Now that the schools are back, many young people are having their first introductions to a foreign language. Whether your son or daughter is starting out with a friendly, fun-based after-school club; or a more formal secondary school classroom setting, there are a few things that you can do to help your child get to grips with this new challenge and learn more effectively.
no matter what you thought of language lessons at school, PLEASE do not tell
your child that you were rubbish at languages, or that you don’t see the point
of learning them. Even if both thing are
true. If your child is in secondary
school then they have several years of compulsory language-learning ahead of
them, so it would be far better to encourage them to have a good try and see
what they think for themselves.
to start with, learning a new language seems to consist mostly of lists of new
words that you have to learn. Colours,
numbers, parts of the body… the lists seem to go on and on. Many children seem to learn the words just
well enough to get through this week, or the test at the end of the module, and
the cheerfully forget them again. As you
may guess, this is a very short-term strategy that can easily come back to bite
them if they continue the language to GCSE and beyond. Help your child to start a vocabulary book
and encourage them to keep it up, so that they can refer back to it when
needed. Give them little mini-tests or
challenges throughout the year to keep the information fresh. Why not do a treasure hunt using clues
written (at least partially) in the key language? Or play hangman?
point in the learning journey (probably fairly quickly) the subject of grammar
will rear its ugly head. Many adults
recoil in horror at this point, especially those who were educated in the 1970s
and 1980s when there was not such an emphasis on grammar learning in some
sectors. It is important to note that
grammar does not need to be scary, or even hard to learn, as long as it is
something you get a handle on earlier rather than later. Indeed, it can be rather like being given the
decoder so that you can decipher spy messages.
At least, that’s what I tell my children! However, it can be a real chore to have to go
back through old schoolbooks from several years ago in order to find a grammar
explanation and revise the details. It
is a good idea to set up a grammar folder (just an A4 folder, in any colour you
like, with dividers) and to write up each new concept on a sheet of paper to go
in the folder. This is a great way of
revising as well as providing material to revise from in the future.
Homework – were you the type who saved all your homework until the last day before the deadline and then panicked to get it all done in time? Or did you prefer to work methodically, tackling one or two pieces each night so you were never overwhelmed? Well, learning a language can be a bit like that. Of course it is possible to dash off the worksheets and exercises quickly at the last moment, but if you want the information to stick, especially for vocabulary, then you need to have a bit more method.
If you try to learn all your new words in one mammoth session, then it is quite likely that you will forget them all very quickly. Three smaller sessions of, say, 10 minutes each week, are much more likely to be effective. Essentially, “little and often” is best, as each time we practice a new task we get better at doing it. Try to persuade your children to do their vocabulary learning in regular, bite-sized chunks. You could help by testing them, or even just by reminding them.
It may be a bit of an effort to help your child to set these habits at the beginning of their language learning time, but it will almost certainly save time later on and hopefully help to streamline the learning process for them.
Whether you are choosing a language tutor for a child, for an adult or for a group, there are several considerations that you may want to bear in mind when it comes to finding the right person for you. Here are some ideas for you if you are looking for someone to tutor a child:
1.If you need a tutor for someone under the age of 18 then do ask for their DBS check if you will be leaving your child alone with them. The DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check is the certificate which shows if they have any criminal convictions of relevance to working with children.
2.Consider carefully whether you would be better to have lessons at your home or at the tutor’s premises. Most professional tutors will be unwilling to be left alone with a child in the child’s own home. At Language Learners we insist on an adult being present in the home for any child under the age of 14.
3.Match your tutor to your needs. If you would like your 8-year-old to have a little booster then you may be fine with a University student. However, if your child has specific additional learning needs or is studying for an exam then it may be a good idea to pay extra for someone who has experience of those particular requirements.
4.The GCSE curriculum and exam methods have changed in the last three years – so University students DID NOT sit the same exam that your child will be taking. If you need to be boosting grades then ask your tutor questions about how they have kept their knowledge up-to-date.
5.Have reasonable expectations of what you will be paying. Remember that the minimum wage for someone over 25 is £8.21 per hour at the time of writing. With a good tutor you are not just paying for the one hour of the class, but also for the time they spend planning and marking homework. It can take quite some time to plan a student-specific scheme of work to boost that particular student’s grades in the time available and I am sure it is the same for other subjects/tutors too. As a rough guide, prepare for the cost of the tutor to be similar to the cost of a 1:1 session with a physiotherapist or personal trainer at the gym.
