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Notes from the Chair

Those of you who came to the conference may remember that we had a member in our midst who had travelled all of the way from Qatar.  We also welcomed another delegate who had just moved back to the UK after working in Singapore. At ISMLA, in the spirit of bringing the global community of language teachers closer together, we are trying to increase our international membership and slowly but surely, more modern languages from international schools are joining the association. Doha College in Qatar, was the first school to join, after the Tanglin Trust School in Singapore, where our International School rep, David Sheppard, works.

The link with Qatar came about through a colleague who used to work at Oundle School moving to work at Doha College to head up the Arabic Department there. With the advent of a new Headmaster who is very interested in international partnerships and is a polyglot himself, my former colleague approached me with the idea of a professional partnership between our two schools. The idea was that the link would, in the first instance, primarily be for teachers and would be a way of sharing good practice, even whole-school ideas, as well as excellent CPD for the individuals concerned. We discussed aspects of education that both sides might like to investigate at each other's schools and then put together a proposal for our Heads. We were given the green light and I was to make the first visit.

My remit was to look at two things: how the language department, and indeed the school, incorporate their use of ICT and devices in their teaching (this is, I feel a current weakness in my department) and also how the school in Doha coped with the transitional nature of its students and those arriving with knowledge of a variety of languages to varying degrees, some of which were not offered on the curriculum (a growing issue at my school).  I have to admit that even though I was very excited at the prospect, I did wonder if we were not being a little extravagant by sending me all the way to Doha and if we might be able to find a school closer to home that we could share ideas with and explore some of these issues, but having done so I now realise that the impact would simply not have been the same. In the past I have visited many schools and have attended lots of INSET courses, have made pages of notes during my visit or during workshops, intending to implement all sorts of new ideas when I got back to school, only to put these notes away in a drawer on my return and get swallowed up in the daily grind. This experience was different. I think that this was the case because the completely different context of the school and the very foreign culture I experienced had a much deeper impact and therefore longer-lasting effect.

Doha was a completely different world. I spent the first two days sight-seeing and experiencing what it would be like to live there as an ex-pat. The headmaster and staff in the school could not have been more helpful. I learnt a huge amount about ICT, in particular. Seeing it in action on top of the many meetings I had, allowed me to see the potential for its use in my own context. I was there for 6 days and really got to know some of the staff there. I also got to know how the school worked which meant it was not a superficial visit. Since my return I have written up a report, have spoken to senior colleagues about what I learned and in the modern languages department we invited Joe Dale into school to give us some ICT training. I followed this up by leading two meetings in the department about what we learnt from Joe Dale and also what our own digital strategy for MFL should be, based on the way it was approached in Doha. We are currently drawing this up and it will be implemented next academic year. We are hoping to welcome back colleagues from Doha next academic year too.

I wonder how many of your schools have links with international schools, or indeed have an international school bearing its name? Have your language departments explored ways that you might work together? If not, I urge you to do so. Luckily my department had some money left from a Comenius project we did many years ago that I was able to use to fund the travel, but the cost of a flight to Doha was not incomparable to some professional development courses. We must keep looking outwards and also seek out imaginative ways of getting ourselves motivated in our quest for self-improvement. It is all too easy to get too wrapped up in the bubbles of our own schools.

Sara Davidson

Notes from the Editor

When I was asked by Sara Davidson to take over the editing of our Newsletter from Davina Suri who has done an excellent job over the past four years, I did not hesitate for a moment to say yes. Although I had no illusions about the challenges of managing a group of teachers who already worked on very tight schedules in their respective schools, I could not refuse an opportunity to work even more closely with the team at ISMLA, who are all extremely driven, involved and knowledgeable in the field of education. Being new to the organisation, I look forward to our committee meetings and events every time and would not miss them for the world as these bring me right into the heart of things to do with language teaching and learning, the two things that I am most passionate about.

One of Sarah Davidson's strengths and key to her success as Chair of ISMLA and the manager of a hugely successful languages department is that she aims to have variety in every aspect of the work that she does. This starts with the professionals whom she employs to make up her team. She and I first met when I was applying for a French teaching position at Oundle School, not long after I had finished my teaching degree at Durham as an overseas student. This has been some years ago now, but I clearly remember that Sara was the first and in fact only boss I have ever had who told me that she saw potential in me bringing yet another European language, (Hungarian), to the school and that this was something that got her excited as a linguist. I wonder how many of us teach our third language in our second language today across the UK? After almost a decade teaching languages from Scotland to South-West England, I have yet to meet anyone who does.

