Cookie Consent by Privacy Policies

Notes from the Chair

One of the things I find myself thinking about a large amount of the time is how to motivate my pupils (and, on occasion, the staff in my department too!). Motivation is key to the success of our departments and is something that is, in my opinion, of particular importance in our subject. I have read widely on the subject, we have discussed it at length in our teaching and learning sub-committee in the department and I can really recommend looking at Zoltan Dörnyei's work, if this topic is something you are interested in exploring. He is Professor of Psycholinguistics at Nottingham University and has an excellent website of his own: www.zoltandö . You will find a wealth of information here to explore the topic, including questionnaires to use with learners and much of his published material. I particularly enjoyed his 2001 book Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom. I recommend it highly. Gianfranco Conti, whose blogs I really enjoy, has also written extensively on the topic on his website I am so disappointed that I am unable to attend the workshop at Kingswood School Bath at the end of June, organized by HoD Roderick Duke. He has invited Gianfranco to lead and share the results of his research at this event and it promises to be an enlightening day.

There are many issues surrounding motivation in learning modern languages. Firstly, there is the perception of modern languages being difficult and, in recent years, this being confirmed by the grades achieved at GCSE and A-level, when compared with other subjects. The fact that modern languages are a skill and therefore require regular practice (like a musical instrument), mean that the study of languages is a long (and at times tedious?) learning process. Pupils can also find the material, or indeed the skill, not relevant to their lives. Then there are more interesting topics being taught in other subjects; talking about family, hobbies and holidays at GCSE in ML is not as exciting as some of the topics in history or science. Lack of confidence, coupled with self-consciousness (eg. in speaking, making sounds), and feeling like they have reached a plateau and are not making progress add to the demotivation. I am sure you will be able to think of other issues too.

So, what are the answers? Dörnyei came up with four 'dimensions', or rather components of motivational teaching practice in the modern languages classroom. These consist of:

i) Creating the basic motivational conditions

ii) Generating initial motivation

iii) Maintaining and protecting motivation

iv) Encouraging positive retrospective self-evaluation

He broke these macrostrategies down further into more than 100 specific motivational techniques, which you can read more about in his very accessible research. For example a microstrategy for 'creating the basic motivational conditions' might be something as simple as ensuring your lesson has a positive, supportive start, treating pupils as individuals that the teacher knows well, then reinforcing the fact that the class is a happy group and you are pleased to be there and work with them. Keeping this environment going throughout the lesson is important to dispel any anxiousness. A microstrategy for 'generating initial motivation might be to 'tantalise' your students with the prospect of what is to come in the lesson via your introduction. Make the content and the context sound exciting as well as beneficial to their progress. This might involve goal-setting. He lists so many microstrategies that everyone is able to pick a few out from the list that they have not tried before.

I challenge you to look Zoltan Dörnyei up, if you do not already know him, and complete his questionnaire for teachers on 'motivational strategies in the modern languages classroom' so that you can discover some strategies you have not yet tried ready for next academic year!

Since the conference, the logo and websites have gone live. I have noted more discussion on the Facebook page, which is great, and Nick Mair and I (amongst others) attended a hugely productive meeting with Ofqual in May in which they presented their finding on the topics of inter-comparabilty with other subjects and the native speaker effect. The research they have carried out for the modern languages cause at A Level is extremely impressive and very encouraging indeed. We will disseminate more details as and when we are able to.

I hope that things will start to ease off for you all, now that oral exams and internal exams are over, and that your first year of the new specifications have gone well. I wish you an invigorating summer holiday.

Sara Davidson

Notes from the Editor

It has been an exciting, if exhausting, year for me, as in September I took on the new role as Head of Modern Languages at Queen's College London. Two sources of professional development have been a particular support to me over the course of the year and I envisage myself returning to them next year and in the future.


Firstly, HMC and GSA offer ISQAM (The Independent Schools' Qualification in Academic Management), which operates on three levels and which is delivered in partnership with the UCL Institute of Education. To meet the requirements of the qualification, the participant must attend two training days that cover aspects of the role of head of department, such as effective lesson observation and feedback, the use of coaching to improve teacher performance and the use of data in improving pupil performance. I really enjoyed the training days for several reasons. Having never pursued an academic qualification in Education, I was interested to look at the theory behind some of the good practice that I often take for granted, without questioning why we do it. The course leaders give good suggestions for further reading, for those who have the time to pursue something that has piqued their interest. I learnt a lot, particularly during the session for the module on employment law, which was a sprint through the 'need-to-know' facts, delivered entertainingly and at top speed. But most of all, much as I would like to think of myself as a reflective practitioner, the days gave us the necessary time and distance from school to take stock: it is much easier to make a change or implement a new strategy after some distance has been established, and our termly marathons don't always allow for that. ISQAM requires a lot of on-the-job reflection and promotes a coaching approach to managing the department and I have enjoyed embedding both of these pieces of good practice into my working habits. You can find out more at

The ALL Head of Languages handbook

ALL_HeadOfLanguagesHandbook_CoverSecondly, I recently purchased this excellent new publication from ALL and, at less than £15, it was well worth the investment. It is succinct yet comprehensive and speaks directly to language teachers in management positions. The advice is divided into seven chapters: Reviewing the department; Working together as a team; Documenting your work; Making good use of data; Growing as a team; Raising the MFL profile; Solving problems. The list of references makes suggestions for further reading and there is a useful list of appendices with templates of useful resources ranging from a Contents page for the departmental handbook and suggestions of what an excellent exercise book might demonstrate in a work scrutiny. One to recommend for all aspiring HoDs or those already in post.

