Tuesday, 28 June 2016

10 aspects of my hybrid approach

There are no best methods. Many have been tried, none have worked with all pupils. I would treat with caution any claim that a new method will be the answer to your problems.

With the students I taught over the years, who were generally of above average aptitude and working in schools with a powerful learning ethos, I developed my own approach based on what I consider to be solid principles. I don't particularly recommend this approach to you, but I just record it here in broad terms in case you find it useful.

Every teacher has their own hybrid approach based either implicitly or explicitly on principles. Here are 10 elements which were important to me:

1. Provide lots of comprehensible input.

This would be my number one priority. I liked my lessons to be largely, not wholly, in the target language, with a strong focus on listening and responding, and a slightly lesser focus on reading. This meant that most of my lessons featured abundant question answer work, teacher-led interactions of many types and good amount of pair work.

I tried to make the input as interesting as possible, within the constraints of any syllabus. I do accept the general principle that much language learning happens naturally, but I was also aware that in the classroom, with limited time, short-cuts are needed and that learning a second language is not the same as learning the mother tongue.

2. Teach grammar and vocabulary explicitly and implicitly

I sometimes allowed students to work out rules by very structured input, but would always explain them at some point. For most grammar points I would give explicit explanations in English, notes and handouts. I would do grammatical drills, believing that skill acquisition is useful, give pupils a sense of mastery and can ultimately lead to proficiency. Some theorists and teachers will say this does not work. I don't know for sure, but it seemed the right thing to do for me.

I tried to balance keeping things as clear an simple as possible, without sacrificing accuracy. In general I was more interested in fluency than accuracy, however. I tried to avoid "overdoing" grammar and just talking about the language. This does not not lead to much, if any, acquisition.

Although I did sometimes set vocab lists to be learnt, I generally felt more comfortable with the idea that it would be picked up by frequent use. To me vocab learning was a boring homework task to set and I preferred other activities. At advanced level, I provided word lists but never tested vocabulary.

3. Respect the principle of simple to complex

I was happy with the traditional PPP model (Presentation- Practice - Production), particularly for younger pupils. For advanced students I was happy to rely principally on comprehensible input and nature taking its course. But even at advanced level I thought there was a place for specific explanation and instruction.

I applied to principle that the brain finds it hard to process several things at once, so tried to grade and select material rigorously, building up from simpler elements to more complex. One tense at a time, one structure at a time, one vocab area at a time.

4. Recycle, recycle, recycle

I attempted to make sure that each lesson followed on and recapped in some way what had gone on before. I tried to teach the same structures and vocab areas in different ways. I would try to avoid leaving topic behind, never to return to them.

To keep recycling language in a limited time you have to go at a brisk pace. With my pupils I was able to do this.

5. Keep it varied

Although pupils appreciate consistency and habit, there comes a point where repetitive tasks get boring, so I tried to keep a balance between habit and freshness. Using games was one way of doing this. But almost all the games I used had a clear learning purpose, so I prefer to think of them as game-like activities.

6. Use visuals

It always seemed to me that visual aids were a good means to motivate, hold attention and provide the basis for all sorts of communicative work. I thought group repetition was important in the early stages to establish good pronunciation habits and an interest in sounds. Visual aids assist with this.

7. Make good use of homework

Every homework session is the equivalent of an extra lesson, so has to be planned for and followed up rigorously. Nearly all the homeworks I set involved writing since I wanted evidence that work was done. I did not trust students to do work which I could not clearly check on. I have little time for the argument that homework has limited value. In general, i don't think the "flipped" model is particularly useful. Generally I though that homework should reinforce what had been done in the classroom. This seems like pure common sense to me.

8. Prepare them well for assessment

I adopted a structured approach to preparing pupils for tests and exams. Revision was not left to homework time, it was done in class as a natural extension of previous work - another chance to recycle language, if you like. I made sure students were well-versed in the question types they would encounter in tests.

I was happy to use scores and grades as a means to help motivate pupils.

9. Have fun and be positive

I nearly always enjoyed my teaching and sharing a classroom with young people. Language learning is a slow and hard process, so you have to sweeten the pill as much as possible by making the time go by quickly. Above all I hated the idea that a lesson was boring. I wanted pupils to feel they had enjoyed learning and been stretched as far as possible.