In truth, I have taught some Hungarian lessons here and there during my time at different schools. I also organised a micro-biology field trip for our A-level science candidates in a prestigious science centre in Hungary. Our pupils sat in lectures and did lab-work with a group of Hungarian students for a week. In the evenings they had conversations over camp fires, speaking English throughout. Clearly, not much to do with languages, but then again, everything to do with what it means to provide young people with an opportunity to broaden their minds about cultures, people and languages which may not be referred to once during their time at school. Sara could not have foreseen my plans for an, if you permit, random cross-cultural trip that was equally enjoyed by the pupils and staff. She simply did what she does best, allow people with quirks to bring something original, therefore essentially valuable to the drawing board.

Following my decision last autumn to move from a vibrant town school to a prep school nestled deep in the Berkshire countryside also meant that through ISMLA I could be kept in the loop about the issues concerning the sector, which of course is crucial to managing a forward-thinking MFL department. Having glimpsed what is happening in the average Prep MFL environment, I feel even stronger that the Prep sector has more responsibility and accountability for their pupils' success at GCSE and A-level that one would assume and that they would care to admit. But more of this later. During my role as the editor of the Newsletter, there should be more focus on issues concerning Prep Languages and there should be conversation about bridging the Senior-Prep slit. Like Sara, I will also aim to invite more authors contributing to the Newsletter from outside ISMLA and from both the private and state sectors at home and abroad, creating a platform for a wider-ranging and more inclusive conversation about languages. But for now, please read on and enjoy the latest issue with updates on our ongoing projects and recent activities.

Bori Gannon

Spanish Day at Instituto Español Vicente Cañada Blanch

After the great success of our Spanish Day in 2016, we have been very fortunate to be able to organise a similar event this year to offer teachers an opportunity to listen to inspirational speakers that shared their latest research and teaching ideas to bring to our classrooms.

We started the day with Dr Michael Thompson from Durham University, who talked about Lorca as seen by the Franco regime and the effect that censorship had on the dissemination of his works and the perception that Spaniards had on him, a topic that proves to be controversial to this day. 

Dr Paul O'Neill, from the University of Sheffield, gave the audience tips to teach Spanish pronunciation to pupils. Some of them included the focus on pairs of words which only differ on one sound and how to point out to pupils the difference in pronunciation of aspirated consonants in English and their equivalent in Spanish by holding a piece of paper in front of your mouth as you pronounce them. A technique that we all tried, and pupils will love!

At break, we saw a beautiful Flamenco performance by Canela Fina, which was followed by a fun workshop for delegates to learn the basic steps of this well-known dance. We were also very privileged to be able to distribute a variety of prizes to delegates generously donated by our sponsors during the day, such as DVDs, books, and 20 bursaries towards language courses in Spain!

Ena Harrop, Headmistress of City of London School for Girls talked about Lessons in leadership from language learning. Being a native speaker of Spanish, she encouraged language teachers to be ambitious and consider positions of leadership in a school. She gave very useful advice from her own experience about making hard decisions and managing difficult situations, and about the challenges and rewards the role of Head entails.

Lunch was provided by La Plaza restaurant and it included a delicious selection of traditional Spanish tapas and dishes such as albóndigas, paella, croquetas and torta de Santiago. After enjoying lunch under the sunshine of the Claustro, Dr Ángeles Carreres, (also representing Dr María Noriega-Sánchez who unfortunately could not attend), talked about how to develop translation-based activities for the Spanish classroom and the different ways a text can be exploited. Given the emphasis of some exam boards on translation, the handout they shared, and their book are worth having a look in more detail!

Finally, Dr Esther M. Villegas de la Torre from Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona shared interesting ideas on how to use film in the Spanish classroom and she encouraged the audience not to be afraid of bringing the classics such as Don Quijote de la Mancha to KS3 or below. This can be done by using adapted texts or extracts that concentrate only on aspects that children can find accessible.

The whole day would not have been possible without the help of the fabulous team of Consejería de Educación, led by Isabel Mateos, and by the staff of Instituto Cañada Blanch. I also would like to thank fellow ISMLA committee members Kevin, Daniella and John for their help before and during the day. Kevin's experience of previous Spanish Days was invaluable in the organisation of the conference.

