Life is fast. We get our news from 140 letter tweets. We boil a kettle and squeeze the life of that tea bag so we can have a quick brew. Google is the answer to whatever question appears too difficult. How then can language teachers with busy lives maintain their level of language so that we remain at the top of our game? This would be particularly pertinent for those of us (myself included) who do not teach A-level. It would appear easier to stay up-to-date in other subjects. Science teachers can look up the CERN website and myriad other research agencies. History teachers can always read more, watch footage or visit museums. I’ve been guilty in the past few years of being a little slack with this at times. Here are some things I’ve done to actively address it:
Last summer, I took a short break to Berlin. This summer I plan to visit parts of Spain and France I’ve never seen before. I’m also going to be in Switzerland for a short time. It is a great time to pick up authentic materials that you can use in a classroom or material to improve your displays. You get to see some absolutely unique things (see chocolate Brandenburg Gate below) and learn stuff you never knew before.
Make the most of the opportunities.
I can speak three languages with varying degrees of competence, and confidence. However, that does not stop the “what if I get this wrong?” thought from entering my head. In Berlin, I forced myself to interact with people, even a waiter in a café can offer a good conversation and lead to learning new words. I visited as many places as I could. I took the option of audio or tour guides in the foreign language. If you are visiting the Reichstag then the guide only begins when you set foot on the slope in the dome – took 10mins and 3 sets of headphones to work out why it wouldn’t work! I read the leaflets and flyers given to me on the street, even if I did not agree with their politics. In stations and airports, if you are not sure of something then talk to someone who looks like they know what is going on. This goes against the grain for us men, but it yields conversation and practice, particularly in languages you may be less comfortable with. This year my challenges will involve dealing with car hire in Spain, finding accommodation in France and navigating public transport in triglossic Switzerland. Bring it on!
I am not a biggest fan of Twitter but I have learned that I can pick up new vocabulary and refresh my memory of words that I didn’t realise I knew. If you look at the everydaymfl twitter people I follow you will find a considerable number of Spanish, French and German speaking footballers and sportsmen (you may also work out the club I support). Sadly, one or two tweet too often in English but I’ve learnt new vocabulary and seen words used in different contexts. “Una racha” can refer to a winning or losing streak (thanks Juan Mata for that one).
Read, listen, note, make it memorable.
I’m constantly telling kids that reading does not equate to revision; they need to do more It’s the same with teachers. Are you trying to learn new words? I’ve decided this year I want a whiteboard or two on the wall in my room for vocabulary that I am learning. I also want to spend more time on www.ard.de to improve my listen skills and range of vocabulary. I should listen to more foreign radio and news than I do. With the internet at my disposal, the only excuse is my own laziness and that’s not an excuse!
Talk to colleagues
It is so easy to lapse into English with colleagues who are conversant in a foreign language. I’m trying to do this less as it has two major benefits. Firstly, it shows the kids what they can achieve with hard work and effort. Secondly it shows your colleagues from other departments that you don’t spend your lessons playing games and learning how to say items in a pencil case. Thirdly, it also really hooks the interest of the students as they try to work out what you are saying. The look on their face when they realise they understood one or two words spoken at a relatively fast speed is worth it.
Let’s face it some films sound awful dubbed. Some actors just sound wrong. The same German voice does Jack Sparrow and Jack from Titanic. Use the subtitles to learn new words. It’s simple but I have definitely picked up the word Zauberei from subtitles (although not sure how much use it will be). Alternatively…
Watch foreign films
- The Counterfeiters – German film about forging of banknotes in the second world war.
- El Mar Adentro – Spanish film – harrowing subject matter but beautifully acted dealing with paralysis and euthanasia debate. Javier Bardem pulls off an incredible performance from a bed without actually moving.
- Nueve Reinas – Argentinian film about con artists. As the tv programme Hustle taught me “you can’t con an honest man”.
Have I missed anything? What do you do?