10. Be mean when you have to be

My reputation was probably as a strict, no-nonsense teacher and I was certainly happy to get stroppy when the need arose. In general though, students learn better when they are relaxed and happy, as well as on task. If classroom behaviour is poor, the game is lost. My biggest fear was losing control. My starting point was not to trust pupils. By not trusting them I believed they worked harder.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Truth or lie?

Here is a handy little communicative speaking task for advanced level students or very good intermediates (GCSE).

Vérité ou mensonge ?

Students work in pairs and ask each other questions from the list below. The student answering must always say they did the activity. Then the questioner can ask any number of follow-up questions to try to establish if their partner actually did the activity or not. The questioner then has to decide if their partner has told the truth.

As-tu déjà volé quelque chose?
As-tu déjà fait un sport dangereux ?
Es-tu déjà resté dans un hôtel quatre étoiles ?
As-tu déjà  fait du camping en France ?
As-tu déjà  rencontré un personnage célèbre ?
As-tu déjà  gagné une médaille ou un trophée ?
As-tu  déjà mangé des escargots ?
As-tu déjà paru dans un article de journal local ?
As-tu déjà  bu un vin très cher ?
As-tu déjà raté un vol d’avion ?
As-tu déjà  copié les devoirs de quelqu’un d’autre ?
As-tu déjà  joué au golf ?
As-tu déjà  vu un film dans un cinéma en France ?
Es-tu déjà  allé aux Etats-Unis ?
As-tu déjà  été mordu par un chien ?
As-tu déjà  eu un accident de voiture ?
T’es-tu déjà  cassé un bras ou une jambe ?
As-tu déjà  écrit des graffitis sur un mur ?
As-tu déjà  pris le bus ou le train sans payer ?
As-tu déjà  nagé dans une rivière ?
As-tu déjà  tué un animal ?
As-tu déjà refusé de suivre les consignes d’un professeur ?
Es-tu déjà monté à la tour Eiffel ?
As-tu déjà  gagné à la loterie ?

Xenophobia comes in many forms

Like many of you on this morning of Friday 24th June, 2016, I feel shocked, angry and ashamed. 52% of our nation voted to leave the European Union, the greatest peace and economic cooperation project our continent has seen.

I also feel uncertain about what the future will hold for the UK. An independent Scotland now seems probable, political unrest in Northern Ireland closer, instability in Europe on the cards, Tory and Labour parties are in disarray, and who knows what sort of political leadership we shall be subject to?

Xenophobia played a significant role in this referendum campaign, and not just in the form of blatant racism you might come across in the pub or on the streets. Older people of my acquaintance who wanted to leave the EU are not racists or xenophobes in the worst sense; nevertheless they betray in their conversation a deep-seated paranoia and fear of foreigners. They think that the EU is a German-led conspiracy, they say the EU is undemocratic (while not mentioning that, in many ways, the UK governmental system is less so), they often talk of "Brussels", where Brussels is short-hand for "faceless bureaucrats" who do things to us without our permission.

They talk of "them" and "us". If they do see us as members of a club, they believe that the others are all against us. They see themselves as victims. In particular, they still seem to harbour some post Second World War angst about German desire to dominate the continent.

They talk of taking back control over our destiny as if we had lost that ability. Ironically, the fact that we had a referendum at all disproves the claim.

All this is ultimately another type of xenophobia. It may not be out-and-out racism, but it is still fear of foreigners and it is clearly deep-seated in the British (or should I say more especially Welsh and English) psyche. How depressing that with improved education, frequent travel and greater cultural diversity that many of us, mainly the over 60s, cannot escape this way of thinking.

We shall now see the consequences, which remain uncertain. Perhaps the sensible, progressive political centre can eventually reassert itself. In the meantime, as the financial markets have demonstrated this morning, we are in for a very bumpy and damaging ride.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

La libre circulation des ressortissants de l'UE

This is a text and exercises which will shortly appear on frenchteacher.net. Help yourself: this would be a good one-off lesson for advanced level students.