Marta Viruete Navarro

Studying Russian: Help or Hindrance to Anglo-Russian Relations? The View from the Classroom

Given Russia's prominence in the news right now, it seemed the right time to ask our students what they think and how it might affect the study of the Russian language. The University of Birmingham had interviewed students in their Department of Russian a couple of months back, ( so we thought it would be interesting to compare with the views of boys and girls studying Russian at Winchester College and St Paul's Girls' School.

We found some willing interviewees among our Year 9, 10 and 12 cohorts and discussed why they had chosen to study Russian, what they thought about the Skripal poisoning, their impressions of interacting with Russians and spending time in Russia, as well as their plans involving the Russian language. Our overall aim was to find out whether all this publicity would encourage pupils to choose Russian and whether studying Russian language and culture might help or hinder our future relations with Russian-speaking citizens and Russian politics.  

The school pupils interviewed had been studying Russian for between two and four years and had chosen to study Russian for different reasons. All were inspired by the rich culture and history of the country, and the opportunity to go and visit the place. Others felt that any language, but particularly Russian, as 'Russia was always in the news', would complement their interest in politics and international relations with a view to a future career in diplomacy or journalism. With the Russian Revolution a stalwart of the GCSE History syllabus, our students felt that knowing some of the language was helpful in 'getting a sense' of the posters and documents produced in GCSE textbooks before they had been translated.

Having some knowledge of the language and culture was also helpful for school debating competitions, such as on the topics of doping in sport or human rights violations, or for theological discussions in class, arising from Dostoevsky's philosophical novel Brothers Karazamov. They also liked the fact it was perceived as a reasonably rarely studied and 'challenging language that would stand out on the CV'. Student's plans included spending more time in Russia 'to really get to know the country' or pursuing History and/or Russian at university. 

The 14 to 17-year-olds showed a mature ability to distinguish political Russia-UK antagonism from relations between ordinary citizens of our two countries. They had warm relations with anglicised Russians who they knew in England and with whom they generally communicated in English but were encouraged in their efforts to speak in Russian. 

Our pupils recognised that school trips to Russia only revealed a 'sheltered' side of country. During their visit, they spent most of the time in hotels and city centres or with reasonably privileged Russians in which contexts they felt safe and had not encountered any hostility, only some curiosity. They really enjoyed the trips, particularly the western-seeming city of St Petersburg and, perhaps surprisingly, Russian food. As for going to Russia for the World Cup, unlike members of their non-Russian speaking family, they would not be put off by reports of hooliganism because of their insights into Russia and knowledge of the language.

We discussed the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury, back in March 2018. One student said that it was 'shocking, even though we've seen this before with Litvinenko', but this time it was 'more ambiguous because there's been more of a concerted effort to cover it up'. In the words of another student 'there was no reason it shouldn't have been Russia, as we've seen the Russian government do very similar type things before and especially since they've discovered Novichok was used, which has been produced by Russia and is quite hard to get hold of'. The '20 plus different explanations in the Russian press as to how Novichok could have been used' and Putin's strong denials were probably because that is 'the only thing he can really do'.   They felt that the UK had reacted very quickly and 'quite aggressively', partly in response to events in Syria (one student thought that 'Russia seems to be using Syria to threaten the west') and already poor relations that were 'probably due to lack of communication'. It seemed that Salisbury was being 'used to vent and demonise Russia further', and so it was understandable that Russia had taken offence.

The students mused on whether UK relations with Russia were so strained as we are 'closely linked with the US meaning that from a Russian perspective we'll always be viewed as anti-Russian, even if we don't want that [but] we value our connections with the US a lot more than we do our connections with Russia' and also because 'we're not reliant on them for gas or oil like Germany, which means we're able to be more outspoken'. As for what they would have done in the shoes of Boris Johnson, while the expulsion of diplomats was 'harsh' and perhaps 'slightly too hastily', it probably was the most appropriate response. Nonetheless, the UK should have waited, even though it would 'never be able to pin' the poisoning on Russia, who 'have a way of getting away with these kinds of things' as seen in the past unsolved deaths.

On the question of whether knowing some Russian might help our relations, the students felt that it could help to break down barriers with ordinary Russians, not just to aid communication but as 'learning the language is a sign of respect'. One student argued that it was important to study not just the Russian language but also the culture. When dealing with Russian politicians, knowing some Russian might instil respect towards their British counterparts, aid communication and help to dispel myths, misconceptions and stereotypes that run both ways. Studying any language is important to break down barriers and help international relations, but particularly the Russian language as Russia is a country with 'some strong images attached to it'.

