' provided an excellent venue for the Conference, including the Exhibition, and the Habs. Estate staff and caterers had worked very hard to ensure that this latter aspect of the Conference was as successful as the talks. It was great to enjoy an ambiance which reinforces the myriad opportunities offered by ISMLA Conferences for intellectual and professional – (not to mention gastronomic) – stimulation, as well as for the networking deemed essential. Delegates responded well to the request to interest themselves in the materials exhibited, and several benefited impressively from generous incentive prizes offered by exhibitors. It was good to see so many new "publishers" of modern languages materials stepping up to take the place of those which have sadly disappeared over the years for one reason or another. Our gratitude is owing to them and to the many exhibitors who have loyally supported ISMLA Conferences with their presence over a long period of time, and I am told that our Conference (and that of Area8) are two of the most profitable to them in terms not merely of sales, but also of customer contact and feedback. Sanako has generously supported our Conferences financially since very early days, and for this we are most grateful. Similarly, delegates have always been most appreciative of this opportunity to view the latest in modern languages publishing, soft- and hardware, and travel arrangements, as well as the offerings from the various cultural institutes, all under one roof.


    David Cragg-James

    Conference Exhibitors:



    Brilliant Publications

    Cambridge International Examinations

    Don Quijote

    Eduqas (WJEC)

    European Schoolbooks Ltd.

    Grant and Cutler at Foyles

    Halsbury Travel

    Instituto Cervantes

    Kings College, London

    Lanacos – Love Language Learning Ltd.

    Learn and Experience




    Mary Wenham

    At the ISMLA Conference this February, Mary Wenham, Head of Modern Languages at St. Paul's Girls' School, gave a stimulating and motivating talk about the brand new 'Discovering Languages' course that she has both designed and implemented this academic year. Read below for more information from Mary about what inspired her to create the four-week course and exactly what it entails. If you are interested in establishing a similar scheme in your own school, Mary has kindly offered to work with Heads of Department with its implementation. You can contact her at

    'So, where on earth did you actually come up with this idea then?'
    'The truthful answer to that is: on the back of a paper napkin in Whole Foods Kensington!'
    That's a soundbite from one of many conversations at our open days this year as I discussed our new Year Seven languages course with prospective parents. Hard on the heels of this followed the new Year Seven parents' evening at which we talked far more extensively than ever before about the nature of language, the purpose of language learning and the skills that learning a language teaches us. So far, so good!
    So what are we doing and why are we doing it? Until this academic year, the new intake used to start courses in beginners' French, German or Mandarin which they followed up with a second modern language in Year Eight. Over my five years as Head of Modern Languages the same fundamental questions have constantly recurred:
    Which language to choose - how can students make a genuine selection of a language they know nothing about?
    What is the purpose of language learning in today's society?

    In the last five years I have also attended seminars and insets about primary school language teaching, got involved with the UK Linguistics Olympiad, and been encouraged to develop my own thinking about what is going on in the language classroom. Different waves of language pedagogy have flip-flopped from full immersion, to grammar toolbox, back to 'optimal' target language use, and so on. What seems eminently clear, certainly in a school like mine but I would argue in most others too, is that we are often not spelling out for the students exactly what they are doing when learning a language and therefore how to hone and maximise those skills. We want them to listen and mimic, to spell and to implement patterns, but our laudable aim of giving them as much target language exposure as possible precludes making some of this as explicit as we might. And when we try to encourage students to make connections between languages and other disciplines, I am sure that I am also not the only one who is often greeted by blank stares!

    Therefore, instead of giving our students any foreign language at all to start with, this year we have introduced a four week 'discovering languages' course, based on a mixture of linguistics, coding, and general language knowledge, using English – everyone's shared language – as the vehicle. (This might be trickier in a school with a high preponderance of EAL but equally, my native speakers of other languages have been able to affirm some of the difficulties of learning English). As we investigate the vagaries of English syntax, pronunciation and accent, not to mention first language acquisition, the history of writing and the basics of phonetics, we are also teaching skills which can quickly be transferred into the modern language classroom. For the rest of the Autumn and Spring Terms, the girls will be exploring Russian, German and Chinese, not simply to get beginner vocabulary and the classic 'taster' of a new language, but in order to try out some of these skills and hopefully be better language learners from the off. And by doing this at the start of Year Seven we hope to harness the boundless enthusiasm with which pupils arrive at secondary school.

    So, has it worked? Last term, Year Sevens, in their first ever lesson of German, could see that 'trinken' clearly connects to 'drink' via the use of the same consonant, just that one is voiced and one is unvoiced. They 'learned' their first hundred words by using cognate recognition. They pulled apart the numbers one to ten using the
     words fricative and plosive, and they noticed that the German way of counting is highly logical and indeed links back to the way we once said 'four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie'. There are 'lightbulb moments' in every single lesson – it is brilliant.
    It may well be that others have had this idea before us. I would certainly be very happy to hear from other schools with similar courses. I am also much indebted to the UKLO association for their breakthrough workouts which have highlighted areas of word order (Yodaspeak was a particular hit), language families, and inflection of languages. As we haven't yet completed a full cycle, it is all very experimental and may well need some tweaks. However, the re-opening of dialogue between our department, the English and Classics departments, and indeed the school at large, has been very exciting and we hope that it will bear much fruit.

    Mary Wenham, St. Paul's Girls School


    Ian Bauckham

    I suggested asking Ian to come and speak at our annual conference as I had heard him speak twice before on his review of MFL pedagogy and I was convinced it would be of interest to ISMLA members and would provoke discussion. His proved to be one of the most popular talks of the day. He began by explaining how his research was conducted and who was consulted as well as why the government was worried enough about language teaching in the UK to commission this review. In this respect he mentioned, for example, that nationally only 1 in 10 boys get a GCSE in French, that only 49% of 16 year olds were entered for a GCSE in a language last year and that only one third of these got a grade C and above. Those pupils who get a 'B' grade in History, Heography and English have a good chance of getting the same grade in those subjects at A-level, but it is not the case in Modern Languages. If all of that was not enough, it was also pointed out that many pupils report that they do not find language lessons engaging, challenging or enjoyable. Modern Languages, he said, and as we will all agree, are important educationally, socially and for business (according to the CBI). Brexit makes languages more important than before (not less, as some may think) as we need to build relationships and trust now too.