La libre circulation des ressortissants de l'UE 

La libre circulation des travailleurs est un principe fondamental établi par l'article 45 du traité sur le fonctionnement de l'Union européenne. Les citoyens européens ont le droit:

  •  de chercher un emploi dans un autre pays de l'UE;
  •  d'y travailler sans avoir besoin d'un permis de travail;
  •  d'y vivre dans ce but;
  •  d'y rester même après avoir occupé cet emploi;
  •  de bénéficier du même traitement que les citoyens de ce pays en ce qui concerne l'accès à l'emploi, les conditions de travail et tout autre avantage social ou fiscal.

Les citoyens européens peuvent également faire transférer certains types d'assurance maladie et de régimes de sécurité sociale dans le pays dans lequel ils s'établissent pour trouver du travail.

La libre circulation des travailleurs s'applique, d'une manière générale, aux pays de l'Espace économique européen, c’est-à-dire l'Islande, le Liechtenstein et la Norvège.

Les personnes exerçant certaines professions peuvent également obtenir la reconnaissance de leurs qualifications professionnelles à l'étranger. La coordination de la sécurité sociale dans l'Union européenne établit des règles qui protègent les droits des personnes qui se déplacent au sein de l'UE, en Islande, au Liechtenstein, en Norvège et en Suisse.

Qui peut profiter de cette liberté? 

 Les demandeurs d'emploi, à savoir les citoyens de l'UE se déplaçant dans un autre pays européen afin d'y trouver un emploi (sous certaines conditions)
 Les citoyens de l'UE travaillant dans un autre pays de l'Union
 Les citoyens de l'UE retournant vivre dans leur pays d'origine après avoir travaillé à l'étranger
 Les membres de la famille de ces personnes Les droits peuvent varier quelque peu selon la situation des personnes concernées: travailleurs indépendants, étudiants, retraités ou toute autre personne économiquement inactive.

Existe-t-il des restrictions? 

 Les droits s'appliquent aux personnes qui exercent leur droit à la libre circulation dans un but professionnel.  Des limites existent pour des raisons de sécurité publique, d'ordre public, de santé publique et en ce qui concerne l'emploi dans le secteur public.  Les ressortissants croates peuvent être soumis à des restrictions temporaires.

(Informations tirées de ec.europa.eu)


movement - ___________ (f) citizen, inhabitant - ______________ (m) principle - ________ (m) to establish - _________ citizen - _________ (m) aim, objective - ___ (m) fiscal (i.e. tax-related) - ______ system, regime - ________ (m) to settle - __________ recognition - ______________ (f) to move - __ _________ job-seeker - _________- _’_____ retired person - ________ (m)


 Trouvez dans le texte des noms associés aux verbes suivants :

 1. circuler 2. assurer 3. fonctionner 4. employer 5. limiter 6. traiter

Trouvez des verbes associés aux noms suivants :

 1. établissement (m)   2. protection (f)     3. exercice (m)     4. transfert (m)
5. variété (f) 6. déplacement (m)

 A discuter 

1.Expliquez le plus simplement possible le principe de la livre circulation des citoyens européens.
2. Quels sont les avantages de ce principe : (a) économiques (b) culturels (c) personnels
3. Quels sont les défis de ce principe ?
4. Pourquoi est-ce que certains sont contre le principe de la libre circulation ?
5. Dans quels domaines travaillent beaucoup de ressortissants de l’UE au Royaume- Uni ?
6. Quels sont les pays les plus populaires en Europe pour les citoyens britanniques ?
7. Quels facteurs influencent la circulation des citoyens de l’UE ?
8. Que pensent les employeurs de la libre circulation, pensez-vous ?
9. Quels moyens emploient certains pays pour contrôler l’immigration ?
10. Quel est votre point de vue sur la question ? Débat Avec un partenaire. Une personne attaque le principe de libre circulation et l’autre la défend.