And a word from the teachers…

The recent deterioration in Anglo-Russian relations has one silver lining: some exciting linguistic opportunities which demonstrate to pupils just how invaluable a knowledge of Russian can be. For example, when the first accusations of Russian culpability were being made over the Skripal poisoning, we looked with our students at Russian reactions to the story in the media. While the British public knew that the Russians were denying any involvement in the incident, we were in a tiny minority who were actually able to see first-hand exactly what the Russians were saying. Dramatic headlines like 'Teresa May poisons Anglo-Russian relations' and 'Don't throw fairy tales at us – not all Britons are pleased about May's statement' provided lots of good vocabulary to get our teeth into, but it was the subsequent stories – suggestions that the Skripals were being held against their will, for instance, or that Novichok might have been manufactured in the UK – that prompted the most interesting discussion. We posed questions like 'Why are we so willing to believe our government's line when we've been misled before (e.g. on Iraq)?', 'Why might relations between the politicians be so poor when we know that ordinary citizens from our two countries can get on so well?' Studying Russian allows you to see the world from a very different perspective, that of one of the world's great powers, which will hopefully one day be a partner, rather than a rival. The current small (though growing in many universities, such as Bristol: but dedicated body of students of Russian in the UK, with their ever-developing linguistic skills, cultural insights and nuanced views, may help make this possible. 

Jess Tipton interviewed St Paul's Girls' School students Mikal in Year 9 and Vicky in Year 10

Stephen Rich interviewed Winchester College students Will, Kevin, Alex and Théo in Year 12


All views are those of the students and staff, rather than of ISMLA

A French Lesson with a Spontaneous Difference

After four days of examinations, our Year 12 pupils were no doubt relieved to have a French lesson with difference on a Friday afternoon last month. The Institut Français had kindly sent us an offer of a free workshop, delivered by one of the professional actors at the Art Fabric Company, a French theatre company based in London who specialise in improvisation, ( It was so straightforward to book our teacher, Laura, to come in for a lesson and the workshop went down extremely well.

Laura spoke entirely in French so that the workshop relied on their understanding of her (very clear) instructions as well as the students' ability to produce French spontaneously. Laura warmed the group up with a variety of exercises, including having to respond to ten different signals (1-10) which triggered different behaviours (hailing a cab, having a drink, clapping etc.) The group also played a virtual game of volleyball in which they 'threw' items of vocabulary from different lexical fields at each other, which could work well with any group. Over the course of the two-hour session, the students worked up to improvising different scenarios that were assigned to them, such as coming across a doppelganger in a busy train station or expressing different emotions (disdain, hate, burning desire) towards friends or strangers.

I was particularly impressed by the pace of the workshop, which moved from activity to activity at dizzying speed and kept all the participants on their toes throughout. The girls gained confidence from having understood everything so well and from having to produce French 'on the spot'; I think that it reduced their inhibitions and also bonded them as a group. The workshop works best with a maximum of 12 students and, if you get the chance to organise one for one of your groups, you will not regret it!

Davina Suri


At Queen's College back at the beginning of May, there was a strong turnout for a talk from Dr Mary Harrod, of Warwick University, about the French reaction to the #metoo movement, one of the defining phenomena of 2017. Her talk, based on an article that she had prepared for The Conversation prefigured an excellent report that aired on Radio 4 at the end of May (links to both below), and I would recommend both of these to you and to your students, as well as the opportunity to hear Dr Harrod speak if you have the chance.

A group of French women, many who would call themselves feminists, signed an open letter to Le Monde, in which they declared that the #metoo movement had gone too far. They believed that it would damage the natural chemistry that exists between a man and a woman, which should be based on a man's right to seduce, to charm and, even, his 'right to pester' a woman into bed with him. The art of seduction is centuries-old and to deter men from putting it into practice would be a rejection of French culture and an infringement of a basic right. Similarly, the sexual revolution in the 1960s gave women a right to enjoy extra-marital relations without shame or judgement and, for the signees of this letter, the #metoo movement could only be a step backwards to less enlightened times.