    Ian spoke mainly about the report identifying the need for direct and carefully sequenced teaching of grammar, vocabulary and phonics. Below are some of the points he made:

    • Vocabulary

    The methodology of teaching vocabulary is currently under-developed. There needs to be a greater range of activities.
    Plan the introduction of vocabulary by frequency of occurrence.
    Liberate yourself from the straightjacket of purely topic vocabulary.
    You should plan for the revisiting of vocabulary 4-10 times in order for pupils to know these items (textbooks do not tend to do this well at all).
    The importance of verbs was emphasised. It is much easier to get pupils to manipulate and conjugate verbs if met early on. Ian lists the 25 most common/useful verbs in French within the review.

    • Grammar

    The importance of grammar was emphasised. It is not a dirty word!
    A planned, sequenced approach should be taken, in manageable amounts.
    Doing grammar practice within reading and listening texts before output, ie. identifying the form first, before producing it yourself, is crucial and not done enough.
    There needs to be a greater focus on morphology (endings).

    • Phonics

    Phonics are rarely taught in schols and this leads to poor pronunciation.
    There is not enough explicit linking of the the grapheme (written form) with the phoneme (sound).
    Tasks like dictation and reading aloud should be done more to reinforce good pronunciation and recognition of the sounds of the language.
    All three of these areas, if taught well, provide the pupils with the cognitive challenge that makes language learning interesting. He also spoke about the importance of all four skills being integrated into a lesson.
    Ian's full report can be found on the Teaching Schools' Council website here:
    Using sections of it within your department is a fantastic way to get discussions going on the hot topics of how to teach grammar, oral skills, vocabulary and much more.

    Sara Davidson


    Bernadette Holmesbernadette

    Bernadette Holmes is campaign manager of Speak to the Future, a coalition of organisations including the British Council, which was launched in 2013 with the aim to reverse the decline in language-learning and to change negative attitudes surrounding multilingualism in the UK. Bernadette delivered a rousing presentation which included recent research full of economic reasons why our students need to have the study of a foreign language behind them in order, quite simply, to secure the best possible job they can when they enter the working world. The message was clear: yes, some languages were more important than others, but it was the openness of spirit, the cultural flexibility and adaptability, the 'soft skills' of the linguist, that many employers, both British and global, desired and found in people who spoke more than one language. Bernadette used effective anecdotes, of top British graduates who are missing out on top jobs in multinationals because their European counterparts have the bilingualism they lack, and of the trilingual trading floor at UBS, to which access for so many British high-flyers will forever be denied. She also talked us through the depressing facts, that Brexit will mean a brain-drain for the UK, for instance, with many sectors in crisis unless our home-grown talent can match the linguistic capacities of their European predecessors.

    Bernadette is a convincing and passionate speaker and, at times, it felt like she was our military commander arming us with fearsome arguments and sending us off to do battle. I have used several of her points already, with pupils and parents alike, in GCSE and A Level-choices conversations. I would urge those of you who do not yet use it to spend some time exploring the wonderful website, which is regularly updated and packed with news of inspiring projects, as well as the crucial, if alarming, facts and figures:

    Davina Suri


    Enza Siciliano Verruccio

    Enza spoke to us in the concluding talk about her experience and practice at Reading University where she is Language Coordinator in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies. She began from the observation that there exists a barrier between students and grammar, illustrated by word clouds derived from asking her students for three words to describe grammar. What is more, she stated, there seems little correlation between metalinguistic knowledge and linguistic competence and at the same time a drastic reduction in hours available to teach their Open Access to Languages (OpAL) course aimed at teaching such skills.

    She and colleagues have been working at creating greater grammatical awareness and understanding among students and to move from a teacher-centred to a student-centred approach. This involves peer-to-peer teaching and actively involving students in the creation of teaching materials on specific grammatical or lexical issues with the aim of making them independent learners who can construct and deconstruct text (without help from teachers) and making them aware of the gap between where they are and what the language should be like. She said it was all about getting students to notice. Another example of their work is the creation by students of videos to explain points of grammar to someone who has never studied a language before, a couple of which she showed us and which can be found on the "OpALmaterials" YouTube channel. Not only did she claim that such an approach was effective but that students became more engaged with the study of grammar and language in general.

    Peter Langdale


    Making the most of Trips for Modern Languages: notes from the Open Forum Session at ISMLA Conference 2017

    It is very pleasing to confirm that trips remain a fundamental part of language learning in our member schools. Added to this, exchanges are still very common and schools are working through the obstacles to continue the provision of these invaluable experiences.
    A pleasing consensus among our schools is that trips are a key aspect of what we do and, therefore, whilst a certain amount of term time for trips can sometimes be made available, generally speaking, we do need to be prepared to sacrifice some of our holidays. Nevertheless, certain understanding has to be shown and allowances made. For example, funding for childcare incurred as a consequence of absence from home should be provided and, but for personal shopping, participating staff should not have to put their hands in their pockets at any stage during the visit. To avoid the awkward situation of regularly asking the trip leader for money, a daily €50 budget provided at breakfast time can work well.

    Competition from other trips across schools is a huge factor and, with this in mind, effective marketing is crucial. As ever, word of mouth remains the key selling point. Nevertheless, support from SLT is helpful too to enable students to realise that our trips are of real value to learners. Given the increased administrative demands, not least when arranging DBS checks of parents for exchanges, help should be provided by schools.
    Here are just 16 of the many ideas linked to running trips from our recent Open Forum session at the ISMLA Conference 2017:


    • Look to combine trips with other departments (History, Geography, Art, Science etc.) and showcase the cross-curricular nature of language learning.
    • Combine language trips with activities in which students are using their language skills for real purposes. This could be anything from a cookery class, learning to paddle board or an environmental project.
    • Focus an extended period of your curriculum on the area visited in the trip to place as much relevance as possible on the trip. Familiarity with the destination will link strongly to active participation and motivation during the trip among students and staff.
    • In an age when SLT and parents are understandably concerned about the threat of terrorism in larger cities, consider going to smaller provincial locations where the local tourist board will be delighted to accommodate your needs, English will be less prominent and the whole experience more authentic.
    • Twitter is an excellent way of keeping a log of the trip and to ensure that the trip retains high profile among all of the other offerings in a busy independent school. We can use it to showcase students using language, to maintain parental support and to build anticipation among students hoping to participate the following year.
    • In an age of instant communication, many of our students will not have experienced the excitement of sending and receiving letters. A return to pen pals is refreshing "digital detox" and can lead to facilitating the opportunities for student/parent-initiated exchanges during the summer vacation. Such traditional communication also allays fears linked to on-line interactions.
    • Give students responsibility before, during and after the trip. This can be researching suitable accommodation and places to eat and planning for a presentation on location in the target language. It can be students taking turn to navigate the group successfully around the town, running budgets for restaurant visits and market trips. After the trip, students can lead the marketing of the trip for the following year.
    • Don't shy away from key cultural experiences. If you're in Madrid, you have to visit the Prado for example! Make them do what they may not end up doing on a typical holiday with their parents. Of course, such cultural visits will be more successful if we focus on a few key areas and bring these to life, following some creative preparatory work from students and staff.
    • Work with SLT to ensure that there is clear distinction in information received by parents and students in relation to trips with clear classroom links (such as our language trips) and those with more tenuous curriculum links, which may otherwise be superficially more attractive to students.
    • Get the staffing balance right. The exact balance will depend on the trip and how many staff can actually attend. However, generally speaking, ensure there is enough language expertise both to deal with situations and more importantly to encourage and facilitate language use and acquisition among students. Bring members of staff who are yet to experience what the students will experience but do appreciate culture differences and will show genuine curiosity and excitement. Make sure there is one member of staff who the students are a little scared of (if your school is anything like mine, these members of staff are increasingly rare so all the more valuable!).
    • Keep a blog during the trip and give students the responsibility to run this, but be sure to vet the content before publication.
    • Have a departmental mascot who appears in photographs from one trip to the next.
    • Run an annual Modern Language Trip photography competition using the entries to promote the trips to other students.
    • Involve SLT in trips; this could include taking the Head with you on a tried and tested trip! How many times do you think he/she gets asked? This is the best way for them to fully appreciate the challenges and value of what we do. If that prospect doesn't fill you with joy, it could be that the Head is involved in other ways. For instance, they can attend some of the social aspects of a visiting exchange party.
    • Review your trip with accompanying staff and with feedback from participating students when it is still fresh in your mind. Once you have decided to repeat the trip, get it in the school diary before the Geography Department get their Iceland Trip in there and the U15 XV confirm the dates of the South Africa Tour.
    • Remember the opportunities available for language trips closer to home. There are outreach opportunities led by many universities, art exhibitions, plays, and events at the language institutions to name just a few. Certain embassies such as the Austrian Embassy can be very welcoming and open to visits. There are also more creative ideas such as setting up a stand at the Arrivals area of a local airport to provide local information to incoming passengers. Why not?

    John Wilson

    Alternative Examinations

    DELE Escolar

    Carmen Higueras and Ana Valbuena offered a very useful insight on how DELE Escolar can be incorporated in Secondary Schools in the UK to offer pupils an extra qualification with international recognition. They also led a very lively Q&A session that gave food for thought to a very interested audience of teachers and educators.

    Diplomas of Spanish as a Foreign Language (known as DELE) are offered by the Instituto Cervantes, which is the official Spanish Language and Culture centre founded by the Government of Spain in 1991. They are official titles certifying degree of competence and mastery of the Spanish languages and are granted by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport of Spain.

    The Instituto Cervantes organizes examination sessions, while the University of Salamanca in Spain designs the exams, and is in charge of corrections and the final evaluation of all exams. The exams follow the Marco común europeo de referencia (MCER) approved by the Consejo de Europa. Apart from six examination levels for adults, since May 2014, the Instituto Cervantes has offered A1 exams for young learners and then introduced A2/B1 exams for young learners since May 2015. These exams are suitable for students of Spanish between 11 and 17 years old and have been adapted to the specific context and situations of candidates in this age group. They consist, as in the adult exams, of four tests: reading comprehension, oral comprehension, written expression and interaction, and oral expression and interaction. They cover 5 skills, as interaction is now included. It is also important to note that they enjoy international recognition and, once obtained, they are valid indefinitely.495px-Calle_de_Cervantes_(Madrid)


    • DELE A1 exam for young learners

    The DELE A1 certificate for young learners certifies the linguistic competence necessary to understand and use common, everyday expressions and simple sentences, to address immediate needs.
    The DELE A1 exam for young learners consists of four parts:
    Reading comprehension test (45 min)
    Listening comprehension test (20 min)
    Writing expression and interaction test (25 min)
    Oral expression and interaction test (10 min + 10 min preparation time)
    Grammar is integrated in the Written and Oral sections, so there is no grammar section per se.
    Exam guide
    For more technical information about the different components of the exam, its structure and format, its system of evaluation, or for samples of graded exams from previous candidates, download the Guide to the DELE A1 exam for young learners (in Spanish) (175 KB) which is available in the website:

    • DELE exam A2/B1 for young learners

    DELE A2/B1 exam for young learners offers candidates the possibility to obtain either the DELE level A2 or B1, depending on their results. In other words, it is possible to qualify for one of two levels of reference by taking a single exam. They will therefore receive one of the following certificates:
    Certificate of Spanish level A2
    This diploma certifies that the candidate can understand commonly used, everyday phrases and expressions related to areas of experience especially relevant to them (basic information about themselves, and their families, shopping, places of interest, work, etc.).
    Certificate of Spanish level B1
    This certifies that the language user can:
    Understand the gist of clear texts, in standard language, if they involve well-known topics related to work, studies or leisure.
    Deal with most situations that occur while travelling in areas where Spanish is spoken.
    Produce simple and coherent texts about familiar topics, or topics of personal interest.
    Describe experiences, events, wishes and hopes, as well as to be able to briefly express opinions or explain plans.
    As with A1, the DELE A2/B1 exam for young learners consists of four parts:
    Reading comprehension test (50 min)
    Listening comprehension test (30 min)
    Writing expression and interaction test (50 min)
    Oral expression and interaction test (12 min + 12 min preparation time)
    As with DELE A1, grammar is integrated in the Written and Oral sections, so there is no grammar section in the exam.

    Exam guide

    This exam guide is particularly useful for teachers of Spanish as a foreign language to help candidates prepare, for developers of teaching materials, and for candidates interested in more detailed information about the exam. It includes:
    A description of the exam structure, as well as the tests and tasks involved
    The system of evaluation used for the exam
    The system of evaluation for the written and oral expression and interaction tests
    Sample written and oral expression and interaction tests from previous candidates, including their evaluations.

    Other considerations:

    Students can sit any of the DELE examinations without completing a specific course beforehand or without completing a DELE examination at a lower level previously.
    It is a great complement to enhance a CV and Higher Education studies. DELE diplomas are in the process of certification to be assigned UCAS Tariff points.
    DELE is offered in more than 180 universities and language centres around the world. In the UK, its presence is relatively new in Secondary Education centres: only Sevenoaks and Uppingham offer it at the moment.
    All the information about exams can be found at There are plenty of specific books on sale to prepare for the exams but these have to be purchased as there is currently no preparation material online.