Teacher’s note 

 The three main EU destinations for British citizens are, in order: Ireland, Spain and France. It is estimated that roughly 1.2 million British citizens live elsewhere in the EU, plus more who spend part of the year there.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Good practice activities for major tenses

This is an extract from The Language Teacher Toolkit. It's taken from our chapter on teaching grammar. These activities are partly taken from Penny Ur (1988). They all allow for repeated, interesting practice of verb structures with plenty of comprehensible input provided in the process..

Present tense 

Animal habits: for near beginners and intermediate level. Give the class the name of an animal and ask them what they know about its habits. For example, a rabbit: it lives in a hole, it eats plants and vegetables, it has lots of babies and it runs fast. You provide helpful vocabulary and verb infinitives (or present tense forms to make it easier) on the board. You can then ask students to choose other animals and produce more present tense sentences using the language you have provided.

Past (preterite) tense 

Picture stories: for intermediate level students. Sequences of pictures with times on the board provide a tried and tested way of practising simple past tenses. You can draw these simply by hand using stick figures if you wish (students often enjoy your artistic efforts). Include at least 10 pictures depicting a range of activities (a journey, holiday or day out work well). You can then do repetitive question-answer work to describe the sequence in both the first person and third person. If you have drawn single stick figures and you can subsequently add extra figures to move to plural subject pronouns (they and we).

Piling up events: for intermediate students. You give each student on a piece of paper a verb in the simple past tense (e.g. I went, I bought, I played). You then start a simple chain of events with the sentence: Yesterday I went to town and I bought a loaf of bread. The first student continues, repeating your first sentence, then adding one of their own using the verb they were given. The next student continues the chain, and so on until it becomes impossible to remember the whole sequence.

Imperfect tense 

Display pairs of pictures on the board, left and right in two columns, or pairs displayed in sequence, showing a character who used to be poor and who has become rich. On the left your character will be shown with small house, no money, a bicycle, a cap, eating a sandwich and so on. On the right the same character will be seen with a big car, big house, a top hat, drinking champagne and so on.

You describe in the imperfect tense what his life used to be like and in the present tense what their life is like now. You make clear in your speech any verb ending changes. You could either present all the imperfect tense pictures in one go, then the present tense ones, or you could present them side by side to enable students to hear the immediate contrast. You can then proceed to question-answer and repetition work, followed by showing and reading the written forms of the verbs. This an example of the inductive approach to grammar teaching.

Future or immediate future tense 

What will you do with it? For intermediate students. You have a bag containing a collection of easily recognisable objects, e.g. a cup, a stone, a plate or a box of matches. Alternatively, you use a set of picture cards or just the names of the items on large pieces of paper. You display an object/picture/word to the whole class except for one student who has to guess what it is. The guesser asks: what will you do/are you going to do with it? The other students then make their suggestions using a future tense verbs. To help them do this you can provide a list of verbs in their future forms on the board. After a period of oral practice, the students could then write down answers for each object to a time limit

Present conditional

Finishing conditional sentences: for intermediate and advanced students. You give a sentence using an if clause and the present conditional (e.g. If I went to Berlin, I would visit the Reichstag). You then model an answer. With students new to the conditional you would write up examples of conditional verbs on the board. With advanced students who have learned it before, you would not need to do this. You then simply provide more examples of unfinished sentences beginning with if clauses: If I went to France..., if I won the lottery..., if I saw a burglar in the kitchen..., if there were a fire in the kitchen... and so on. You could add to the task by getting other students to repeat in the third person what the previous student had said.

Reference: Ur, P. (1988) Grammar Practice Activities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Monday, 13 June 2016

All the latest resources from frenchteacher

Here is what has been added over the last month. I've been focusing on materials to support teachers with the new A-levels starting in England and Wales in September. As always, teachers around the world will find these resources useful. Bonne continuation!

- A text and exercises on the new Cité du Vin, just opened in Bordeaux. Article, vocabulary list to complete, true sentences to identify and translation into English. This fits well with the cultural heritage sub-themes for the new AS/A-levels. Easy advanced level.

- A video listening task linked to a BFM TV report about French families today. Short news report, vocabulary to spot, matching task, questions in French. A useful 20-25 minute task to supplement work about changing family structures (AS/A-level).

- Two model summary tasks for the new AS-level exam. Include source text, strategies and model summaries.