Dr Harrod placed this letter, signed at the beginning of 2018, in context for us. Firstly, these women are almost all middle-aged, affluent artists or intellectuals. Their views are not representative of all French women or feminists. However, they do seem to represent the French establishment to some extent, whose views were clearly demonstrated in the aftermath of the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in 2011 in New York on charges of sexual harassment. The scandal that this caused in the States and the UK arguably foreshadowed the reaction to the accusations against Harvey Weinstein last year. This was a career-ending moment in which he had overstepped the mark, it was an abuse of power, it was consistent with stories and rumours circulating in France about his abhorrent sexual tendencies, which he preferred to describe as 'libertine'. However, in France the reaction was much more muted. Some of the French media preferred to direct their condemnation towards the American media, who had published photographs of Strauss-Kahn in handcuffs, something which is not permitted in France until a defendant has been declared guilty. He was publicly defended in the French media by figures such as the philosopher Bernard Henry-Lévy, the former minister of justice Robert Badinter and former socialist minister of culture Jack Lang. This reaction is consistent with the reception of the news that François Mitterrand had spent much of his presidency with his mistress and illegitimate daughter; this would have been a much greater scandal in the UK than it was in France. This context goes some way to explain the open letter, but, arguably, times are changing in France. Many younger, more internationally spirited French women disagreed with the contents of the letter. In 2018, President Macron would not be spared a backlash if an extra-marital affair were to be discovered, as former presidents perhaps have been. French millennial thinking is perhaps epitomised by the so-called Gucci gang (see link), whose 'woke' credentials have already garnered favour with our sixth-formers!

The most important sentiment with which our girls left the talk was that there would always be debates and divisions within feminism, that feminists won't always agree, whether within or across national boundaries, but that they will do themselves a disservice by attacking those who think differently. Dr Harrod ended both her talk and her article with a warning against both hypocrisy and causing offence: from the plunging necklines of the #timesup protest black dresses to the fine line between seduction and harassment, women, as well as men, all need to bring a compassion and an awareness of others to their daily lives that transcends national stereotypes.

Davina Suri



Get a (Real) Life – An Exam that Might Motivate and Actually Be Useful

This is an exam that is likely to be of interest to those of your pupils who enjoy the Duke of Edinburgh awards or taking part in the CCF.

In essence it's no more than a multiple choice listening exam – but the content is significantly different from other exams. Situations are tense, edgy even – and in the military style scenarios – 'robust'… There are two versions of the same exam – one has a military set of situations, the other is set to be of interest to those who enjoy Duke of Edinburgh / Scouts / St John's Ambulance Brigade / London Challenge, etc. [AC1] 

I have written before in the ISMLA Newsletter and updated delegates at the annual conference, so you may know that a typical scenario is a helicopter sending out a distress call just before a forced landing. Candidates might, for example, need to understand and relay the key information as if they were the emergency services. If you have seen the Barclays 'listening' adverts with the young man (helicopter) or young girl (wind turbine in a storm) you will get the idea – though these appeared some three months after I drafted sample situations.

The first exam session, offered in French, Spanish and (well done CIOL – Chartered Institute of Linguists) German will take place next week (as I write this) on Wednesday 20 June. By the next Newsletter some 380 candidates will have decided if they found it 'engaging' – as will have their teachers! It is hoped that all will 'Pass' and that many will have secured a 'Merit' or 'Distinction'.

The level is set at CEF A2 – if your think your pupils in Year 10 will go on to gain a GCSE level '5' then they will pass. If they are likely to gain a '4' then they should pass. Better candidates will perform… better.  I hope that candidates for whom this is an 'easy' exam will still find it interesting, whilst those who read the question and wait to hear 'a number' or a 'location' will not perform well (nor, in my opinion, should they!).

What is next?

The idea came about because IoLET, the Awarding Organisation of the CIOL, already run the Ministry of Defence language exams and it seemed a format that would engage. The MoD are interested bystanders, and CIOL-IoLET will be encouraging their engagement with this new exam. I write this with no links with the MoD!

If the demand is there, then the Institute of Linguists will make a CEF B1 level exam. This would be useful in any 'enrichment' slot where (in a Year 12 world of 3 x A levels rather than 4 x AS levels) pupils want to continue a language but don't want to or are unable to consider an A level.

You can find full details at By the time you read this, this year's papers (military and non-military) in the three languages will be online. The Institute of Linguists will consider other languages if there is an interest across several schools. This works because the situations are invented in English and transposed / tweaked into CEF A2 appropriate language. For this reason a candidate could not sit German and French in the same year.