Language Trends Survey

On a different note, I attended the presentation of this year's Language Trends Survey at the British Council on Monday 11 June and, as usual, Teresa Tinsley and Kathryn Board have worked tirelessly to bring us their findings, published on Friday 16 June and accessible at the British Council's website. The news remains dismal, with only 49% of pupils nationally taking a GCSE in a foreign language and far fewer than that in some areas of the country, often in line with the highest number of voters opting for Brexit last June. I would recommend that you read the findings, but include here a few headlines that might give independent schools some direction as they choose how best to support their local counterparts in the state sector, something that our government's consultation on 'Schools that work for everyone' may well be pushing the independent sector to do even more in the future:

  • If we are feeling overwhelmed by the simultaneous introduction of new specifications at both Key Stage 4 and 5, our counterparts in state schools are inevitably feeling the pressure even more. Do forge links with your local or partnership state schools, in order to share resources or knowledge gleaned from INSET attended. Funding is being squeezed in the state sector at precisely the moment when they need it most.
  • The provision for ML teaching in primary schools is extremely variable, with just under a third of respondents suffering from no access to an ML specialist. Only one in eight primary schools assess language acquisition in a structured way and there is a real disparity between what schools would like to offer and what they can offer. Almost a quarter do not take part in CPD. Would your school be willing to send a subject specialist to a local state primary? Can you forge links with your feeder schools? It is likely that any help that you can offer would be gratefully received. 
  • About 73% of independent schools have a language assistant whilst only 33% of state schools have access to an FLA. Would you be able to share this valuable resource with a local state school?
  • Where there is good practice in your local feeder primary schools, whether state or independent, it is worth investigating what languages they are studying, in order to be able at least to consider the possibility of some continuity and a smoother transition than exists at the moment. For instance, many primary schools are opting to teach Mandarin, funded by the Chinese government, so this may be a language that you could sensibly offer at Key Stage 3 in order to build on what has already been learnt.

We already know that many issues affect our sector at all levels. Whilst the recent policy changes have already created further challenges and continue to do so, we can be positive in the long-term about what these changes have the capacity to achieve. Despite the worry that the move away from AS Level will reduce the number of students studying languages post-16, 38% of state schools believe that uptake will, from now on, increase year on year. At ISMLA, we also remain hopeful and will continue to use and disseminate up-to-date research, such as the Language Trends Survey, to see where we can make an impact and where there is further work to be done.

Davina Suri

Update on grading issues in examinations in Modern Languages

A level: I am sure you were (cautiously) optimistic on reading the statement from OFQUAL found at
and by this in particular:
Ofqual has today (21 April 2017) announced that it will take action this summer to ensure standards are set appropriately in A level French, German and Spanish.
The decision stems from new research, published by the regulator today, which suggests that awarding should take into account the fact that native language speakers take these subjects. The adjustment to grade standards will be decided in early summer. If the ability of the cohorts is similar to previous years we would anticipate small increases in the proportion of students getting top grades in each subject this August.
The regulator said that further changes to grade standards in these, and other subjects, may be considered if there is a 'compelling case' consistent with its policy decision on inter-subject comparability, also announced today.
It is very much to be hoped that this summer we will see pupils with similar abilities in their three A level subjects achieving three similar A level grades.

I draw your attention, however, to the lack of movement on any change to grading at GCSE – and this in the light of a well-informed OFQUAL conference on GCSE inter-subject comparability last year. Given all the suggestions of movement at GCSE, we had hoped for a change and a consequential improvement. This should concern us as we are all aware of the need for an examination that is a realistic and motivating stepping stone if pupils are to go on to A level and beyond. It is very much to be hoped that OFQUAL will now address this issue. Many independent schools have chosen the IGCSE in languages and indeed other subjects. Schools are clear about the reasons for this choice and the considerable benefits it offers as a preparation for A level. Some would even say that the new GCSE is not that dissimilar to the IGCSE! By the time you read this, the excellent annual Language Trends Survey will have appeared via the British Council – I urge you to read at the very least the executive summary. This year for independent schools and state schools alike it is a case of 'moins ça change, plus ça chute'.

Nick Mair


The State of Italian 2017

Lots of activity

iic-london-logo-1-e1459962285482-480x269Eager followers of matters Italian will recall that in June of last year ISMLA in conjunction with the Society for Italian Studies organised an Italian day at the Italian Cultural Institute in London – a write-up is to found in the Autumn 2016 Newsletter. This was the first such venture for some years and created quite a buzz and led inter alia to a lively exchange of emails following last year's results, a Dropbox for sharing materials and a great deal of contacts generally between teachers, including via Facebook. Since then the 'Choose Italian' campaign organised an INSET day at Manchester University in January focussing on the new A Levels and the Italian Department at Cambridge University organised an Italian Teachers' CPD day at Selwyn College on 6th May this year which brought together some 40 teachers, principally from the maintained sector. This may be repeated next year and further events are under discussion.

However, while a great deal is going on, Italian continues to come under the cosh in many schools. Nearly 18 months ago I started to put together a list of schools teaching Italian in the UK, concluding that there were approximately 200 senior schools teaching Italian at one level or another. Since then, I have been tracking the situation and my researches suggest that since I started working on the list, at least 12 of those schools have stopped or are winding down the teaching of Italian, either because of lack of funding or to make way for other languages, principally Mandarin.

Language assistants and teachers from Italy
Another alarming fact that has come to my attention is the withdrawal of funding for Italian language assistants in some state schools. On the other hand, there is a ready supply – for more information contact Martina Volker at the British Council ( Some schools have taken advantage of the availability of trained teachers from Italy (funded by the Italian government). If interested, contact Mara Luongo the Director of the education department of the Italian Consulate in London on .

Facebook Group
Following the meeting last June, a Facebook group called Teaching Italian was set up as a place to share tips, ideas and advice, as well as employment opportunities. It currently has 60 members but we are keen to see it grow.

One further development is the creation of a website for Italian teachers which I have begun to design for the sharing of ides and resources, particularly with the new A levels and their demands in mind, but in due course to provide a central point for such matters. Anyone interested could go and have a look at the (early) draft at and I would be very interested in hearing from anyone willing to join a small team to manage the site.

Help available
Many Italian departments in this country have their origins in the enthusiasm and drive of individual teachers who with the support of the heads of department and senior management have built up and maintained healthy numbers. If there is the will in your department to introduce or develop Italian (or to find arguments to maintain it), ISMLA would be very happy to put you in touch with an appropriate colleague who can advise on anything from strategies to resources.