- A vocabulary booklet for the new Pearson Edexcel AS/A-level (sub-themes 1-6). This is designed to be handed out to students for reference.

- A four page document on essay language for AS/A-level. This is to help students write about film and literature. The support materials for AS/A-level are building up fast. Check out the blog for reviews of other A-level courses.

- Two concise guides to writing AS-level essays on film and literature, one for AQA, the other for Pearson Edexcel. Includes model essays.

- A booklet of all the existing AS-level cloze/multi-choice worksheets. These are aimed at low advanced students (AS-level). All the answers are supplied at the end. You could do these in class or hand out for revision and self-study. The focus is mainly on verb forms and adjective agreements.

- A lesson plan, poem and video listening worksheet on the subject of Alzheimer's disease. There is a touching short silent video also as part of this lesson. This should raise awareness of the illness and help improve students' listening and reading skills. The poem is delightful. A good way to bring a literary text into your work with good intermediate pupils (higher Tier GCSE). This might need handling with sensitivity.

- A text and exercise on volunteering. Elise is a runner who volunteered to help with a race in Paris. She blogs about her experience. Vocabulary list to complete, true sentences to tick, questions, translation both ways, lexical work, oral practice. Good for new AS/A-levels.

- A guide to writing good GCSE essays (Higher Tier). There is a PowerPoint version and Word handout, with mark schemes, advice and a model essay. I have previously posted a similar resource for Foundation Tier. This is for the new GCSE, first teaching from September 2016. You could adapt it to help with composition writing in general.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, 11 June 2016

What about natural aptitude for second language learning?

At the current time it is not particularly fashionable to talk about natural aptitude for subjects at school, the current preference being for the notion that with good teaching and practice all students have the potential to achieve well. This is no doubt a good message to be sending to pupils, but it does seem to fly in the face of language teachers' everyday experience, namely that some students, for whatever reason, seem to pick up languages much quicker than others.

Over the years research in psychology and applied linguistics has focused a good deal on language learning aptitude and motivation, both of which show good correlations with language learning success in formal learning contexts. In this blog, I'm going to look at aptitude and summarise where we are on this issue, using as my source parts of a chapter about individual differences in second language learning, written by Zoltán Dörnyei and Peter Skehan. The chapter appeared in The Handbook of Second Language Acquisition, ed. Catherine Doughty and Michael Long (2008).


Firstly, the writers ask some useful questions:

1. Is a natural talent for second language learning innate?
2. Is it relatively fixed?
3. If it is not fixed, is it amenable to training?
4. Is second language aptitude a distinct ability, or does it relate to more general abilities, such as intelligence, effectively functioning as a subset of a more general view of human variation?
5. Could such a talent be used as the basis for prediction of language learning success? If so, how effective might it be for such prediction, and how would predictions based on it compare with predictions made from other sources?
6. Could such a talent be used as the basis for adaptation of instruction?
7. Does such a talent always apply in a similar manner without influence of learning context or learning methodology.
8. Is such a talent undifferentiated, or does it have sub-components?
9. What is the theoretical basis for any such talent or sub-talents?
10. Can such a talent be measured effectively?

I'll leave you to think about those questions, to which there are no certain answers.

The work of psychologist J.B. Carroll

Carroll is the most famous name in this field of research. He began studying foreign language aptitude in the 1950s and he is still much quoted. Together with Stanley Sapon he designed tests (Modern Language Aptitude Tests - MLATs) which tried to predict the future performance of students. Carroll produced a four-component model of aptitude:

  • Phonemic coding ability - a capacity to decode unfamiliar sounds, store the knowledge in memory and retrieve it.
  • Grammatical sensitivity - the capacity to identify grammatical functions in sentences or utterances.
  • Inductive language learning ability - the capacity to extract syntacic and morphological patterns in a sample of language.
  • Associative memory - the capacity to form bonds in the memory between L1 and L2 words.

To simplify this further, we might sum up by saying: having a good ear, an ability to spot and use patterns and a good memory! This would seem uncontroversial to most teachers.

The above components were used as the basis for the aptitude tests which did, indeed, correlate quite well with performance.