    Marta Viruete Navarro


    DELF and DALF

    Axelle Oxborrow from the Intitut Français gave a talk about the DELF and DALF qualifications and their place in UK schools. Axelle's interesting and informative presentation was primarily to give more information about the exams, explain their use and how to set up testing in schools and whether they work as a possible alternative to GCSE, IB and A level study or as a qualification which pupils can undertake alongside their other exam preparation.
    Axelle began by giving some useful information about the structure and purpose of the DELF (Diplôme d'Etudes en Langue Française) and DALF (Diplôme Approfondi de Langue Française) examinations. The exams are regulated by the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) and supported by the Centre International d'Études Pédagogiques (CIEP) and so are internationally and professionally recognised. Axelle made the point that in several European countries, they are sometimes used in the place of national examinations but can also co-exist very well. The DELF is for the four elementary and intermediate levels of A1-B2 and the DALF is for the advanced levels of C1 and C2. Consequently, the DELF is more common for secondary school pupils, but the DALF is also a possibility for very advanced A level pupils or international pupils who speak French to a native or near native fluency. There is also DELF prime which is aimed at Primary School pupils. The four skills of Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing are assessed and an average score of 50% is needed to attain the level in question, with no less than 20% scored in any one discipline.

    Axelle explained how the DELF is not purely a linguistic test, but also a way to assess how well one understands Francophone culture and society, despite there not being a formal assessment of culture, such as using set literary texts. The tests are also designed to match the maturity of the learner: an adult, a teenager and a child can all be tested for DELF A2 level, but will face different tasks or topics to suit their age. There are accordingly several different subdivisions of the qualification such as DELF Junior, DELF Scolaire and DELF Pro.
    As there is not a specific and rigid syllabus, Axelle stressed that the onus of the DELF is really not on learning set phrases by heart and jumping through linguistic hoops in order to tick boxes, but rather to examine how well the candidate understands French and can apply the language practically. Compared to some other qualifications, there is a greater emphasis on spontaneity and independent manipulation of the language to suit a practical purpose. The qualifications can provide a real confidence boost for the learner, as they can see their progress in the language being practically measured and see their ability growing.

    There is increasing interest from British Universities and it is quite possible that soon the DELF will be able to earn UCAS points as an extra to A level grades. Axelle also added that the DELF can be used for the skills section of the Duke of Edinburgh Award, which is potentially very helpful for GCSE and A level pupils. The tests can also be used (and are often required) if pupils wish to attend French Universities and a level of B2 or C1 is normally expected.
    There is no expiration date on the DELF, as there are for some other professional linguistic qualifications, and so it truly is a qualification for life. There is a lot of support from the Institut Français and the (currently) small-scale nature of the exam is a real selling point; it is not a faceless, money-making endeavour with thousands of UK candidates, so it can afford to be very human in the way that pupils and teachers are treated.
    The Insitut Français is very eager to help schools to prepare their pupils thoroughly for what is expected at each level and to become testing centres. There are several dates throughout the year when pupils can take the examination and there is a great deal of flexibility to enable schools to work around external exam dates.

    Axelle's talk was detailed yet succinct and very thoroughly explained what the DELF and DALF are, their format and structure, why teachers should seriously consider using them in their schools and what to do next if they are.

    Ruairi Garvey


    FCSE (Foundation Certificate of Secondary Education)

    With the demise of Asset Languages, Nick Mair, who has introduced the qualification at Dulwich College, stressed the flexibility of the FCSE for different cohorts within a school. The FCSE is available for Mandarin Chinese, French, Spanish, German and Italian and is pitched roughly at the A1/A2 CEF level. It may well be ideal for those looking for an alternative qualification to GCSE or as a way to motivate pupils working at a high level at Key Stage 3. Possible reasons were given as:
    GCSE being too difficult for some
    The new GCSE being too difficult
    Avoiding stress for some pupils
    FCSE's use as a diagnostic test
    The use of FCSE Chinese as an alternative to HSK
    The use of FCSE as a stepping stone to other qualifications
    The freedom offered by FCSE
    With his usual flair and inimitable style, Nick showed examples of how tasks could be made more enjoyable and engaging for pupils, including videos of Year 6 pupils commenting on the Tour de France or pretending to be buildings.
    Nick gave delegates a crystal clear idea of the format of the qualification and its administration, whilst at the same time showing how the most mundane of tasks can be transformed with imagination. For more information, go to the AQA website ( or do contact Nick if you would like to ask any questions about its implementation.

    Jenny Davey


    Juliet Park: Certificate in Languages for Business

    We were very fortunate to welcome Juliet Park to speak about a new qualification that she has designed, the Certificate in Languages for Business.

    This certificate was initially conceived after the NVQ Business Languages, which was designed to cater for lower ability students who had difficulties accessing GCSEs. However, Juliet questioned why business languages should be limited to weaker students. High level business executives also need language skills, and it is demonstrably easier to train industry-specific language to linguists than foreign languages to specialist industry workers. Thus, the Certificate in Languages for Business was developed.

    The Certificate in Languages for Business is a level 2 qualification, which is equivalent to a GCSE. It has been accredited by IOLET, and approved by OFQUAL. It is designed to be delivered to students aged 15-25. Juliet advises that it would be ideal to implement in post-GCSE enrichment programmes or alongside A levels, and that prior language understanding at GCSE level will be helpful to students taking the course. It is available in French, German and Spanish, and is a practical and meaningful course. For students with prior language, Juliet advises 1-2 hours tuition per week, but more would be required for those unfamiliar with the language. She is looking into developing a Level 3 course, which will need greater curricular time, but could potentially be accredited to give UCAS points in the future. Sufficient interest will determine if this course is developed further, due to the practical constraint of accreditation.
    Independent schools and universities have started to implement this course, and the authentic dimension has meant that it has been very well received by staff responsible for its delivery.juliet

    Assessment for the Certificate in Languages for Business is made up as follows:
    35% : 6 modules. Tasks completed in an open-book structure to reflect workplace working conditions.
    65% : 2 practical examinations.
    The exam timetable has been carefully considered to deconflict with university and A level exam sessions. Therefore, exams take place after school hours and before university holidays, outside of the A level exam series.
    Students are awarded pass, merit or distinction, and the recipient of the highest award is presented this by Prince Michael of Kent.
    Entry costs £95 per student. Many schools charge parents for entry, as it is delivered as an extra-curricular programme. Centres pay £175 to register in their first year, then £99 each year thereafter. This gives schools access to the website and resources.
    Teachers intending to deliver the Certificate in Languages for Business course require no business background or training.
    The delegates in the session were extremely enthused by Juliet's talk, and many are very interested in taking up the course in their schools. You can contact her at for more details on delivering this qualification and for access to the fully comprehensive teaching resources that are available in French, German and Spanish.