Italian at university?
Are any of your students considering ab initio Italian at University? With the vast majority of students at that level studying the language from scratch, they need not feel alone. Let them watch the 'Choose Italian' campaign video (available on YouTube and elsewhere) and I am floating the idea with the universities of a central point where applicants could be put in touch with current students to get a clearer picture of what is involved, beyond the open day experience.

Peter Langdale (North London Collegiate School)

The Importance of Modern Languages in a post-Brexit world

Further to the excellent conference at Forest School on Thursday 8 June, Faye Barrett reflects on the importance of what we do.
What is the point of learning a foreign language when English is the most widely spoken language in the world? This is, I'm sure, the question that we as ML teachers have come to expect from pupils and parents alike. Such, then, was my curiosity in attending Forest School's conference on The Importance of Modern Languages.forest_school

The conference's first speaker, Professor Adrian Armstrong, from Queen Mary University, sought to explore how we can raise the status of Modern Languages within education, in a system where languages are no longer compulsory at GCSE and where their uptake has declined greatly and continues to do so. Last year, only 49% of pupils at the end of Key Stage 4 in state-funded schools were entered for an EBacc language GCSE or equivalent course.

A look at the geopolitical environment in which we live may well instil a sense of dread amongst ML teachers and graduates alike. A world in which people vow to build a wall along the length of their border hardly suggests a burning desire to communicate, whilst in our own country, the vote to leave the European Union, including the single market doesn't imply a keenness to work together with our neighbours on the continent.
As linguists and educators, you may say that this geopolitical climate is our worst nightmare, but how can we challenge this? Or indeed, as Armstrong asked, can we even use this to our advantage? Can we reinterpret stories or create alternative narratives in order to protect, encourage and nurture the interest in MFL amongst our pupils? Armstrong believes we can. It is likely that the UK will continue dealing with Europe on a very large scale. The Pearson CBI 2016 survey of business revealed that 54% of employers were dissatisfied with employees' foreign language skills and it has been estimated that that this lack of language ability loses the UK an estimated 3.5% of economic performance. Up to now, many firms have tried to bridge this gap by recruiting multilingual candidates from the EU; as this becomes more complicated, does this not put our own home-grown linguists therefore at a premium?

We must also remind our students of the additional skills associated with their language lessons: studying another language goes far beyond the words on a page. In our increasingly globalised society, much of what we enjoy comes from elsewhere: food, literature and music. Understanding language is key to understanding culture, which is of paramount importance in global diplomacy. Let us not forget the additional skills acquired by language learners, such as adaptability and communication, not to mention the ability to constantly code-switch. Indeed, it is not just speaking another language in itself that makes someone more employable, but the cognitive capabilities acquired through it.
If we reduce the opportunities to learn ML in Primary and Secondary education, we limit our students' ability to acquire and use these skills in later life. Perhaps, then, there has never been a better time to learn another language… but this is where language teachers come in, as survival depends on uptake, and uptake depends on inspiration.

Faye Barrett, Queen's College


Let’s get booking: top cultural excursions for linguists 2017-18

It's time to look ahead to the next academic year and there are some big-hitters heading our way, to cater for all of us and our pupils, whichever language is of interest!

  • Art et Liberté: Rupture, War and Surrealism in Egypt (1938 – 1948), Tate Liverpool, 17 November 2017 – 18 March 2018

Having been well-received in France, Spain and Germany, this exhibition finally reaches the UK amd is the first comprehensive museum exhibition of its kind about the Art and Liberty Group (Art et Liberté-jama'at al-fann wa al-hurriyyah), a surrealist collective of writers and artists living and working in Cairo.


  • Matisse in the Studio, Royal Academy of Arts, 5 August 2017 - 12 November 12 2017

This exhibition focuses on Matisse's treasured possessions, which he believed were instrumental in his studio practice. A different slant, with plenty of scope to stimulate descriptive writing on the topic of House and Home, not to mention the art itself.

  • Cézanne portraits, National Portrait Gallery, 26 October 2017 - 11 February 2018

The major new exhibition will bring together for the first time over 50 of Cézanne's portraits from collections across the world, including works which have never been on public display in the UK. We are going to take Year 7 in January when, serendipitously, they study portraiture in Art, and will be able to use their French to describe the clothes and physical attributes of Cézanne's sitters and then produce their own portraits in their Art lessons.


  • Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919–1933, Tate Liverpool, 23 June – 15 October 2017

This exciting exhibition presents the faces of Germany between the two world wars told through the eyes of painter Otto Dix (1891–1969) and photographer August Sander (1876–1964) - two artists whose works document the radical extremes of the country in this period. See intimate portraits of ordinary people during Germany's interwar years.

  • Egon Sciele, Tate Liverpool, 24 May – 23 September 2018

This exhibition of Schiele's drawings could be an ideal recommendation for your sixth-formers with artistic tendencies, perhaps as a springboard for their independent research project.

  • Anni Albers, Tate Modern, 12 October 2018 – 13 January 2019

Plan ahead, perhaps in collaboration with your colleagues in the Art or Textiles department, in preparation for this exhibition of the most well-known textile artist of the twentieth century, a leading figure of the Bauhaus School.


  • Modigliani, Tate Modern, 23 November 2017 – 2 April 2018

Very excitingly, this is set to be the most comprehensive UK survey of Amedeo Modigliani's work. Born in Livorno, Italy, Modigliani is a memorable figure from the twentieth century and this exhibition places his work in dialogue with that of his peers, including Brancusi and early Picasso.


  • The permanent collection at the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum

Both museums have extraordinary collections of Chinese Art, among the best outside East Asia. Take a group to explore one of the collections, followed by a trip into Chinatown for lunch.


  • Red Star over Russia, Tate Modern, 8 November 2017 – 18 February 2018

The year 2017 will mark the centenary of the October Revolution, which heralded a wave of innovation and design in Russia. In the years that followed 1917, as Russia became the Soviet Union, these early experiments and diverse practices formed a new visual culture for a nation that covered one sixth of the Earth.


  • The London Spanish Film Festival, London, 21 - 28 September 2017

The programme will be announced at the end of July so watch this space: This could be a great homework task for London-based schools to set their sixth-formers, whereby you ask all of them to attend a screening and then write a film review to present to the class or to submit for a school magazine.