I see the exam as something that could / should in the future use video game footage.

 My very sincere thanks to those who have entered pupils for the exam – without this it would have been impossible to consider a second year. This now looks certain to happen.

Nick Mair

 [AC1]Just a comment – the two exams currently have two common elements and a third that differentiates them. So not entirely different sets of questions!

US-Russian Lunar Space Station: A New Era of Cosmic and Linguistic Collaboration?

As we all know, some level of fluency in foreign languages is essential for mutual understanding and collaboration between nations. The British, Americans and Russians all share a reluctance to learn, let alone communicate in, foreign languages. Failure to pick up on the nuance or irony of expressions conveyed through translation or interpretation can cause serious diplomatic misunderstandings and even trigger outright conflict. For example, further animosity and distrust was generated between Britain and Russia over the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury because the term 'Highly Likely', used in attributing blame to Russia, encapsulated a different degree of certainty in English and Russian (, 20 April 2018). But perhaps there is no other sphere where accurate communication is more critical on a day-to-day basis than in space exploration, where astronauts are working and living together in a confined space on expensive, dangerous and high-profile missions. The British astronaut Tim Peake famously reported that learning Russian to a high enough standard in order to operate various Russian-built parts of the International Space Station was in fact the trickiest aspect of the entire mission (The Telegraph, 12 December 2015). Madeleine, in Year 10 at St Paul's Girls' School, has been looking at potential collaboration between Russia and the USA in space. Such a close partnership will surely also need to be linguistic?

Russia and the USA have been competitors in the kosmos since the dawn of space travel. For decades these two global superpowers battled it out to be the first in space. Following intial overtures of collaboration following the death of Stalin in 1953, the International Geophysical Year ironically triggered competition between the two countries after the US announced it would launch artificial satellites to mark the event, to which the Soviet Union responded that it would launch a satellite "in the near future". The USSR finally beating America with its launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik I, in 1957. The Space Race even played a part in the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 that left the USA as the main global superpower. Now it is uncertain whether the agreement between NASA and Roscosmos (Russia's space agency) to collaborate and build a space station on the moon will lead to further progress and great discoveries, or more petty arguments on Twitter.

Donald Trump is notorious for picking fights with his competitors, as shown by his viral tweet to Kim Jong-un on 2 January 2018 about the power and accessibility of his "nuclear button". Meanwhile Putin is known to be competitive in space, but also easily disappointed, as shown by his public scolding of space chiefs after a failed rocket launch, and other setbacks, in 2016 (The Telegraph, 27 April 2016). As a result, Putin may be keen to push for progress and effective collaboration to work towards new discoveries. Trump, on the other hand, would likely brand any similar signs of failure on the American side as 'fake news' and refuse to collaborate any further on the project if there were any negative media backlash. There are current signs, although at times ambiguous, of friendship and open comunications between Trump and Putin. Trump has complimented Putin on multiple occasions, calling him a "tough guy" and "so nice", as well as having multiple back-to-back phone calls with his potential 'new best friend' ( Meanwhile there is the question of Russia's involvement in the US elections. Such close links, of whatever kind, will surely be useful in such a great endeavour as building a space station on the moon! And for such a fast-moving and critical project, actual knowledge of one another's language, rather than reliance on translators and interpreters, will be essential for those on board and on the ground.

The many scientific benefits of a lunar space station could potentially override any political friction in getting the project off the ground. Despite huge progress in terms of discovery in space, still very little is known. NASA has said that this joint project would serve as a "gateway to deep space and the lunar surface" (The Guardian, 27 September 2017). This investigation into deeper space would allow scientists to discover more about the universe that surrounds us and change the way in which space is viewed, as well as educate ordinary citizens. The overall goal is to at some point send humans to Mars to see if it could be habitable. There is an irony in the fact that the US President's basic misunderstanding of the facts of climate change may lead us to destroying our planet so much that we may need such a multinational and multilingual refuge (The Independent, 28 January 2018).

Overall, I think this collaboration will be a successful one. At the moment, it's the leading contender to succeed the International Space Station, with Canada, Japan and the European Space Agency all expressing an interest in taking part alongside Russia and America. Trump will have his Twitter tantrums, Putin will likely remain President for the next 30 years, but as long as no-one makes a linguistic faux pas or presses their nuclear button and we get to the moon we'll all be fine.