Research after Carroll

Since Carroll, the nature of aptitude research has not changed a great deal, even if it has become more marginal in the field of applied linguistics. Why has research into aptitude fallen out of favour? Firstly, Dörnyei and Skehan echo something I mentioned in my introduction:

"One reason for this has been that aptitude is perceived as anti-egalitarian, in that if a fixed, immutable interpretation of aptitude is taken, it is seen as potentially disadvantaging many learners, with no hope offered of overcoming the handicap of low aptitude."

In other words, the study of aptitude, along with, for example, the study of IQ and genetics, looks a little politically incorrect these days. The writers also mention that standardised text books seem to assume that all learners are effectively the same and benefit from similar input and instruction.

Secondly, Carroll's work was done at a time when the prevailing teaching methods were based on explicit teaching of grammar, audio-lingual approaches and structural drilling. When alternative, nativist approaches came along (think of Krashen) and even, to some extent, European-style communicative approaches, language learning is no longer seen in Carroll's terms: it is seen to resemble first language learning where individual differences in achievement are far less marked. If second language learning happens almost entirely "beneath the radar", unconsciously, how, therefore, can the ability to identify grammatical patterns in a formal test predict future success? (This is an issue for schools who wish to produce baseline tests for students arriving in the schools, largely for accountability purposes.)

By the way, it is worth mentioning that some scholars take the view that tests can predict success in both formal teaching environments and with more naturalistic, input-based contexts.

In sum

For many years aptitude was isolated from the wider field of second language learning and acquisition. It has been perceived as quite effective as a predictor of learning success, but "undemocratic with respect to learners, out of date conceptually, and of little explanatory value." More recent research has, according to Dörnyei and Skehan, indicated that this judgment is incorrect.

Aptitude may well be a particularly useful notion now that a focus on grammatical form has started to come back into fashion. If you believe that a totally meaning-based approach to language teaching is unwise or just unworkable in school contexts, then aptitude is most likely a good predictor of progress. Even if you favour little or no focus on grammatical form, some research suggests it is still relevant.

My own view, for what it's worth, and having worked with school students for 35 years, is that natural aptitude (whether it be general intelligence or language learning-specific) is a key factor in progress, but only one of several. I also had the feeling that some students favoured formal approaches over naturalistic, immersion settings and vice versa. I would have to say also that, in the contexts I worked, natural ability often trumped hard work. Now that's not a fashionable thing to say!

Friday, 10 June 2016

The new Cité du Vin in Bordeaux

A magnificent new tourist attraction has just opened in Bordeaux, a UNESCO heritage city. It's called the Cité du Vin and is a state-of-the-art visitor centre/museum right by the Garonne, close to the city centre. Here is a text I wrote about it for frenchteacher. The worksheet has attached exercises.

Image: XTU Architects/Wikimedia Commons

Bordeaux vise à devenir la capitale mondiale du vin avec sa nouvelle attraction touristique, la très futuriste Cité du Vin qui a ouvert ses portes en juin 2016. Surnommé le « Guggenheim du vin », l'attraction qui a coûté €83 millions n’est pas seulement un panneau publicitaire colossal pour l'industrie du vin de Bordeaux, qui a une valeur de 4 milliards d'euros par an et qui fait travailler
50 000 employés.

Elle célèbre le vin à travers le monde et 6000 ans de vinification. Le bâtiment de huit étages à côté du pont Chaban-Delmas sur la Garonne est censé ressembler à du vin clapotant autour d'un verre et a été conçu par l'architecte parisien X-Tu. Le bâtiment aux formes arrondies est surmonté d’une tour de 55 mètres recouverte de panneaux de verre et d'aluminium doré pour créer des reflets sur le fleuve.

A l'intérieur, on trouve 3000 mètres carrés d'expositions permanentes créées par une agence de Londres, CassonMann. Les expositions sont sous forme de créations multimédia, avec pratiquement pas d'objets. C’est un genre d’espace que les visiteurs n’auront jamais connu auparavant, selon le concepteur Gary Shelley.