  • La Casa de Bernarda Alba, Cervantes Theatre, London, 23 October – 2 December 2017

Further to a great production of Bodas de Sangre last year, Spanish teachers will be pleased to hear that another of Lorca's classic plays that remains so popular with our students is to be on stage again this autumn. Take your younger pupils to a performance in English and your sixth-formers to see it in Spanish.
Davina Suri

Festival de Théâtre Francophone

Rarely can one attending a performance say that s/he has genuinely enjoyed every minute of an evening. Yet, this is exactly how the entire audience of the packed Phoenix Theatre at King Alfred School felt on the evening of 8th March when 15 schools competed in the third edition of the Festival de Théâtre Francophone.
Sixth Form students displayed outstanding linguistic, creative and dramatic talents leaving members the audience and teachers dumbfounded along with an immense sense of pride. The three judges, Mrs Conti, President of the KASS association, Mademoiselle Milioto from the Belgian Embassy and I had a very hard time deciding.
Although Rhinocéros and Le Prénom proved popular choices, the casts never resorted to a simplistic approach and created a genuinely French atmosphere thanks partly to fast moving dialogues, careful planning of movements and prop use.
In Tragédie presented by Highgate School, the trio cleverly navigated between formal and informal language in a scene of jalousie, anger and repeated arguments. Bea Twentyman's excellent accent, diction and remarkably fluid delivery won the Best Individual Spoken French Prize.
The duo from Haberdasher's Aske Boys treated the audience to a hilarious performance of the famous scene from La Cantatrice Chauve when Monsieur and Madame Martin realise, after a long-winded and absurd conversation, that they are husband and wife. The pair's perfectly delivered fast paced dialogue, well- studied mimics and coordinated head movements got the audience in stiches. They deservedly won the Best Unique Theatrical Experience Prize.
However, it was Merchant Taylor's School who was awarded the prestigious Prize for the Best Play for their realistic and gripping rendition of Les Justes. Aurélia Aslangui from St Mary's School won the Best Lead Performance for her convincing and entertaining part in Le Prénom while the award for the Best Performance in a Supporting Role went to Charlotte Thiel from St Paul's Girls' School for her part as Madame Berthe in the contemporary play, Fugue en Duo Majeur. Finally, the jury's Special Prize went to Wellington College for the cast's remarkably eloquent performance of Rhinocéros.
A huge thank you and congratulations to Pauline Moloney from King Alfred School for organising such a stimulating evening, offering a unique display of theatrical talents and, last but not least, for securing such generous prizes for the winners; Eurostar and cinema vouchers amongst others. I would encourage any school with a few acteurs en herbe to take part next year. We can't wait for the fourth edition. Rendez-vous en mars 2018!

Pierre Pillet, Perse Upper School

Inspiriting young translators: a school visit

Dr Simon Kemp, Associate Professor in French at Somerville College and Schools Liaison Officer at Oxford University, did not disappoint his audience at a recent talk at St. Paul's Girls' School. He gave a fascinating insight into the job of a translator and the difficulties of translating Harry Potter into French. J. K. Rowling is a French graduate herself, and was able to give a speech in fluent French when she accepted the Légion d'honneur from President Sarkozy in 2009. Thus, we know that she obviously intended the ambiguity and puns, making her translator's task even more arduous. Through pertinent and often hilarious examples, Simon explained the translator's dilemma of whether or not to change the English character names into French. So, if you're French and reading about Fleur Delacour, you're actually reading about a 'yard flower'. But 'cour' also means 'court', thus triggering more ambivalence. Neville Longbottom has become Neville Longdubas in the French version so, rather than it coming across as just an odd surname, poor Neville is endowed with a rather unfortunate physical appearance. Similarly, the fact that Voldemort literally translates as 'flight of death' or 'theft of death' in French, is completely lost on English speakers and adds another dimension to his character, much to the delight of Francophiles. The talk's entertaining and thought-provoking delivery and content was extremely well-received by our pupils and we will certainly build on this enthusiasm for literary translation in the future.

Emilie Eymin, St. Paul's Girls' School

Read my lips…not!

Afro_Dizzy_Act_2Another creative idea from Dulwich College… Why not consider inviting a ventriloquist? This could work both for an assembly or show as well as within individual classes. We booked a trial day ahead of the Languages Week, and then went for a further 5 days so well did it go. All pupils from Years 4 to 13 had either an 'assembly' or a basic class. It was extremely entertaining but was also very useful to help some pupils improve reading comprehension skills and spot cognates, when they started to think about the shapes that their mouths were making, and how this might vary from language to language. Suddenly, they spotted why a 'p' is a 'b' is a 'v' = poPulation becomes poBlación, or Immigrant becomes inmigrante, the connection between wine, vine, vin, vino, no longer needed an explanation; it was obvious. Eureka!

This proved hugely popular with pupils – both linguists and the less keen. It may initially cause you doubts – but we would recommend it, especially if you link it with linguistics or phonics and teach pupils the basics at the same time.
We used Own Reid (NOT his stage name!) who you can contact here:"Afro Dizzy Act" Also consider exploring and contacting the ventriloquist Club of Great Britain, for those not London-based:

You can find more details about the events of Dulwich Linguistic at:

Nick Mair

Creating our dream linguists

What does the ideal student of modern languages look like? Self-motivated, quick to make connections, a conscientious learner with an eye for detail and an interest in the target culture. With the help of our pupils' parents and with some suggestions to mould their thinking from a young age, we can 'create' linguists.

Here, our Vice Chair, John Wilson, shares a document he has produced for the parents of his pupils.
Modern Languages is a subject area which many of you conscientious parents can fret about. At parents' evenings we, the teachers, regularly hear things like: "I worry because I just can't help him with his German like I can with other things." So, here are some thoughts on how you can help. Their language learning should be viewed a little like learning an instrument; they will need time, space and encouragement to practise regularly. Indeed, the occasional opportunity to perform will be a huge motivator too.