Madeleine (Year 10)

St Paul's Girls' School

What Pupils Want: Language Immersion in Prep Schools

I spent a large part of my early childhood in Morocco with trilingual parents. My confidence in my French and the very idea of being multilingual gives me a different perspective on the methods used for language teaching in Britain to those of my fellow students. The pupils I speak to often think that achieving fluency in the foreign language is impossible, that lessons are too difficult and that languages, other than English, are unnecessary.

Most teachers whom I have known in this country teach modern languages through, what I would call, traditional methods, like the ones still used to teach Latin and Greek. We all know that in the Victorian era Latin and Greek, in the form of a spoken language, died out and that it was thereafter taught on the page. So, when languages were introduced to the curriculum it was only natural that the same methods would be used to teach those… and so the problem for me and my fellow pupils arose.

Over the last two years I have been lucky to have experienced different ways of teaching languages in my school. In the first year, I was taught in the traditional way. Over the year, I found that the natural flow of my French felt blocked and I was less able to perform to the best of my ability. The lack of spoken French in the classroom affected both my own and classmates' confidence in speaking the language and we became more hesitant, perhaps overly concerned over whether what we were saying was grammatically right.

My father is a very good example of this. After ten years of struggling in French in school, he would have described himself as 'incapable of speaking French'. However, after one year of immersion in Morocco he was fluent due to a need to speak the language. I really believe that he could have accomplished this at school if he was only exposed to the spoken word earlier and more effectively.

Over the second year, my class mates and I experienced a different style of teaching with a new teacher from the continent. Lessons were conducted mainly in French and we were asked to communicate with each other using not only new phrases but also by building on previously learned vocabulary. This was very encouraging for me who had a strong grounding in spoken French. The new teaching style, slowly but effectively, built our confidence in what we had already learned and made us believe in what we could achieve. Not only that but, to my surprise, my class mates became keen to use me as a gateway for their own improvement, either through competition and asking me questions in class or simply chatting to me in French between lessons.

Some of my fellow pupils have also told me, that after going on our Year 7 trip to France this summer, they felt strong in grammar but were frustrated at their lack of vocabulary, due to the focus, in the previous year, on declining verbs and learning vocabulary lists without using new words in speech. Now, they are keen to learn more and find immersion inspiring!

In fact, one of my best experiences of modern language teaching took place in Year 5 when I took part in a French play for a language competition, held at St Helen and St Catherine School in Oxfordshire. My class mates and I were asked to perform a single comic scene set in a restaurant. The most important thing about this experience was the understanding not only of what was going on, but also the jokes, the characters and the timing of the dialogue. We had the 'feeling of real life' whilst the constant rehearsals meant that our confidence grew and at the end we felt closer to fluency than ever before, especially when we won!

A child who goes to nursery school can speak and is then taught the alphabet. It is only natural, given the history of language learning and our common sense, to point the teaching of a second modern language towards written structures. My experience of language learning, however, is that the grounding work must begin with speaking the language first, and should be prioritised over writing.

If schools started the effective teaching of any foreign language at a younger age, using immersion to pursue spoken fluency (whilst in due course learning the written word), I believe the teaching of modern languages in Britain would take a giant leap forward.

Zen Fairhurst

Brockhurst and Marlston House Schools


French Drama Festival 2018

The annual French Drama Festival took place this year on 8th March and was a remarkable success thanks to the talent and dedication of the students and teachers involved.  

The evening was presented as a dozen groups of keen school students performing extracts from a range of well-known French theatrical works. What the audience actually beheld was an incredibly professional and polished sequence of scenes showcasing a variety of profound, absurd, comical and sincere interpretations of some of our most loved francophone plays. The theatrical talent and linguistic proficiency of the students involved was so palpable that, at moments, one could feel themselves entirely removed from the context of the event. The eerie silence as the audience reacted to King Alfred School's powerful and winning interpretation of Lettres de Délation in contrast to the raucous laughter that pervaded throughout Haberdashers' Boy's performance of Ma femme s'appelle Maurice perfectly characterised the evening.

Pauline Moloney is to be applauded for her incredible commitment to pursuing this initiative and her success in making it a landmark calendar event for many of the most prestigious independent schools in London.

Danielle Kaye

Mill Hill School

Making the Switch: Career Tips for Those Planning to Move from Prep School to Senior School

Many teachers may have the impression that moving from Prep to Senior Level, or vice versa, is not a feasible career move. Having taught in a Prep School for the many years, I will be moving to a Senior School in September and am able to reflect on the advantages and challenges that changing level can bring.

