Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Learning English in China

Posted on November 18th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, Education, English, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

An interesting article in China Daily provides a snapshot of English language teaching and learning in China today.

The authors state there is no progression for students learning English as it is not linked from school to college. Whilst many Chinese people study English, and it is compulsory at university, the language is rarely used in social situations.

Another issue is the test-based curriculum, with one teacher saying:

“The (CET-4) test puts the students in a state of war and makes them nervous,” Xu said. “After passing the competitive gaokao, they expect lively and interesting English classes in college. But I’m afraid CET-4 may disappoint them.” (English is a core subject in gaokao, the national college entrance examination.) (Source: China Daily)

What a sad situation – language learning should be a fun activity (at least sometimes!) and not a chore to be undertaken. As the former chairwoman of the English club at Qigihar University says,

“People’s interest in the language itself is our most cherished asset”.

So next time you’re fed up and feeling unmotivated, just think of the Chinese students and their anxiety about the CET-4 test!

Languages from age 5?

Posted on October 7th, 2011by Michelle
In Education, Language acquisition | 1 Comment »

Every child aged five or over should be learning a foreign language, the education secretary Michael Gove has proposed.

He said:

“There is a slam-dunk case for extending foreign language teaching to children aged five.

“Just as some people have taken a perverse pride in not understanding mathematics, so we have taken a perverse pride in the fact that we do not speak foreign languages, and we just need to speak louder in English. It is literally the case that learning languages makes you smarter. The neural networks in the brain strengthen as a result of language learning.” (Source: The Guardian)

The proposal includes reform to teacher training and a review of the national curriculum to see if more subject-specialist teaching is required. Previous reports have shown the number of students taking GCSEs in modern languages has fallen as a result of it becoming non-compulsory. Language learning from the age of five seems like a step in the right direction.

European Day of Languages

Posted on September 24th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, Education, Events | Leave a Comment »

© Council of Europe, Strasbourg

Happy European Day of Languages! This year the EDL celebrates its 10th anniversary.

The EDL was initiated by the Council of Europe, who promote plurilingualism for all people across the continent. The Council comprises of 47 member states, with over 300 languages spoken!

Everyone is encouraged to participate – you can find an event near you on the website. There are also materials to promote the events, like the poster in the picture to the left. Plus you can self-evaluate your language skills with a fun game!

What will you do for European Day of Languages?

Extra funding for languages

Posted on August 15th, 2011by Michelle
In Education | Leave a Comment »

In a rare piece of good news for languages in the UK, a project to encourage more people to study languages at university has been awarded extra funding.

The Routes into Languages project has been allocated an extra £1.2 million by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce), allowing it to continue until July 2012. The project organises sixth-form events and sends student ambassadors into schools with the aim of encouraging pupils to continue with modern languages after the age of 14. Led by the University of Southampton’s Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies, the project is run by nine regional consortia universities across England.

Sir Alan Langlands, chief executive of Hefce, said: “Languages are vital for the social and economic future of the country and graduates with language skills make a major contribution to the UK economy in an ever-changing global context.

“This additional funding demonstrates our ongoing commitment to supporting modern foreign languages and I hope that it will enable the Routes initiative to build on the many benefits it has brought for schools, colleges, universities and students.” (Source: Times Higher Education Supplement)

Jane Austen goes kick-ass

Posted on July 22nd, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, Education, Words | Leave a Comment »

In possibly my favourite story of the week, apparently Jane Austen is going to throw down in a new video game called Word Fighter.

Instead of using conventional fight-game methods, the character will cut down her enemies using the power of words.

Inspired by Boggle, Scrabble, Words With Friends and Super Puzzle Fighter, the object of the game is for players, as famous authors personified by their literary works, to spell words quickly on separate tile grids. The better the word — based on length and letter value — the more damage you do to your opponent. Special power-ups like attack multipliers and tile shufflers are added to the mix, so it can be anybody’s game. Players will be able to battle each other locally or online in real-time, and the developers even plan to have cross-platform play, which means iOS users will be able to battle against their Android friends. (Source: Forbes blog)

It sounds like a great way to increase vocabulary at the same time as having fun (and feeling superior to your friends when you beat them). The game will be available later this year, and I for one cannot wait.

Image: Feel Every Yummy

Learning by rote

Posted on May 23rd, 2011by Michelle
In Education, Hints and Tips, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Learning by rote seems an old-fashioned idea, something that was done in the Victorian era, when canes were used liberally.

But it is still used in schools today, if in a different way. Part of the education process is learning how to remember chunks of information, whether for an after-school play or an exam. Some argue that in our information age, there is no need to remember anything as the answer is just a few short clicks away.

This misses the point though. Whilst information is more easily accessible today, nothing quite beats having the answer to hand, an automatic response from the depths of your brain. When you’re in a conversation in your second language, there is no time to stop and look up a word you don’t have. It would break the flow and you may lose more words.