1. Test them on their vocabular and verb endings – there is no way around it, vocabulary needs to be learnt. There are a host of ways to learn vocab: using flash cards, sticking post-it notes around the house, grouping words by gender, listing them alphabetically or thematically, making excel spreadsheets and hiding columns etc. You can test them regularly, sharing the journey to learn new words yourself and help them find their most effective way to learn.

2. Once they believe they have grasped the formation of a new tense, get them to teach it to you and explain how it compares in form and use to English. As well as the educational benefits associated with explanation, it will be motivating for them to hear you struggle over the pronunciation. This will help you share the journey as you are inspired to learn with them. You can follow Duo Lingo on your smart phone and invest in a suitable grammar book and progress with them with some healthy competition.

3. Encourage them to speak the language as much as possible. When the question: "How was school today?" is greeted with a teenage grunt, take another approach such as: "Tell me three things you did at school today in French." Get them to tell you and then confirm what they've said in English. Similarly, to practise the future tense, a question every Sunday evening might be: "Tell me 5 things you are going to do at school this week."

4. Invariably, teachers will put targets for students to work on in order to improve in their next piece of work. It might be something like … "To improve, check: adjective agreement, include more opinions and use more infinitive expressions." Over tea, before your son or daughter embarks on their latest Spanish homework, ask them what the areas for improvement from last time were and how they are going to attempt to address these areas.

5. Support smart use of resources. Before setting about a homework for languages, students need all of their resources to hand –vocab book, dictionary (traditional or online), as well as their exercise book and course book where appropriate. You can help to promote sensible use of online dictionaries. Simply inserting lumps of text into Google Translate is not developing any linguistic skills and, invariably, it will be obvious to the teacher, either because the language is incongruent with other language produced or because the words have been translated too literally and are completely out of context. Similarly, when using an online dictionary, you can help them to realise that it is no use inserting conjugated verbs (eg. drinks), but rather you need to have the infinitive (to drink) after which they can apply the rules of conjugation learnt in lessons.

6. Provide opportunities for them to use the language for real purposes to build confidence. This may be choosing to take your family holiday in the country where the language is spoken, spending time in places where English will be less prominent. Alternatively, it could be a family meal at an authentic restaurant where all the staff are from the country. Other creative and beneficial ways of using the language for real purposes could include sponsoring a child in Spanish-speaking Central America or Francophone African nations through the various charities and having regular communication with this child.

7. We are lucky to live next to a cosmopolitan city with language institutes such as the Instituto Cervantes and the Alliance Francaise, as well as art house cinemas, not to mention the Christmas markets. Attend cultural events and performances associated with your child's foreign language(s) whenever you can.

8. Tap into their interests by encouraging them to listen to music in the foreign language. They can find the lyrics on Google and follow them whilst listening and join in. Look if the language being learnt is an alternative setting on their favourite DVDs, they can watch them again with you in the foreign language with English subtitles. You'll be surprised how much extra language they pick up.

9. Be nostalgic through purchasing the foreign language version of a story book your child used to enjoy as a toddler. Such books are excellent. Your child will already know the story and will be able to make useful deductions on vocabulary and, invariably, such books are excellent to see the past tenses in context.

10.Place a strong emphasis on discussion and debate of various topics. For success at IGCSE your child will need strong opinions on areas such as school uniform, healthy living, the environment, friends Vs family; and then in Sixth Form the list is endless. Ultimately, they need to have opinions on things and this is of wider importance for their education also. They can watch TED talks (preferably with subtitles in the language they're learning) and read a quality newspaper.

11. Follow the Modern Languages Department Twitter @chs_linguists. Here we share news and current affairs from the countries where our languages are spoken (both in English and in the foreign language). We also give updates on news linked to language learning. You can also keep up-to-date with trips taking place.

12. Where possible, support school trips which are tailored to enable students to embrace the foreign language and its cultures. These are experiences which will provide a springboard to inspire further learning.

John Wilson

What kinds of questions does the ideal linguist ask? Dialogic teaching is a term that encompasses the importance of talk in the classroom to stimulate and extend students' thinking and to enhance their learning and understanding. It should prepare the student for life-long learning, rather than limiting their learning to a simple absorption and regurgitation of course content. At a very basic level therefore, despite the obvious tension that arises from a conflict between the use of English and the use of the target language in the ML classroom, we do want to encourage students: to engage in interactions which encourage them to think in different ways; to justify their answers and reasoning; to pursue a deep line of enquiry; to probe and challenge rather than to accept what we teach them unquestioningly. To that end, I have devised a list of questions and statements that I want to hear in the classroom, that fit the profile of a linguist who is actively engaged in his / her learning (excuse the bias towards Romance languages). It is a bit of an experiment, but all of our Key Stage 3 pupils are going to stick these in their exercise books at the start of the new academic year and I hope to hear more of these questions in the future (and hopefully less questions of the 'do we have to underline the title' ilk…)
Think like a linguist!
Here are some of the kind of questions a linguist might ask:

  • How do we pronounce these letter combinations?
  • Why is there a spelling change in this form of the verb?
  • How is the present tense different from the present continuous tense?
  • In Spanish, if 'un lápiz' becomes 'los lápices', does 'un pez' become 'los peces'?
  • Do the same verbs in Italian take 'essere' in the past tense as take 'être' in French?
  • In French, why do we say 'un quart d'heure' but we say 'de haut en bas'?
  • Why do we have a word for 'afternoon' and 'evening' while in Spain they use the same word for both?

Here are some of the statements a linguist might make when learning a foreign language:

  • I can work out that 'la mermelada' in Spanish is 'jam', because it is a cognate of 'marmalade'.
  • I know that 'they play' in French is 'ils jouent' because it is a regular –er verb so it conjugates like 'travailler'.
  • I know that they are talking about next weekend not last weekend because of the verb.
  • In English, we borrowed the word 'déjà vu' from French, so I already know the word 'seen' from this expression.