After seven years teaching in a Prep School I felt that a change of school was due. Without wishing to move house and uproot my family, the choice of schools available was therefore limited. With several good Senior School in the vicinity, I had been thinking for several years that a move to Senior level could be a good option, but like many, I had my doubts. When my ideal job came up at a girls' Senior School near my house, I took a leap of faith. I applied, I was invited to attend an interview and I was offered the job.

For many, location is a deciding factor when choosing a school to work in. Those looking for a change but not wishing to move house may find that, like me, their choice of schools to teach in is limited. Those with partners or children who are happily settled in their jobs or schools may have a hard time convincing their family to move across the country, or indeed the world, for a career change.

Intellectual stimulation may be another deciding factor. For me, the opportunity to teach GCSE, A Level and IB is an exciting prospect and I look forward to the personal challenge that this change will bring. Those moving down level may hanker for the innocent and unbridled enthusiasm of the Prep School world, having had their fill of moody teenagers. Whatever the motivation for a move, there are of course challenges to consider, though these may be less important that they appear.

A lack of teaching experience at the appropriate level is the most obvious barrier to those wishing to move from Prep to Senior level. Of course relevant teaching experience is desirable, but having interviewed many teachers myself in my role as Head of Department, I know first-hand that candidates with the perfect CV are not always the ones who stand out on the day. It is important to show that you know what teaching at the new school will involve, and that you have the skills to do so. Many teachers will have a degree in their chosen subject which will help to prove their suitability, but those teaching subjects other than those that they have studied at University Level will need to show that they have the required subject knowledge. Completing a part-time course in your chosen subject or completing an A-Level exam through a local Senior School will show willing and prove your suitability for the role.

For anyone wishing to move from Prep to Senior level, or vice versa, my advice would be 'Go for it!' -  it may prove easier than you think.

Ed Smyth

The Dragon School, Oxford

Reviews: Netflix Series for Spanish - Gran Hotel

Number of series: 3

Episode length: 45 minutes

With a possible subtle nod to the 1930s film 'Grand Hotel' in its title, this Spanish series features numerous members of the casts of both Velvet and Chicas del Cable. Gran Hotel is a murder mystery that will have students hooked from the outset. The characters are engaging and either deplorable or fascinating. The language is clear and accessible whilst also containing numerous idiomatic expressions that will enrich students' vocabulary. I myself sat watching both this and Velvet with my Quizlet open, writing down phrases that I particularly liked - and I know some of my pupils have done the same!

Plot: The events take place in 1906–1907 in Spain, near a town called Cantaloa. The working-class Julio Olmedo arrives at the luxurious Grand Hotel to visit his sister Cristina, who works there as a maid and who has recently been promoted to floor manager. Julio is told by a waiter that Cristina was fired for theft a month before, a story Julio does not believe. He is convinced something happened to her at the hotel and there was a cover-up. He takes a job there as a waiter under the name Julio Espinosa to investigate his sister's disappearance. He soon finds an ally in Alicia Alarcón, one of the daughters of the hotel's owner Doña Teresa. Alicia, who is being forced to marry hotel manager Diego Murquía, is also suspicious of things happening at the hotel. Together Julio and Alicia work to uncover the secrets of the Grand Hotel.  (Source: Wikipedia)

Daniella Mardell



Reviews: Netflix Series for Spanish - Velvet

Series: 4

Episode length: 1hr

Watching the tv show Velvet has been brilliant for my Spanish. There are one or two characters that speak slightly fast but because the show is based around the world of fashion, the Spanish is accessible. It has allowed me to get my ear in and improve my listening and you can also watch it with English or Spanish subtitles. Moreover, it has helped my fluency, as the show has taught me colloquialisms and casual Spanish that you wouldn't necessarily learn in a classroom, so it is helpful for speaking conversational Spanish outside of the schoolroom. Beyond this, the show is extremely enjoyable to watch. It's fast-moving and there is a perfect balance between the storylines of 'las galerías Velvet', including the magnificent clothes of 1950s Madrid, and the characters, especially the seamstresses that work at the store and the forbidden romance between two of the main characters, Ana and Alberto. It's safe to say that finding a tv show that is somewhat educational, so I don't feel guilty about watching it, but I also actually want to watch, has made it all the more entertaining.

Ottilie (Year 11)

St Paul's Girls's School


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