Skip to main content


Showing posts from January, 2021

The power of priming

This blog post is an extract from our book Memory: What Every language Teacher Should Know . We learn and remember in different ways, but in language learning the concept of priming comes into play in a major fashion. Priming plays a major role in building long-term memory, which is one of our main goals as language teachers. This is what we wrote: Speaking our first language at normal speed seems pretty effortless. We’re able to do this because every time we utter a word or phrase we are sub-consciously associating it with previous and possible future words or phrases. Our vast experience with the language gives us a huge range of possibilities since we’ve heard or read a myriad of possible combinations. So when we’re about to utter the next word or phrase, in a fraction of a second (around 50 milliseconds to be precise), we subconsciously choose the right one from the range of possibilities.  This subconscious process of words affecting the following ones is called priming. One word

Let's talk about drills

Back in the late 1950s through to, broadly speaking, the early 70s audiolingual drills were a staple of classroom language teaching. They drew on the behaviourist view of learning which held that learning was the result of a change behaviour caused by reactions to stimuli. This stimulus-response model was thought to enable new habits to be "stamped in" through repetition. Drills were commonplace in old courses such as Longman's Audio-Visual French, while question-answer drills were a major feature of Marc Gilbert's Cours Illustré de Français. Language labs, commonly introduced in the 1960s, were well suited to oral drilling - and made the practice more appealing for some (including me!). When Communicative Language Teaching and more 'natural' comprehension-based approaches became more popular from the 1970s, repetitive drills where students had to repeatedly respond to a stimulus to improve their 'habits' fell out of favour. There were good reasons for

Further ideas for exploiting narrow listening and narrow reading tasks

Many readers will be familiar with the concept of narrow listening and narrow reading, as Gianfranco and I describe it in our books. Students are given between four and six short paragraphs, each one containing similar language so that the same chunks can be recycled as often as possible. I have a good number of resources like this on frenchteacher (in the Y8 and Y9 pages). With my resources, I typically include exercises such as true/false, and "which person is saying this"? (See the example at the bottom of this post.) But if you want to take these short texts further, providing more repetitions, there are all sorts of ways of doing this, some of which you might like to include in your own repertoire if you fancy mixing things up a bit. By the way, many of these activities can be done if you are working on a single text. I've produced this checklist, to which you could add your own ideas. I've put them in random order, but you could fine-tune your lesson by focusing