     Luna Deller

    Making the most of our Language Assistants

    How do you encourage learners to see the world from other cultural perspectives? (AFMLTA, 2005)


    In a large Modern Languages department, it might be the case that foreign language assistants (FLAs) make up up to 40% of the staff, albeit in a part-time capacity for minority languages. Thus, they are just as important as classroom teachers and require managing as effectively as possible in order to maximise their impact. As the British Council says, their role is to bring language and culture alive in the classroom and across the school community, motivating students to learn and develop their understanding of the world around them. Of the six purposes listed on the British Council website, only one is to prepare pupils for oral examinations, so they do play an important role in realising a HoD's vision for a vibrant department. At the heart of what they do is offer both an exposure to the target language culture and to the intrinsic value in speaking another language; the skill that our pupils are most likely to employ on leaving school, whether or not they go on to study Modern Languages at university.

    Using my own experience and thanks to the helpful input of HoDs and assistants at University College School, Mill Hill School, Bedford, Abingdon and Ampleforth, this is a short exploration of the establishment of successful assistants in your schools. Assistants might then like to read Nadja Friedrich's excellent account of her own experiences as a German assistant and Heads of Department may wish to read more about the British Council's brilliant scheme in the article from them which follows.

    A new assistant: what does a successful induction look like?

    Assistants arrive with varying degrees of experience; some have teaching qualifications from their own country, others might have a PGCE and even teaching experience in the UK whilst others may be undergraduates, fresh off the plane and brimming with ideas that they have yet to put into practice. All bring different qualities to your department, but will all need some kind of induction. Those arriving from abroad may need help before September with finding accommodation, opening a bank account etc. and some HoDs take the time in August to offer assistance and a warm welcome themselves. Assistants can feel, or be made to feel, different or separate from teaching staff, but those who feel most involved from the beginning settle in quickly and can be the most proactive and impactful later on. If there is time at the start of the school year, it could be worth organising observations and team-teaching sessions before conversation classes start proper. If your budget stretches to it, it is worth sending assistants on INSET about examination specifications so that they can get to grips with the demands of the oral component in particular, but perhaps also other components of exams such as IGCSE and A Level, for which they might be preparing native speakers. Similarly, sending assistants on useful courses can give them new teaching ideas but also minimises cover requirements and mean that all of the department will benefit from their feedback on the course on their return.

    What to offer?

    The consensus from all of the schools who took part in this survey was that all examination candidates should have a weekly conversation lesson. Year 11 pupils typically have a lesson of a ratio of 1:5 maximum and Year 12 and 13 pupils have a weekly lesson of a ratio of 1:2 or 1:1; some HoDs insist on 1:1 for all Year 13 students, for example. Some schools start Year 10 conversation lessons in the Summer Term, when study leave starts for Year 11, which is a great way to encourage good habits early on and to increase enthusiasm for the prospect of studying a language in the VI Form. FLAs also offer remedial classes, with some weaker A Level students taking up two slots a week from the very beginning of Year 12. Apart from that, there seems to be healthy use of language assistants at Key Stage 3, whether in the classroom, as sporadic guest speakers or pronunciation coaches, or as a conversation teacher for top sets, for example.

    This kind of breadth of provision may be standard across many successful departments, but there are schools who are not so fortunate. It may be worth pointing out to an SLT who are reluctant to invest in FLAs that they undoubtedly impact on students' achievement in public examinations, by up to two grades in an Oral examination if one takes into account that an A Level candidate will have had three years of these classes. Equally, they can boost numbers studying a language, through the teaching of the target culture in inspiring and dynamic lessons and, these days, prospective parents in the independent sector will expect to hear that conversation lessons are taking place across all the languages on offer.

    Where you are lacking an assistant, classroom teachers can step in. One Head of Department conducted Italian conversation lessons for a year, so that the Italian students had the same provision as the other linguists. To prepare Year 11 students, you could run a lunchtime club or at least record oral questions yourself to send as a sound file to students so that they can practise at home. One Spanish department used keen A Level students to host conversation sessions with Year 11 students, in advance of their controlled assessment.

    What else can they do?

    FLAs are primarily employed to offer students direct contact with the target culture and spoken language. However, the best FLAs also contribute to the life of the department in other ways and it is worth establishing what they enjoy and where their strengths lie in order to make the most of them. Some ideas are: sourcing authentic texts; making resources; marking listening and reading exams; planning trips abroad: preparing pupils for debating and theatre competitions; making displays; providing cultural clubs; updating the library's resources; conducting speaking exams at Key Stage 3; conducting pronunciation / phonics workshops.

    Collaboration and cooperation or autonomy?

    Clearly, the best scenarios involve a bit of all three.

    The assistants who were surveyed seemed happiest where there was regular input from and meetings with either a HoD or a mentor. It is useful to touch base whether in person or via email about Schemes of Work, pupils' progress and attendance, lesson content, upcoming exams etc. Some assistants enjoy preparing classes together with colleagues whilst others enjoy using their creativity independently. Where strong FLAs are thriving, it makes sense to give them some responsibility, in accordance with their time allowance, to give them confidence and build up their skill base. Some assistants, after years of experience, will be quite self-sufficient whilst new recruits will need more regular, if informal, contact. Observations of small classes might seem intrusive, but can lead to good discussion and professional development. Some assistants also said that they love to hear feedback from their pupils, so a termly questionnaire or annual student voice gives them an idea of what activities work well and which to ditch!


    Assistants naturally mentioned the 'reluctant' speaker as their biggest challenge and had lots of ways to put students at ease, such as starting with informal chats about the students' hobbies or weekend activities, during which they didn't correct any of their mistakes, or providing support sheets with key vocabulary. Smiling and correcting mistakes very gently are important to remember – speaking in a foreign language can be intimidating – and remembering not to jump in to fill those awkward gaps is just as key; the student should be the one doing most of the talking, whatever his or her level!

    HoDs raised rooming as a recurring problem. Some schools have dedicated rooms (ask our Chair about the state-of-the-art conversation rooms in Oundle's new Languages block, deliberately placed at the centre of the building, in the heart of the department) whilst others are less well-equipped. It does pay to be creative and to scout out part-timers' offices that remain empty on certain days or to arm your assistants' with a 'travelling classroom' including a laptop, mini whiteboards and markers etc. Where assistants wish to show video clips, perhaps they could email links in advance, so that lessons can take place on sofas and in studies where no ICT is available. Whatever the problem, gaining the support of your SLT is invaluable.

