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How well was MFL taught?

Just came across this YouGov survey which asked people in different age groups, regions and social classes how well they thought various school subjects were taught. You might find it interesting.

The subject which emerged as the best taught was English with 87% of respondents saying the subject was well taught. In second place was maths (80%), then geography (76%), history (75%), PE (67%), biology (65%), chemistry (64%), physics (60%), art (59%), MFL (55%) and music (52%).

Figures are also supplied for how badly the subject was taught and these show a similar order.

A closer look at the MFL figures shows that the most happy respondents are those in the 25-39 age group. Younger and older respondents were considerably less happy. Conservative voters were a little happier than Labour voters, with Lib Dem voters the happiest. ABC1 class voters were happier than C2DE by a margin of 10%.

What could this all mean?

Here is my shot:
  • Languages (along with art and music) are specialist subjects which have always attracted a minority of fans. These subjects are a harder sell for teachers and this may affect the perception of the quality of teaching.
  • Languages are actually harder to teach, because they are perceived as harder and the methods needed to teach them are more demanding of teachers.
  • Maybe, though this seems less likely, language teachers are generally less good than teachers of maths, English, humanities and science.
  • Middle-class children are more likely to enjoy languages and have a better perception of their teachers.
  • Older respondents may have more negative feelings if they were taught via traditional (grammar-translation) methods.
  • The youngest respondents may be less happy than the 25-39 age group because their experience is more recent.
It is quite possible for languages to be perceived as well taught. In many schools, and I may say Ripon Grammar School was an example, teacher quality was the key factor in the pupils' perception of a subject. This might suggest that modern language teachers are, on average, less good than most. On the other hand, Ripon is a very white, quite middle-class school with many well-travelled children, so that was also a factor in perceptions of the subject.

Here is an interesting academic study which looks into pupils' and teachers' perceptions of teaching methods. The study notes some serious disconnects between teachers' and pupils' views of effective language acquisition pedagogy. One conclusion is that teachers would do well to explain to pupils why they are using certain methods. As teachers we know that lots of target language and authentic communication is generally a good thing, but the perception of a child who values clarity and successful task completion, maybe with a grammatical aim, may be different.


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"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’( The point i…

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We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

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