A linguist always remembers the following:

  • We don't always translate things literally from one language to another. Remember: 'j'ai douze ans' means 'I have 12 years'!
  • It is important to proof-read written work so that it is understandable to someone who doesn't speak English. That is an important aim of learning to write in a language that is not our own.
  • Languages evolve! Be alert! The word 'iPod' didn't exist twenty years ago in any language. The word 'pescatarian' doesn't exist in French, but it might soon… why?
  • Making connections is an important part of learning a language. Whether with your own language, another language or with something you learnt last year or even before… the more that you can spot, the better!

These are some of the things a linguist will do to find out the answer to a question:

  • Look in the textbook, perhaps turning to the glossary or verb tables at the back of the book.
  • Check in their exercise books or ask a classmate what they think.
  • Look in a dictionary (e.g. and then remember to check important information like whether the verb is regular or irregular or whether a noun is masculine or feminine
  • Jot down the question in a rough book or homework diary and then look it up on the Internet at home. Bringing in the answer to share with the class next lesson is even better!

You can find out more about dialogic teaching here:
Davina Suri

Promoting German: Think German Networks and practical ideas for your German Department

German_flag_(7664376100)In recent years, the German-teaching community has worked with great energy and purpose to promote the learning of the language in schools and universities, perhaps spurred on by the various existential threats that confront German in the UK. There are now 11 Think German Networks, most of them affiliated to universities, which support and promote German in their regions by connecting academic institutions, schools, cultural organisations and businesses. These networks promote the learning of German in schools through initiatives such as essay and poetry competitions and teachers are also encouraged to approach their local network for advice, creative inspiration and support. The Think German Networks run on the basic principles of strength in numbers and of shared endeavour for mutual benefit.

Rallying point for all pro-German initiatives and moral and financial supporter-in-chief is the Goethe-Institut in London, which exists to promote the German language and German culture and which produces excellent promotional material for schools, as well as offering a wide range of cultural events and CPD opportunities for teachers. The indefatigable Karl Pfeiffer, Head of Educational Links at the Goethe-Institut, London and regular speaker at the ISMLA conference, is keen to hear from anyone seeking to promote German. A phone-call to Karl to find out what initiatives exist in the local area, to obtain key contacts and to get some tried-and-tested ideas is an essential first step for any Head of German.


The other organisation worthy of honourable mention is the UK-German Connection, which is dedicated to increasing contacts and understanding between the UK and Germany. They provide teaching resources and run a wide range of programmes, seminars and trips. One of their current programmes is 'Host a Teacher from Germany', a programme that is free for schools and is particularly attractive for schools without a native speaker assistant. It also runs a German Scholarship programme, in which Lower Sixth pupils stay in homestays in Germany for a month in the summer to carry out project work, cultural visits and language classes.

The recent seminar on developing German networks, held at the Goethe-Institut on Monday 12 June, provided the opportunity to hear from a number of people involved in setting up and running their own more informal local German networks and from teachers who have had particular success at raising the profile at their school. Here are 20 practical suggestions from the seminar (many of which in fact can apply to any language):

1. Invite pupils to enter essay-writing competitions run by local universities.
2. Organise visits to the German Departments of local universities.
3. Contact colleagues in charge of German at other local schools and begin your own German network, on no matter how informal a basis.
4. Set up a CPD programme within your local network: probably twilight sessions which can be run by teachers with help from volunteer speakers. These might be on very practical topics such as the new GCSE.
5. Join the Teaching German Facebook group: there are lots of good ideas and links to articles and resources.
6. Create links with local primary schools e.g. Year 9 pupils going in to primary schools to teach German once a week.
7. Arrange for older pupils who have participated in trips, exchange programmes or scholarship programmes to make presentations to younger pupils. Current pupils are the best ambassadors.
8. Ask former pupils studying German at university to blog, particularly when on their year abroad
9. Write an article in German for every school newsletter.
10. Promote the learning of German to prospective parents at visitors' mornings/afternoons and at parent information evenings.
11. Persuade Senior Management Teams of the importance and usefulness of learning German and fight for the position of German in the curriculum.
12. Have a culture in the department whereby everyone is responsible for an initiative or project that encourages participation in German.
13. Have a German song of the month. Find the song on YouTube, give pupils copies of the lyrics and play it ad nauseam. With endless repetition, pupils really learn the German.
14. Run a German Club for Years 5 and 6 at primary/junior schools. This is a particularly effective way of introducing German at primary level even if it is not on the formal curriculum.
15. German traditions and festivals lend themselves perfectly to co-curricular and cross-curricular activities: making Plätzchen, Hänsel und Gretel houses (possible link-up with DT), Weihnachtskarten competitions, setting up a Weihnachtsmarkt (lots of role-plays), marking Fasching/Karneval with a quiz or fancy dress, making and labelling an Easter display and the different parts of an egg (possible link-up with Biology).
16. Have sixth-formers present to younger pupils about their literary set text in simple German, with younger pupils possibly acting out sections under direction of 6th formers.
17. Run Year 9 and 10 speed dating – the questions can be very simple.
18. Run sixth form debating competitions, either with/against other schools or internally, in order to maximise participation.
19. Run marketing competitions, in which pupils have to market a product in German.
20. Interview local employers who use German e.g. businesses who trade with Germany.

Duncan Peel, Guildford High School

How do you increase uptake on day trips for Russian? Make them cross-curricular.

Russian & Music

Back in the summer holidays, I spotted a concert by the St Petersburg Philharmonic, conducted by Yuri Temirkanov, in the January Royal Festival Hall programme. They were performing Shostakovich's iconic Fifth Symphony, eighty years after they had given its premiere, joined by the celebrated pianist Martha Argerich for Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3. Having studied clarinet at the St Petersburg Conservatoire, I knew that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and proposed a joint Russian and music trip. I was nervous, however, as, despite St Paul's strong music department, from my experience of teaching clarinet I know that children who play classical music aren't necessarily keen to watch classical music being played by others. A big draw was that I could mention that the concert was now sold out to the general public. Nearly thirty girls from Years 7 to 11 – a cross-section of musicians and Russianists – signed up. A Sunday afternoon performance worked well as the girls had to make their own transport arrangements and the trip didn't clash with other commitments. The Southbank Centre offered us a good deal on tickets and, as the only school party there, I think the girls felt sophisticated. Had the performers been less unique and the programme less exciting, the trip may not have worked, but there was such a buzz in the packed hall that there was no danger of classical music seeming staid, as this review suggests:

Russian and Debating / Politics

chekhovThe next collaboration was with Debating Society. On General Election night, a politics teacher and I took ten Year 9s and 10s to see a debate in Westminster entitled 'It's Time to Bring Russia in from the Cold: Rapprochement is in the West's Best Interest', organised by Intelligence Squared, "the world's premier forum for debate and intelligent discussion", and filmed for BBC World News. A couple of months previously, my Year 9 Russianists had each presented their conclusions on a Russian myth, such as "Is the West scared of Russia?" and "Are all Russian politicians corrupt?", followed by online blog discussions. They took to this exercise with such relish that I felt there might be appetite for attending the debate and I was heartened that such young girls, some of whom were involved in the school's own mock election, were interested. It helped that the 1000-capacity venue was packed, debate was heated, and there was the added interest of watching the mechanics of live BBC filming. There was also some audience participation in voting before and after for or against the motion. As with the joint music trip, working with Debating meant sharing the load and a genuine mixing of girls and ideas.


Further possibilities

I have other plans for cross-curricular trips. In November, I will be taking a group of girls down the road to The Lyric Theatre to see The Seagull by Chekhov, whose plays are frequently Drama A Level set texts, performed in English. I am hoping to take a trip to the 'Red Star over Russia' exhibition at the Tate Modern and am planning a Russian-themed London walk (dozens have been mapped out already so this does not require much extra effort) with the History and/or Geography departments. These kinds of trips help us to break down subject barriers, increase enthusiasm for cultural outings and share the workload among colleagues, all of which are good reasons to do them more often.

Jessica Tipton, St. Paul's Girls' School


The HSK exam series in Mandarin Chinese

Further to our reports of alternative examinations for European languages, here is a summary of an alternative examination for Mandarin Chinese:

The HSK exam series (  Capturemandarin Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi) is an internationally recognised qualification that is awarded across six levels, roughly corresponding to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. They are similar to the French DELF/DALF and Spanish DELE examinations. The rough equivalence between the exams and the CEFRL are as follows:

Level 1 A1
Level 2 A2
Level 3 B1
Level 4 B2
Level 5 C1
Level 6 C2

The 'gap' between each level is not equal, with learners expected to double more or less their vocabulary between each exam. The vocabulary knowledge expected increases in the following way:

HSK Number of characters known Number of words known
Level 1 200 150
Level 2 350 300
Level 3 600 600
Level 4 1000 1200
Level 5 1500 2500
Level 6 3000 5000


At Levels 1 and 2, candidates are examined in Reading and Listening comprehension, but not in writing or speaking. At subsequent levels, candidates also have a writing exam and are tested on their understanding of grammar, but there is still no speaking element to the assessment.

Levels 1 and 2 have a pass mark of 120 out of a possible 200 and levels 3-6 require candidates to score 180 out of 300.

Most secondary level pupils can prepare for Level 1 in a year with about 5 hours study a week (including time spent at home). Exceptional KS5 pupils could get to Level 2 over the two years of the sixth-form as an extra-curricular option. Level 3 is also a useful extension course for post-GCSE pupils, who do not wish to formally continue with Chinese as an A level or Pre-U subject, but would like a more professional qualification than GCSE, which may prove useful later on.

The HSK is a valuable qualification, as it is recognised by many universities and companies and it is seen more as a professional qualification as opposed to simply a school one. Although the exam cannot be taken in most schools, and candidates must instead travel to an HSK examination centre, there are numerous Confucius Centres around the country which can accommodate exam candidates.

Ruairi Garvey



Chanson Douce by Leïla Slimani (Editions Gallimard 2016)


If you're looking for a contemporary and utterly engaging novel to read in French this summer, Chanson Douce will certainly get you turning its pages. There is nothing gentle or reassuring in Leïla Slimani's second novel, and it hits you from the very first line: "Le bébé est mort". Some people I know could not bear to read beyond the first page as the tragic dénouement is there right in front of you: two very young children have been murdered by their nanny. From that point onwards, the novel takes us back to when the nanny was appointed by the parents and we find out how she becomes indispensable to them and how much the children love her. The novel gets right under your skin: although we know what it going to happen to the children, we feel that we are a part of the family and, at the same time, we understand the challenges faced by the nanny. As well as being a psychological thriller, the novel is a fascinating insight into Parisian 'bobo' society and the lives of modern-day working couples. You can see how a relationship between nannies and their employers can twist and turn and how dependent they can become on one another. The novel won the prestigious 'Prix Goncourt' in 2016 and has sold over half a million copies, even though it has not even come out in a 'livre de poche' edition yet. The film director Maïwenn (Polisse, Mon Roi) is going to bring it to the big screen, although I'm sure that Chabrol or Hitchcock would have similarly loved to have got hold of this compelling, tragic story.

Melvyn Bardou



Jane Wightwick and Mahmoud Gaafar, Mastering Arabic 1, 3rd Edition. £25.99, 384 pp. Palgrave, 2015, Palgrave Master Series (Languages) 

mastering_arabicThis is a very well-structured book, that helps the student to explore Arabic ina very subtle way. It comprises twenty units and two audio CDs. The 3rd edition is also supplemented by a companion website with many useful activities and helpful advice. For example, while the older editions have no such information, the companion website includes guidelines for teachers.

The book includes well-designed exercises, the answers to which are provided in the useful Answer Section. The structure of the book ensures that learners use the language they have learned in each unit over the subsequent units. Thus, Wightwick and Gaafar have produced a textbook that could be described as a self-study course for learning Arabic, perfect for the sixth-former considering applying for Arabic ab initio at university. However, it is also a great asset on a taught course, as the student has the material to revise or do homework tasks in their own time. However, there are still some issues that must be treated, including errors in the book and its recordings, as well as 'typos' (see Appendix).