    Finally, if you want further ideas, do use the British Council's website: Similarly, although this article is based on the collective experience of teachers and assistants in the independent sector in the UK, I found this Australian guide online and thought it contained plenty of common sense:                                                                                                                                                         

    I will leave the last word to them: 'The Assistant, being free of the teacher's administrative and pedagogical duties is able to simply focus on engaging students with the target language and culture. His/her role consists mainly of bringing the language to life through authentic usage and inviting students to contrast and compare one culture with the other'. All the more reason to make the most of our FLAs, then.

    Davina Suri


    Boost language attainment with a Modern Language Assistant

    Modern Language Assistants (MLAs) bring authentic language and culture to the classroom. The support of an Assistant is even more valuable as teachers prepare students for the more challenging requirements of GCSEs, Ebacc and A'Levels in England. "Research has shown that an opportunity to learn with an ambassador from another country can help raise attainment, both in motivating under-achieving pupils and challenging the most talented to achieve more" stated ASCL President Sian Carr in a recent call to Head Teachers encouraging more to promote internationalism in schools.
    You may have been a Language Assistant yourself as a student or young graduate, and can testify to the invaluable experience it offers to aspiring teachers. For every Modern Language Assistant post in the UK, a position is created for outgoing English Language Assistants around the world. These talented and adventurous individuals become the next generation of globally minded professionals, many going on to a teaching career.
    In a recent survey of more than 300 host schools, more than 75% of Modern Language Heads confirmed that a Language Assistant has a positive impact on pupils' cultural awareness, motivation, confidence and fluency, as well as higher attainment in examinations. The Language Assistant brings fresh, contemporary knowledge of their home country that appeals and engages young people. In many cases, teachers report that it also helps their own staff to remain culturally up to date and linguistically fluent.
    Modern Language Assistants (MLAs) are native speakers of French, Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese and Irish, coming from 14 partner countries across the world. An MLA works 12-18 hours per week and is paid the same rate as an unqualified assistant, meaning around £8,000 per year, with additional London-area weightings.
    The British Council Language Assistants programme draws on 100 years of experience with overseas education authorities to provide trusted, high quality assistants. By joining the British Council programme, schools benefit from support with the application process, preparing for the assistant's arrival, visa sponsorship for non EEA citizens, induction and training sessions, and exemption from paying council tax for MLAs.
    Applications are open for academic year 2017-18. For more information visit


    Experiences of a German Language Assistant


    I have been working as a German Language Assistant at Oundle School since September 2016. I mainly teach Lower and Upper Sixth-Form students in one-on-one or two-on-one lessons. During these sessions, we focus on speaking whereby we try to discuss various topics taken from the regular curriculum. In addition to that, I have, on a weekly basis, 10-minute sessions with younger students during which they can practise newly acquired grammatical structures, revise vocabulary and / or improve pronunciation.

    germanflagWhen I first arrived at the boarding school, everything was new to me and I sometimes felt lost. Even though you might feel stupid asking questions all the time, keep on doing so: it helps you to understand the school system and you get to know your colleagues. Luckily, the teachers in the department are used to assistants and willing to answer any question. Another language assistant, who had already been in Oundle for a year, gave the simple but great advice to mingle with people. This really helped me to become a member of the team. Moreover, I observed lessons to understand how students learn languages in this school and, on a much broader scale, in the UK. For example, I learnt how the German teachers indicate separable verbs and used this to make my own instructions clearer for the students. In my opinion, whilst teachers and assistants have to work closely together and follow a similar style, it is also important that they, in their own personal way, expose pupils to different comprehensible input. Additionally, it was essential to familiarise myself with the scheme of work and the course books for the different year groups, as well as with the format of the exam board when necessary. The more you know about what students are expected to do in their exams, the better you can support them in their learning process.

    The foundation of an effective conversation lesson is a positive and learner-friendly atmosphere. How can you achieve this? Be interested in your students' lives: I always start my lessons by asking them how they are, what they did over the weekend so on and so forth: personal yet engaging questions. Students will automatically open up to you and use the target language when they talk about their own experiences. Most importantly, do not correct students when they talk about personal things and make a clear cut when you start the real lesson. As an assistant, it is crucial to build up a good student-teacher relationship wherein students are not afraid to ask questions nor to make mistakes. Try to be funny and encourage your students to use the language creatively. Share your own experiences of learning a language and living abroad to a certain extent. You can, for example, tell stories about your own struggles in acquiring a language and how you managed to overcome them. Furthermore, do not correct every mistake but try to focus on repeatedly made mistakes, e.g. the position of a verb in subordinated clauses. Indeed, it helps to incorporate constructive feedback on the learner's progress and provide learning strategies.

    Thorough lesson plans with different speaking tasks help to structure your sessions. For instance, I try to find topic-related pictures, videos or articles which will enable the students to use previously learnt vocabulary all in accordance with the themes discussed in class. Ideally, the material should be controversial, so it can be used as a starting point for discussions. Tasks should vary from classic brainstorming to role plays and games. In my experience (teaching German), the following websites and books are useful resources for material and teaching methods:


    Finally, assistants should be self-critical and observe their own speaking time. It is your role as a native speaker to engage pupils in a real conversation; nonetheless, your speaking time should be reduced to a minimum. If a lesson did not work well, you should reflect on the reasons why it did not. I like trying new methods but they sometimes turn out to be less effective or even confusing; I then think about how to improve or adapt a task. Besides, it is great to get feedback from the pupils about the chosen material and whether it is boring or too challenging. In fact, collating anonymous written feedback about conversation lessons, perhaps at the end of the Autumn Term, can help you to improve and it also helps to learn more about the students.

    In summary, the main goal of a conversation lesson should be to make students confident in their language skills and help them to enjoy speaking the target language. Language assistants try to take their students on a journey with some stopovers for grammatical or cultural explorations. Students should come out of your lesson feeling as if they just had a lively conversation in a buzzy café somewhere far from their current geographical location…okay, the British weather and school furniture might not help much with this, so the hard work is up to you!

    Nadja Friedrich, Oundle School


    Are you in need of a German assistant?

    Georg-August-Universität, Göttingen (Germany), is eager to find German Assistant placements in the UK for its students and has already established a successful link with an ISMLA member school. Joe Pfändner, the Foreign Exchange Co-ordinator in the English Department at Göttingen University, would be delighted to make contact with other ISMLA schools and can be contacted at

    ISMLA schools all recognise the value that native speaker language assistants can bring to UK modern language classrooms. Roderick Duke, Head of Languages at Kingswood School, has been delighted with how French, German and Spanish Assistants have become involved in the wider life of the school, bringing their enthusiasm, knowledge and passion for their mother tongues across the School, well beyond the classroom. Assistants at Kingswood, as in many other ISMLA Schools, have been involved in producing excellent resources and displays, have taken on boarding duties, accompanied trips at home and abroad - and not only for the languages faculty - led enrichment seminars, supported near native and native learners and have been involved in sports activities, Music and Drama.

