Skip to main content

You say tomato, I say tomato.

By following many teachers on Twitter from around the world, I find myself interested in the different perspectives on language teaching and, in particular, the use of different language to describe similar issues. The difference between the jargon of North American and British language teachers is notable.

In the USA much use is made of the word proficiency whereas, my feeling is, we tend to talk more about fluency or attainment on this side of the Atlantic. In the States the word foreign still has a a tighter grip than over here. Many of the state subject associations in the USA (no doubt owing to tradition) still carry the word foreign in their title, e.g. The Foreign Language Association of Georgia, the Maryland Foreign Language Association and the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association, to name but three of many. The more "enlightened" have moved over to talking about World Languages, a term barely used at all in the UK where we agonise over whether to say Modern Languages, Modern Foreign Languages or just Languages (MFL still holds sway despite being frowned upon by UCML). I'm sure WL must be cooler in the USA than FL. At least we all talk about TL.

In parts of down under they sometimes talk of LOTE (Languages Other Than English) which is very politically correct if cumbersome. It sounds like a girl's name to me.

In the USA fans of the TPRS method (a somewhat fanatical interpretation of "comprehensible input" methodology) like to talk of circling, when we make do with good old question and answer. I fancy that circling makes it sound like something more revolutionary and desirable than it actually is - it goes back to the 1960s at least. TPRS fans also like to talk (seriously) of silent periods whilst in the UK we are just happy if the kids stay don't talk too much.

In America they have grade books, whilst we have mark books. They have rubrics, we have mark schemes. They have formative assessments, so do we, except we more often call assessment for learning. Happily, they worry, as we do, about weighing pigs rather than feeding them. Even so, I still have the feeling, as I did back at university when I studied linguistics, that Americans are keener on the latest fad than we British who prefer to stand at the sidelines, feeling superior and taking pot shots.

Seriously, though, perhaps American teachers are keener on revolutionary methods because they were lumbered too long with dated methodology based on grammar-translation and pure audio-lingualism. Stephen Krashen found a ready audience for his views on learning and acquisition.  If Krashen had been British I doubt he would have attained the same loyal following and quasi cult status.In Europe we failed to swallow those things whole and engaged in frequent Krashen bashin', although some would say we succumbed a little too readily to the functions and notions of the strong communicative movement. We got over that.

Now the corny bit: isn't it great, though, that because of Twitter we can open up our minds to these different perspectives? Previously it was only academics with access to big libraries and overseas conferences who had that luxury.

Is it okay to say overseas?


Popular posts from this blog

Tell stories


How can we make listening more enjoyable and effective for pupils? How can we turn it from a potential chore to something more memorable (and therefore more likely to stick in their long term memories)? I am of the opinion that since humans are "wired" to engage in personal listening and speaking (the expression "social brain" has been used in this context), they may be more interested and attentive when the message comes from a real person rather than a disembodied audio source. (This may or may not be relevant, but research has been carried out which demonstrates that babies pick up phonological patterns better when they listen to a caregiver rather than listen to a tape or watch a video - see here for summaries of research into this area by Patricia Kuhl.)

One easy way to make listening stimulating for pupils is to tell them easy stories in the target language. I was reminded of this while reading Penny Ur's book 100 Teaching Tips (reviewed here

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"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…

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

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!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…