Modern foreign languages are changing. The way we are learning them is changing, and the way we are teaching them is changing.
One thing that is for certain is that we urgently need to increase the number of students choosing to study a language at higher levels. This all comes down to our approach to teaching languages and the methods used by teachers to increase engagement among younger students to maximize their enthusiasm and potential to study a language for longer.
There are various teaching strategies and methods that have been used for years in schools all over the world to engage students with language learning. Things such as group work don’t exactly scream out as a revolutionary approach to teaching, and whilst they do work, we should be exploring lots of innovative new ways to improve attitudes and achievement in modern foreign languages in schools.
Making language classes enjoyable yet informative and motivational is the key to fostering enthusiasm for modern foreign languages, a subject area which is sadly often neglected in the education sphere.
Why is it so important for children to learn foreign languages?
With such an emphasis on encouraging children to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), subjects in the Arts and Humanities like History, Literature and Foreign Languages are often overlooked, despite being very important knowledge areas essential for a multitude of high level careers.
So, why is it so important for children to learn foreign languages? Well, first of all, with college and university applications becoming more and more competitive by the minute, many institutions now require students to have studied a language at least until age 16. Imagine applying to the school of your dreams only to be rejected because you decided not to choose to study Spanish at 14 — a sobering thought! Although primary/elementary school teachers probably won’t be thinking about their pupils’ college applications, it is important to encourage them to excel in their language learning just as much as with other subject areas.
Language learning also dramatically improves English skills. For native English speakers, learning languages to a higher level (GCSE and above in the UK), will actually give them a wider understanding and knowledge of the structure of the English language and grammar patterns, a skill that is vital in higher level careers but unfortunately not possessed by as many as one would hope!
As we mentioned earlier, there are plenty of careers that regard a foreign language qualification as highly as a STEM one. Careers in sectors such as sustainability, international politics, anthropology and military/security actually need to employ people with foreign language skills. If these sectors didn’t have linguists working for them, international relations would surely be in a messy state. People who are proficient in any foreign language have the power to help change the world, just as much as a scientist.
Last but not least, a huge skill that comes from learning a foreign language is acceptance of different cultures and the diversity of the world we live in. Being able to communicate in another language opens up your world to whole nations of people and communities you can forge relationships with and gives you the opportunity to learn about the cultures that make our planet so rich with diversity. Not everyone can say they have had these experiences, so reminding students that the world is their oyster when they know a language is a must!
Foreign language teaching strategies
It is clear that there is a huge long list of benefits for students who learn a language, but how do teachers foster enthusiasm to study languages in the first place? The language classroom needs to be a fun and exciting place, and the approach to learning should be interactive and varied. Here are some teaching strategies and methods that have boosted motivation and attitudes towards languages in the classroom…
Not one of the fully supported methods, but this theory is based on maximizing use of target language in the classroom, reducing the emphasis on grammar. More responsibility is given to the pupil to try and work out grammar structures and vocabulary for themselves. Pupils are encouraged to speak in the target language at all times to become fully emerged in the learning process. Activities for this may simply include teacher-pupil questioning, reading passages out loud in the target language or role plays. Role plays are always fun as they encourage students to think outside of the box and use their imagination to produce an interesting dialogue that incorporates a wealth of grammar and vocabulary. With technology at our disposal you can really get creative with this: think Virtual Reality!
This has always been one of a teacher’s favorite methods, but of course, it does help when learning a foreign language. Being able to understand grammar structures enables you to express what you want to say in a more natural and sophisticated manner. Grammar resources can often be quite dry and uninspiring, usually focusing on gap fill worksheets. So, why not try the FlashAcademy App to liven things up?! We have dedicated grammar lessons which introduce key grammar point in a lighthearted way. We then have a series of challenges that follow to see how well learners have grasped the grammar. Introducing interactive tools is ideal for teaching grammar, as it often comes under scrutiny by students who say it’s boring, so introducing an element of fun is a great way to improve motivation.
Always a good way to gauge how well students have understood topic vocabulary. As proved on several occasions, there is a close bond between what pupils see and the meaning they associate with this. Hence why flashcards have always been a useful tool for language learners. Why not try out our FlashSticks Post-it notes?! They are perfect for vocabulary revision and quick-fire mini games in class. Pupils can stick up notes in class or at home on objects they find around, thus reinforcing the link between target word meaning. Flashcards can also be used in a range of games such as charades or guess the missing word etc.
A slightly unconventional approach, but given how difficult it can be to engage pupils with languages, generating a sense of competition and purpose in teaching seems to really appeal to students. Therefore, any activities that have an element of competition seem to motivate students without them realizing. Before you know, they are talking and engaging in the target language! The FlashAcademy App has a number of word based games that learners can play. The higher their score, the higher they appear on a class leaderboard – which can be accessed and monitored via the Teacher Dashboard. There are lots of imaginative methods to introduce gamified learning into language lessons – we wrote a whole list of classroom games for French that can be applied to any other language.
Benefits of teaching foreign languages
As we have mentioned there are many benefits to students opting to study a foreign language, but what are the benefits of teaching them? It can seem a little redundant when traditionally languages departments don’t receive much funding and uptake rates for language degrees and high school qualifications are continuously declining. However, there are many benefits to teaching foreign languages!
First of all, it can be very rewarding seeing children’s confidence improve with speaking, as well as seeing their skills improve. Teaching means you witness children immersing themselves in another culture and learning about the world, broadening their horizons. Teaching a foreign language means that you can introduce all sorts of fun activities into the classroom, foreign music and film, food, traditional clothing, festivals, etc! And finally, you may even be lucky enough to get to take your class on a field trip to sunny Spain, France, Italy — pretty much anywhere in the world!
You will also benefit from a great student-teacher relationship with many of your students, with communication being a fundamental part of teaching languages. A lot of the time classes will be smaller as well so that you can really get to know your students and help them with their individual needs.
Do you know any teaching methods that help to motivate the language classroom? We’d love to hear them in the comments below, or over on our Twitter @FlashSticks.