Chaque visiteur dispose d'un guide numérique avec un casque qui traduit beaucoup d'informations audio-visuelles - même les Français en auront besoin car tout n’est pas en français. L'exposition utilise des images en 3D pour une visite du vignoble mondial, des écrans tactiles pour montrer les méthodes vinicoles, la diffusion d'arômes pour décrire les éléments sensoriels du vin et même une « chaise de la gueule de bois » où les auteurs parlent de l'excès!

Sur le fleuve, un ponton permet un accès pour les passagers de navires de croisière et les bateaux partiront de ce même ponton pour faire des visites du vignoble bordelais. La tour, elle, a un restaurant panoramique et le haut, le Belvédère, offre une vue sur la ville de Bordeaux (site Unesco). Le bar est éclairé par le plus grand chandelier du monde, fabriqué à partir de plusieurs milliers de bouteilles. Ceci est la dernière étape de la visite et c’est l'occasion, enfin, de déguster du vin.

Des sponsors ont réuni 19% des fonds et des investisseurs américains ont financé l’auditorium Thomas Jefferson €1 million, nommé d'après le président américain qui a introduit le vin aux Etats-Unis alors qu'il était ambassadeur en France.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Intermediate (GCSE) parallel reading on frenchteacher

Regular users of frenchteacher will know that a staple of the site is texts with exercises at all levels. I have always thought that teaching grammar and vocabulary in context, through meaningful and interesting texts is a fruitful way to improve students' skills. I usually add a range of tasks to texts including vocab lists to complete, true/false/not mentioned, questions in French, matching, correcting false sentences, gap-fill, translation. communicative oral tasks and more.

One conundrum with texts, of course, is trying to match the linguistic and maturity levels. Generally speaking, interesting texts are too hard. One way around this is to use the idea of parallel texts in the target language and English so that students can get quickly to the meaning which interests them. But then, my instinct remains to try to teach texts almost wholly through the target language. I have found in the past that parallel texts are a useful route into a text, before you begin further exploitation. Don't forget that further exercises in TL provide more input, and we know that input is a (the?) major factor in acquisition.

I have parallel texts on the site from beginner to intermediate level and you can easily make them into booklets to be worked on in class, set for homework or given as extension work.

Here is an example, the topic being phobias (an inherently interesting topic), written for intermediate (GCSE) level. You'll see the French text, then an English version, then exercises. I would personally begin with the teacher reading aloud while student follow the English text. Students could then reread quietly or practise reading aloud. You can then work through the exercises, maybe adding your own, e.g. practising intonation or, for example, aural gap-fill (where students hide the text and you read snippets which they have to complete out loud, putting up their hands to offer answers)

French text

Dans un sondage récent on a demandé à 2000 personnes de quoi ils avaient le plus peur. Il semble qu’il y ait des différences non seulement entre les réponses des hommes et celles des femmes, mais aussi entre les différentes générations. En tête de la liste, beaucoup de gens ont peur des hauteurs (58%). En deuxième place vient parler en public, suivi de près par la peur des serpents (52%). Ensuite viennent les araignées, les souris, les piqûres, l’avion, les grandes foules, les clowns, l’obscurité, le sang et les chiens (14%). A noter que le dentiste n’était pas sur la liste de phobies présentées aux sondés. Il est intéressant de constater aussi que les femmes craignent davantage les araignées et les souris que les hommes. En général, à l’exception des piqûres, les femmes ont un peu plus peur de tout que les hommes. Mais il y a aussi des différences entre les générations. Les jeunes ont plus peur de parler en public, tandis que les personnes de plus de 60 ans ont plus peur des hauteurs et des serpents. Il est difficile de comprendre pourquoi tant de personnes ont peur des clowns !

English text

In a recent opinion poll 2000 people were asked what they were most afraid of. It seems that there are differences, not only between the replies of men and women, but also between the different generations. At the top of the list many people are afraid of heights (58%). In second place comes public speaking, followed closely by the fear of snakes. (52%). Then come spiders, mice, injections, flying, large crowds, clowns, darkness, blood and dogs (14%). It’s worth mentioning that dentists were not offered as an option to the people polled. It is also interesting to note that women fear spiders and mice more than men. In general, with the exception of injections, women are a little more afraid of everything than men. But there are also differences between generations. Young people are more scared of public speaking, whilst people aged over 60 are more frightened of heights and snakes. It is hard to understand why so many people are frightened of clowns!