    This year Kingswood's excellent German Assistant hailed from Georg-August-Universität and Kingswood seeks to continue recruiting future assistants from the same university. This is chiefly because the Foreign Exchange Co-ordinator, Joe Pfändner, has a really good understanding of what types of characters will become successful German Assistants in UK independent schools, having visited a number of such schools recently. Joe would be delighted to hear from more ISMLA schools, so do get in touch if you can offer a place to one of his aspiring assistants. Equally, if you would like further information from me about this connection or the recruitment of assistants, please do get in touch (

    Roderick Duke, Kingswood School


    To what extent will the statutory introduction of Key Stage 2 language learning fall short of achieving the Government’s aims for it?



    Under reforms to the National Curriculum in England, from September 2014 offering a modern or ancient foreign language at Key Stage 2 became a statutory requirement. Its projected earlier implementation was halted in 2010 due to a change in Government which sought an educational review. This consequently caused compulsory Key Stage 2 language learning to reach realisation twelve years after its initial recommendation in the National Languages Strategy (2002) by the Languages National Steering Group, a working party established by a Labour government-run Department for Education and Skills. However, this curriculum reform initiative put through in 2014 by the Conservative government was not formed from this strategy twelve years in the making. In fact, this reform act was born from the newly-appointed Government's own research and findings carried out since their entry into power.

    I am currently completing an MA at King's College London in Education Management and completed a paper on this subject. The aim of my paper was to delve deeply into this curriculum reform initiative and, critically considering the latest thinking in Education Management, argue that due to the way in which this policy has been implemented, compulsory Key Stage 2 language learning will fall far short from fulfilling the Government's aims for it. It will lead to establish the key obstacles affecting the success of this policy and argue that the insufficient time given to primary schools to prepare has ultimately resulted in the absence of key features and structures required. This is the conclusion of my research:

    The introduction to this paper identified its intention to argue that the statutory inclusion of a modern and ancient language into the Key Stage 2 curriculum would be unsuccessful due to the way in which this policy has been implemented. Section 1 reviewed the twelve-year period in the lead up to its realisation which found numerous procedural failures across two governments. Whilst the Labour government's circuitous requests for research halted the commencement of a much needed extensive planning period, the Conservative government pushed through the proposal on the back of its own commissioned research which lacked detail and offered no strategy. Of critical importance was that only 31-months were given to primary schools nationwide to prepare. The upshot of this meant that at its implementation, while 99 per cent of primary schools had introduced it into their curriculums, 60 per cent of them were unable to fully carry out the policy. This figure, although incredibly high, cannot be a standalone statistic as it could have meant that they were simply not ready at that point but would be soon. The significant statistic to come from this therefore and one continually referred to throughout the paper, was that 31 per cent of primary schools do not have staff with more than a GCSE in a language.

    Section 2 commenced by looking at the aims of the policy due to the importance attributed to them in achieving pedagogical quality (Alexander, 1997; Winch, 1996). It found that the aims are too general which renders it challenging for the high number of unqualified teachers to create a curriculum and also difficult to measure the success of the policy. This paper scrutinised the subject content aims as a third were marked as inapplicable for the learning of ancient languages. As a result, concerns were raised over whether those taking an ancient language would be at a disadvantage, therefore querying the general inclusion of ancient languages and whether it is there due to enlarging the pool of teachers able to implement the policy.

    This section then questioned whether, in order for a reform act to be successful, it must be accepted by those who are tasked to implement it. It argued that it is helpful if a policy is embraced which occurs as a result of the amount of research and evidence it has supporting it. The difficulty for the Key Stage 2 Languages reform however is that whilst the perceived benefits of language learning are widely accepted, in up to 31 per cent of primary schools it would be likely that this would not make a difference as, due to an absence of skills, a lack of cooperation may develop. Although many academics consider that people do not need to be intrinsically motivated in a cause in order to be complicit (Greenfield, 1989; Bottery, 2002, Nicolaidou and Ainscow, 2005), it was argued that quality cannot be created if it is being produced by people insufficiently qualified. From this, it reasoned that once sufficiently qualified language teachers were in place, the successfulness of this policy would be reliant on a school's school mix effect. In order to maximise its chances of being effective under these conditions however, the policy would need to be strengthened.  

    This section concluded by analysing the importance of financial and professional support as highlighted by the Primary Needs Programme and the West Dunbartonshire Literacy Initiative. The Language Trends (2014) survey was invaluable here as it had established that primary schools had lost support from both local authorities and secondary schools.

    The final section looked at varying credible qualitative and quantitative approaches to determine the success of the policy. As well as continuing with the Language Trends survey, analysing GCSE results and university application figures, and feedback through inspection were discussed. It concluded that what is crucial for the ongoing success of this policy is that a definitive strategy is chosen.

    Ultimately, the rushed introduction of this reform act into the Key Stage 2 curriculum meant that it was inevitable that a considerable number of schools were not going to have the necessary procedures in place at its implementation. Immediate changes will need to be made if this policy is going to succeed, commencing with the most pressing concern of drastically reducing the number of insufficiently qualified language teachers. As Cohen (1995) asserts, "teachers' knowledge of academic subjects, teaching, and learning; their professional values and commitments […] are crucial to the progress of systematic reform" (p. 15).

    Ari Alejandro, St. Augustine's Priory




    Drone technology in the Modern Language classroom

    We ran a week of language themed events in November – some straightforward and some slightly less so. In the spirit of a quick something that might help to get languages some PR in a cruelly STEM world, read on!

    Why not…
    Mark out a foreign word on a games pitch, get a year group to stand on it, and take a drone photo from up on high?
    We chose the Chinese character 'peng you' (= friend) – and used drone competent pupils to film the event. We have the 'Dulwich Linguistic' page with further details ( at ) and email me if you would like our risk assessment for operating drones (for which we take no responsibility whatsoever!!). 

    Nick Mair (


    GCHQ brings espionage and excitement to languages students: an Oundle teacher and pupil give their verdict.

    On Tuesday 17 January, espionage came to Oundle School, as the Business Language Champions were proud to co-host 'The Word is not Enough' with friends from GCHQ. Tasked with cracking a drug smuggling ring in only three hours, the participating pupils faced encryption and decryption, coded audio messages, received an introduction to a new foreign language and endured the kidnapping of their teachers (some were more bothered by this than others). Perhaps even more stressful was a four minute presentation of their findings in front of a panel of judges. The day gave a wonderful insight into the work of GCHQ, fostered team work and was yet more proof, for those who needed it, that the world of languages is a dynamic and exciting one, opening up careers in many fields beyond the traditionally cited ones of teaching and translation. The winning school was Birkdale School, Sheffield, with the runners-up coming from Oundle. 