So how do you keep those words in your brain? London black-cab drivers are a good example – they need to learn ‘The Knowledge’:

London black-cab drivers need a detailed knowledge of a six-mile radius of Charing Cross station. They learn 320 routes, and all the landmarks and places of interest along the way. The process can take three to five years, and dropout rates are said to be around 80%.

Nick O’Connor, from Essex, is making good progress after 22 months of study. He says: “It doesn’t need a specific person or a specific brain. It’s just about being structured and having the motivation to get up every single day and go out on the bike [to research the routes]. I’d say anyone could do it.” (Source: BBC News)

Structure and motivation. Learn a little bit of your target language every day. Make sure you put some time aside to do it. Soon you will have ‘The Knowledge’!

Songs in the classroom

Posted on May 16th, 2011by Michelle
In Education, Hints and Tips, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Having written previously of the benefit of songs when learning a language, I was interested to come across this blog post about why songs should be used more in the classroom for young learners.

The writer, Devon Thargard, opens with an anecdote about his first day teaching kindergarten and how he engaged the children through a simple song. He then goes on to explain some other benefits of songs as teaching tools. One benefit that particularly interested me is:

Songs create a positive atmosphere.
Just as we take great care in decorating our classrooms to make them warm and conducive to learning, we should think about how we are decorating our classrooms with audio. Learning a foreign language can be stressful for anyone, especially young learners. Fun, simple English songs playing as students enter the classroom help create a welcoming environment. (Source: OUP ELT Global Blog)

My class takes place on a Monday evening. Most people come to class straight from work so, depending on how their day went, they are pretty tired and ready to sleep. We often go straight into learning new vocabulary – perhaps if we had a song to walk into class to, we would start in a more positive mindset, which would also help us learn more.

Does your teacher use music to set the tone for your class?

Schoolgirl interpreter

Posted on April 20th, 2011by Michelle
In Education, French, Mandarin, Spanish, Translation | Leave a Comment »

A girl aged just 10 has become an interpreter for the European Parliament… although just for a day.

Alexia Sloane has been blind since the age of two, and is fluent in four languages – English, French, Spanish and Mandarin. She is currently also learning German. Her mother is half French and half Spanish whilst her father is English, and Alexia has been trilingual since birth. By the age of four, she was reading and writing in Braille.

After winning a young achiever of the year award, Alexia chose to visit the European Parliament as her prize. East of England MEP Robert Sturdy invited her as his guest and Alexia worked with the head of interpreting to get hands-on experience of life as an interpreter.

She continues to harbour ambitions of becoming a full-time interpreter, revealing: “The trip was more than a dream come true. Unfortunately, I have to wake up to reality now.

“I am now more determined than ever to become an interpreter in the future and to return to Brussels in the not too distant future – to see all the wonderful people I met.” (Source: Digital Spy)

What incredible ambition from someone so young!

Scandinavians – the best at English?

Posted on April 10th, 2011by Michelle
In Education, English, Research | Leave a Comment »

A new study has found that Scandinavians have the best command of English among countries where it is not the native language.

The research also found that there are large gaps in English skills around the world, with Russia, Turkey and South American countries coming near the bottom of the list. With English seen as the lingua franca for business, this could put developing countries at a disadvantage.

Interesting, the study also found that China ranked 29th out of the 44 countries surveyed. This is despite the large investment Chinese people are making in private English language tuition. The research compared the test results of more than 2.3 million adults in the 44 countries.

From my own experience, a number of Scandinavians I have met have excellent, almost native English skills. This seems to be more true among the younger generations. Perhaps their proximity to the UK and being part of the European Union is some incentive to learn English?

(Source: Reuters)

Language teaching in Czech schools

Posted on March 27th, 2011by Michelle
In Education, English, German, Russian | Leave a Comment »

In a country where studying a language at GCSE level is currently non-compulsory, it’s interesting to see that business managers in the Czech Republic believe students should study more than one language.

The survey by Czech Position found that the majority of business managers think that more than one language should be compulsory in schools, with Russian, German, Hindi and Mandarin the preferred options. The survey was in response to the proposal by the National Economic Council (NERV) that students should only study English as a second language as they could “get by in life” if they were fluent in English. It also said that students should study subjects such as law, finance and IT instead of a second compulsory language.

Managers disagree, with many pointing to their business links with Russia and Germany as evidence for the need for students to study a second compulsory language. According to one, “some 85 percent of the Czech Republic’s business cooperation takes place with European Union member states, and more than half with German-speaking countries, above all Germany. Forgetting this fact would be a fatal error”.

Not all of the managers were in agreement however, with some pointing to the quality of language teaching in schools as an area that needs to be addressed before more languages are compulsory. Another said that schools and students should be allowed to focus on a discipline they are good at – “teaching several compulsory languages would reduce the capacity of the school and the students for specific subjects. Then it could easily happen that a student — a talented technician, for instance — would not pass his school leaving exam in a foreign language and, as a result, could not find an appropriate job because of something that is not directly connected with his professional qualities”.

What do you think?