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Another look at Languages Online

The interactive web site we used far more than any other at Ripon Grammar School was Languages Online. It is free, full of content and pitched at a good level for the relatively more able student. It is the work of Andrew Balaam and his colleagues at Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, England.

The site makes extensive use of Hot Potatoes to produce a range of accurate interactive grammar and comprehension tasks for all levels. Material is most wide-ranging for French, but Spanish, German, Italian and Latin are well represented. Material includes simple games which can border on the gimmicky, but these are useful to give as a reward to students who finish tasks quickly. A useful feature of the activities is that they supply some feedback and give success scores - students are often motivated by this.

Hot Potatoes was designed before the advent of hand-held smart devices, so Andrew and his team have recently had their work cut out to adapt and recategorise the numerous exercises. For most exercises you can now opt for PC or mobile device use, both Android and Apple, which means that all exercises run properly. This is the case for exercises marked "refreshed" in the menus.

An attractive feature of the site for students has always been the colourful, clear interface and its use of appealing pictures to add flavour to the pages. This makes a real difference. It is a shame the site is now a little cluttered by the presence of adverts, but if the school can now make some money out of its work it is well deserved after offering it free for so many years. I hope any income goes straight to the MFL department. I doubt if many of the ads will appeal to the target audience, though. Monetising the site through subscription would be difficult, given the school's mission to share its work freely and, no doubt, because of copyright issues.

It is great to see the constant refreshing of the site. In the last year new additions have included a major World Cup section for French, German and Spanish, updated German listening resources, new German grammar pages and Spanish AS level material.

How can the site fit into your scheme of work? One way is to use it in primary, Y7 and Y8 is to build in a lesson in the ICT rooms towards the end of each unit of work. This makes for a perfect fit with the Tricolore course. With older students you can choose exercises to go with the grammar or topic being practised at the time. Don't forget that there is even useful material for A-level. The site is strong on tense usage and is careful to include tasks which require a grasp of meaning as well as form. Users of other courses would be able to pick out relevant exercises pretty easily. Schools with multiple iPads or similar would find it easy to include sections of lessons with Languages Online.

Using online language learning resources involves sorting out the genuinely useful from the superficially appealing, but ultimately unproductive. Languages Online is actually superior to the average worksheet owing to its interactivity and attractive appearance. If you have overlooked it in the past, I recommend it strongly as a great source of comprehensible input and structured practice.




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