Vrai, faux ou pas mentionné ?

1. On a posé des questions au public sur leurs phobies.
2. Les femmes et les hommes donnent toujours les mêmes réponses.
3. Les gens ont peur du dentiste.
4. Les gens ont le plus peur de parler en public.
5. Les femmes ont plus peur des piqûres que les hommes.
6. Les femmes ont plus peur des souris que les hommes.
7. On a sondé un nombre égal de femmes et d’hommes.
8. Avoir peur d’un clown, c’est facile à comprendre.
9. Personne n’a peur de l’obscurité.
10. Les jeunes ont relativement moins peur des hauteurs.
11. Plus de 50% des gens ont peur des serpents.
12. Plus de 50% des personnes ont peur des araignées.
13. Les gens ont moins peur de l’avion que les grandes foules.

De quoi avez-vous peur ? 

1. Mettez les phobies dans le texte dans votre ordre personnel. a) ………………… b) ………………… c) ………………… d) ………………… e) ………………… f) ………………….

2. Ecrivez cinq phrases sur vos peurs personnelles. J’ai peur de/des ………………………………………. ………………………………………………………….. …………………………………………………………................................................................  …………………………………………………………...............................................................  …………………………………………………………..

3. Sondage : posez la question à vos camarades de classe :

 Tu as peur de quoi ? Notez les résultats et expliquez-les au professeur. Par exemple : Paul a peur de(s)….. etc

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Our little TES shop


As you may know, Gianfranco and I have been writing some new A-level French resources with a focus on translation, especially translation into French. We are working through the various A-level sub-themes, especially those from AQA and Pearson Edexcel.

So far we have uploaded 10 units of work for AS-level (first year of A-level): on family (AQA, Pearson, Eduqas), cyber-society (AQA) , world of work (Pearson, Eduqas), music (AQA, Eduqas), literature (Eduqas), heritage (AQA, Pearson, Eduqas), education (Pearson and Eduqas) , voluntary work (AQA), personal identity (Eduqas) and cinema (AQA and Eduqas).

Each unit consists of seven to nine dense pages of exercises, including pre-reading tasks, a chunky text, comprehension, oral and grammar manipulation activities, translation into English, pre-translation tasks and, finally, three graded translations into French.

The content is a bit like "skill-building meets comprehensible input"! Fans of Gianfranco's worksheets will recognise the format, while users of frenchteacher.net will pick out the focus on textual work and comprehension.

Answer keys are provided for all exercises, so the units could be handed out for independent study as well as used in class.

In addition we have begun posting similar units for GCSE (intermediate). There will soon be 10 of these in the form of a bundle for £20. Topics include: holidays, volunteering, environment, future plans, the internet and healthy living.

We have designed these with the principles of our toolkit book in mind. There is a lot of recycling of language, so that, if the final translations seem quite difficult, by the time students get to them, they should have recycled so much language that they will not seem too tough.

Each unit is priced at £3 and will last you several years. In late August shall later bundle 10 units for £20.

10 units will represent a photocopiable and editable text book of at least 110 pages of densely packed material. We would consider this to be excellent value, especially since it could be used for several years.

We would anticipate using these units as an add-on to any course book or other materials you choose to use. Private tutors would also be able to make good use of the resources.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016


This referendum has me very worried. I hope a majority of the country sees sense on June 23rd. The sweep of history is for us to be part of a cooperative Europe, not standing on the sidelines or, worse, provoking a gradual disintegration and return to the bickering and conflicts of the past. We should not forget the contrast between how Europe has been for most of its history and how it has been since 1945.

If we vote leave I see a government led by Johnson or May, an economy in shock, a rise in intolerance and xenophobia, a cabinet full of Brexit campaigners, years of negotiations ending with the UK in a single market without a say in decisions, possible threats to workers' rights, an independent Scotland and destabilised Europe with who knows what consequences in the long term.

This was posted on Facebook. If you have any doubts about how to vote, you might find it useful. It's hard to fault.