    This was my heartfelt feedback that I gave, as event coordinator, after the event: 'It was a pleasure to see pupils interacting with so many languages and codes all at once. Each and every participant embraced the activities positively and passionately. As a language teacher, I feel strongly about broadening pupils' experiences beyond the realms of the classroom and this was a perfect opportunity, too good to miss.' Emily Wagstaffe, Oundle School.

    In a secret location (The Great Hall) sixty 14 and 15 year olds got a taste for being James and Jane Bonds. GCHQ and Business Language Champions ran the action-packed linguistic day., which was aptly titled 'The Word is Not Enough'.
    After an icebreaker of idioms in French, Spanish and German, we were taught about the Government intelligence agency, GCHQ. We embarked on language taster sessions, taught by the experts themselves, in either Mandarin, Korean or Arabic and were taught about a huge number of cipher varieties.

    Then, as temporary agents, we were given our briefing: Khalif, a drug dealer from Colombia was working in Operation Krypton, to bring drugs to England. It was our duty, as the newest recruits, to stop this.
    So, using our experience in French, German and Spanish we worked in teams of six to save the day. Whilst we were busy decoding ciphers and translating them from the team's language, our teachers went missing! Despite our hesitation, we were told that we should indeed get them back, and so part of the teams worked hard on figuring out where they'd got to.
    The remainder of the team continued turning a combination of gibberish into sense, and then we rushed off to the GCHQ building (the other end of the Great Hall), to receive the next task. Our new language skills were put to the test, as Operation Krypton had used Mandarin, Korean and Arabic. Our team language was also tested when we had to listen to a phone call in our respetive team languages. Then, we got to dress up as Khalif, and travel to Starbucks (also in the Great Hall) in order to intercept the next clue. As a highly competitive team, we shovelled in our lunch whilst working, although some other teams enjoyed a more leisurely meal. In the second cipher, we even got to write a creative reply in the code.
    Next, we had to figure out where Khalif would receive the final cocaine grams and follow him there on our pre-prepared maps. We filled in our paperwork with everything we knew and handed it in. We knew we had to present our findings and map to the GCHQ team in our language, but, whilst we were waiting, we had one last challenge. We had to make board games, related to GCHQ, in our language, and the only way to get the supplies was to order in our language!
    After all our presentations, we had the final presentation from Business Language Champions and GCHQ, where an individual from each team was awarded a special prize, as well as the judging of the board games, and the actual results of the competition. The Oundle French team were runners up, and the whole day was a manic marvel of languages and spy skills. All in all, it was an amazing and different experience.

    Alice Broadbent, Oundle School


    Understanding Core French Grammar by Andrew J Betts


    Published by Vernon Press 2016

    £25 hardback or £16 paperback from Amazon

    After 27 years teaching French at Lancing College and a career in translation and lecturing in linguistics before that, Dr Betts has organised his French grammar notes and compiled them to produce this very neat book. This is a grammar guide which would suit able GCSE students as well as 6th Formers; and teachers too would find it useful to have to hand when struggling to find a way of explaining a grammar point in a clear and understandable manner-either when preparing lessons, or during a lesson itself, when a pupil puts you on the spot.

    Its tidy structure consists of five chapters: tenses, verb constructions, pronouns, adjectives/adverbs/articles and a useful final section on how the rules of grammar can be altered in spoken French. What Dr Betts does so well in his presentation of the material is that he finds the right balance of rigour with succinct explanations which are not condescending, and he uses charts and tables which are more original and easier to remember than the ones that we repeatedly see in textbooks and other grammar books. Dr Betts understands the needs of the modern-day school pupil: there is nothing on the imperfect subjunctive for instance, but the section on the subjunctive itself is a perfect model on how to expose your pupils to it for the first time.   

    There are not too many daunting lists which can put pupils off grammar; any essential ones  (eg verbs followed by 'à' or 'de') are tucked away at the back in an appendix. Also hidden at the back are over 30 pages of very useful prose sentences with answers, categorised according to the grammar point that they are testing- excellent preparation for the Oxford MLAT.

    When reading this book, you feel that you are reviewing French grammar with a fresh perspective. Of course the material is extremely familiar, but the book gives you the impetus and drive to want to go over some grammar with your pupils, if only just in case you did not explain it as well as Dr Betts.

    Melvyn Bardou, Mill Hill School

    Za Za, el emperador de Ibiza by Ray Loriga

    zazaPunto de lectura

    RRP 8,95€

    Amazon £22.16 Hardback, £7.99 kindle edition

    In a couple of hours stolen away from Fourth Form pupils in Seville, I dragged my French and Russian teaching colleague to a bookshop, La Casa Del Libro. With no idea what I wanted to read but a very clear idea of the books I like (which I finish, to the exclusion of all else) and the books I don't (abandoned with no further thought), the bookseller gave me a whole list of recommendations, among them Za Za, el emperador de Ibiza. On first glance, short enough for a half term read (or indeed for a Sixth Form read) but long enough so as not to be over before it has begun.

    Ibiza, a haven for hedonists, and home to Za Za, a Madrid drug dealer living out his retirement in relative peace. In the rains of Jun-ly (June and July have been merged for tax purposes), the arrival of the largest yacht ever built, Za Za, casts a shadow over the island. This yacht is the distribution centre for Za Za, the recreational drug guaranteeing delirium and happiness set to take over the world, recently produced in South Africa. Loriga cleverly interweaves Za Za the man, Za Za the boat and Za Za the drug; his narrative is surreal and personal, ironic and funny.

    Pero Za Za, nuestro individuo principal, había perdido la fe mucho antes. Loriga critiques society, in particular how we find felicidad, corruption and the drugs trade, with a rather crude description of sexually liberal attitudes in Ibiza thrown in for good measure. Although the ending is disappointing, the story itself is gripping, the language used unpretentious without being pedestrian and Loriga offers a unique and alternative slant on Spanish and Balearic society, particularly useful for those who are not native to the culture. The use of the topic of drugs trafficking (as popularised by programmes like Narcos, cleverly linked to the letter Z, already implies reference to this business. Published in 2014 following an eight year hiatus, Loriga has created Za Za in his own image, providing a modern read from a prominent contemporary Spanish author (also something of a literary rockstar).

    Rebecca Blacknell, Oundle School

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