The book is designed to help students learn about dialects as well as modern standard Arabic, which is where the audio CDs come into play; despite a few erros, the book would have been incomplete without the discs and students would not have had the chance to practise the essential four skills of the language. Such essentials are not always found in other, similar books. (The Oak Tree Initiative). In addition, the authors have added numbering to the audio clips in the 3rd edition, a highly commendable improvement.

Mastering Arabic 1 does benefit from useful and interrelated appendixes. For example, different Arab countries use different names for months, and these alternatives are given in the appendixes. However, the appendixes are less prominent than they could be, and so it would be more helpful for the learner if references to the appendixes were included at appropriate points in the text.

The 3rd edition incorporates some useful changes and additions. Compared to the 2nd edition, it is colourful, with a larger page size and a companion website. More useful exercises have been added in some cases and better illustrations in others. Some of the new exercises add 'flavour' to the book as they also include some long-awaited cultural concepts. Others place the learner in a situation from everyday life, thus engaging the student to the fullest possible degree. For example, in Unit 17, Exercise 6 encourages the learner to think about the different possible scenarios before listening to the dialogue.
Some of the new additions to the text and exercises help students to gain a better understanding of grammar and simultaneously to practise reading the Arabic they have learned up to this point. In addition, the 3rd edition contains some important illustrations which were missing from the previous edition. For example, in Unit 14, in the previous edition one had to search online to find a weather forecast to help the students to practise, but this is now provided in the book.
Nevertheless, the 3rd edition will need to be revised, perhaps in a 4th edition. This has become necessary due to two issues: failure to correct the mistakes extant in the 2nd edition, and a change in the order of the units in the 3rd edition. For instance, Unit 17 was moved to become Unit 12 in the 3rd edition. Placing this unit at its current location in the new edition has caused many difficulties. For example, verbs do not feature until after Unit 13, while Unit 12 (formerly 17) contains both past and present tense verbs.

In addition, the common usage of fa3al as a means of learning forms and patterns in Arabic is not properly introduced until Unit 14, even though this has already appeared in Unit 12. Furthermore, students now have to deal with numbers greater than 10 in this unit when they calculate the bill for restaurant orders, and these numbers are only introduced in the following units…perhaps these were aspects of the second edition that it would have been better to keep!
Moreover, providing transliterations after the first 6 units does more harm than good because students should have learned how to pronounce the letters correctly after completing Unit 6. They also have the CDs to continue to help their pronunciation.
Despite these quibbles, overall, the book is a great asset to the Arabic-as-foreign-language library and making a few changes, as noted above, would render it almost perfect.




TheOakTreeInitiative. Arabic Book Reviews - Mastering Arabic : Jane Wightwick & Mahmoud Gaafar. N.p., 2015. Film.
Wahba, Kassem M. "Review of Mastering Arabic with Two Audio CDs: Mastering Arabic with Two Audio CDs Jane Wightwick and Mahmoud Gaafar 2005 ISBN 0-7817-1042-6 US $24.95 370 Pp. Hippicrene Books, Inc. New York, New York, USA." 10.1 (2006): 38–41. Print. Language Learning & Technology.
Wightwick, Jane, and Mahmoud Gaafar. Mastering Arabic 1, 3rd Edition, Palgrave, 2015. Web. Palgrave Master Series (Languages).

Dr. Khaled Bashir, University of Aberdeen





The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940 by William L. Shirer (1969) Simon & Schuster The_Collapse_of_the_Third_Republic

The American journalist and author William Shirer witnessed some of the most dramatic events of the first half of the twentieth century. Out of his first-hand observations, there emerged two monumental studies. The first of these, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, continues to sells steadily while the second, The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940, has long been out of print.* At close to 1100 pages, it remains the most exhaustive account of an event that stunned the world. In the June of 1940 Shirer stood on the streets of Paris and watched as the Wermacht and close to 50,000 Nazi functionaries crushed and occupied with ruthless efficiency the capital of not only France, but a city that was perceived as the centre of European culture and civilised values.
Shirer in his exhaustive account is concerned with one overwhelming question. How was it that the France of the Third Republic, in possession of what was considered to be the finest army in Europe, collapsed after less than six weeks fighting? Had not that same country held out for four years against German assault in the First World War? Was it simply that France had been overwhelmed by German air superiority and the mobility of the German armoured divisions?
Writing in the 1960s, he had the advantage of being able to speak to many of the participants. His conclusion was that France was the author of its own misfortune and that the Third Republic, built on unstable foundations, had decayed from the inside during the interwar period, thus facilitating the German assault. Readers wishing for a detailed analysis of the military campaign of the late spring of 1940 are directed towards Alistair Horne's To Lose a Battle, France 1940. In contrast, Shirer highlights unresolved tensions in French society reaching back to 1870: the Franco-Prussian War; the legacy of the Dreyfus Affair; endemic anti-Semitism; an ambivalent attitude towards democracy; a yearning on the Catholic right for some form of authoritarian leadership. The depression of the 1930s further inflamed these feelings of bitterness so that when faced with a resurgent Germany, particularly after 1935, the response of the French political class, embodied by the ageing Marshall Petain and the slippery Pierre Laval, was to seek an accommodation with their old enemy. Thus, when the German Blitzkrieg was launched in the west, it was against a French state that lacked the will to survive. On the right, it was further undermined by a belief that such was the decadence of Republican France that it deserved to lose. Shirer highlights the belief amongst a substantial part of the French elite that the future of France within Hitler's New Order was not only inevitable but also to be welcomed.
More recent studies of the flawed Third Republic have been published. In particular, Julian Jackson's trilogy offers a deeply scholarly analysis of France from 1914 to 1945 and his excellent tome The Fall Of France: The Nazi Invasion of 1940 is certainly more readily available than Shirer's account is now. However, for what it is worth, I am not sure that he can match the thrill that is offered by Shirer as both witness to events and as the intimate of the leading players in an immense European tragedy.

*My copy was purchased in the second-hand bookshop at Ham House owned by the National Trust, but there are second-hand copies for sale on-line too or try an academic library, if your school has a membership that you can use.

Andrew Granath, Mill Hill School

Latest Updates

Russian Resources from Jess Tipton

ISMLA committee member Jess Tipton shares her recommendations for Russian resources online.

Read More