6.If your tutor is just going over the same material that was covered in school, using the same books and worksheets, then it is time for another tutor. They should be adding value by bringing different/more resources. Not that you necessarily want lots of different explanations (that’s confusing) but a range of new exercises and challenges will really help to consolidate the information.
7.Personality. Ensuring that your child gets on well with the tutor and will work nicely for them is a key element. Sometimes two people just don’t get on well, without it being anyone’s fault – so be prepared to review the situation after two or three classes to make sure that both sides are happy.
Teri Fleetwood is the owner of Language Learners and has been providing French and German tutoring to children from age 5 upwards for more than 12 years. Her students consistently exceed expectations at GCSE and A Level through a careful mixture of topic and grammar work as well as a keen attention to exam technique. Language Learners operates mostly in the Woking and Guildford areas of Surrey.
French grammar constructions? How dull, I hear you cry! However, that grammar does have its uses, especially if you are trying to make your language more interesting – whether you are looking to impress your friends with some fancy phrases, or you are keen to get some of those extra exam marks for “complex grammar constructions”.
Here are a few useful ways of saying things which should help to widen your vocabulary. Many of these constructions can be used in a range of tenses, so I have given a couple of examples in each case.
1.Être en train de + infinitive – to be in the middle of doing something.
Je suis en train d’écrire un blog – I am in the middle of writing a blog.
J’étais en train d’écrire un blog, quand j’ai vu un chat – I was in the middle of writing a blog when I saw a cat.
2.Au lieu de + infinitive – instead of doing….
Au lieu d’écrire un blog, il faut faire mes devoirs – Instead of writing a blog, I must do my homework.
Au lieu de faire mes devoirs, j’ai regardé la télé – Instead of doing my homework I watched TV.
3.Après avoir/être + past participle – after having done something. WATCH OUT! Just like the present perfect tense, you need to take care of the être verbs…
Après avoir écrit mon blog, je vais prendre un thé – After having written my blog I am going to have a cup of tea.
Après être allée en ville, j’écrirai encore un blog ! – After having gone to town I will write another blog!
4.Avant de + infinitive – before doing something
Avant de boire mon thé, je vais finir le blog – Before drinking my tea I am going to finish the blog.
Avant de finir le blog, je cherche d’autres exemples – Before finishing the blog, I look for other examples.
5.Venir de + infinitive – to have just done something
Je venais de trouver un exemple, quand la téléphone a sonné – I had just found an example when the phone rang.
Je viens de finir mon blog. Youpi ! – I have just finished my blog. Hurrah!
The author is a Surrey-based language tutor specialising in French, German and English as a Foreign Language. She has many years of experience of trying to sound more interesting in French, especially with a view to boosting exam grades (whether for herself or others!).
The GCSE and A Level exams are now approaching at a gallop. It really is time to knuckle down and get a revision schedule sorted out so that you make sure you spend enough time on each subject and have a chance to look at all aspects of the curriculum.
Here are a few helpful tips to help you stay on the right path:
#1 Don’t revise for an exam within half a day of taking it. Exam in the morning? Stop revising for it at lunchtime the day before. Exam in the afternoon? Don’t revise for it that day.
Revising at the last minute just leads to a lack of confidence as you convince yourself that you don’t know anything and will never get a good grade. If you don’t know your stuff that close to the exam then spending the remaining hours cramming really won’t help!
#2 Little and often is key. It can be really tempting to leave the final exams until much nearer the date. However, after 4-5 weeks of exams you will be suffering from revision fatigue and you really won’t want to spend hours each day revising for the last one or two. Besides, we can’t focus well for hours on end so that kind of revision is less effective anyway. Schedule in a few revision sessions for those last exams earlier in the month so that you can keep things ticking over nicely.
#3 Take a break every 45 minutes or so. There is a good reason why school lessons last 35-45 minutes – we cannot focus intensively for much longer than that. Work hard and focus well for 45-50 minutes, then take a short break. Not three hours of social media, but 5-10 minutes to walk around the house or garden, get a drink or something to eat, and stretch. Then sit down for another session.
#4 Vary your revision techniques. Reading and re-reading the same page again and again only works for a very small minority of people. Try drawing mind-maps, thinking of acronyms to help you remember key info, summarising and re-summarising to get to the key points. Get busy with the highlighter pens, add stickers to mark the important bits, see what works best for you.
#5 Why not test yourself? At the beginning of a topic, write yourself a quiz covering 5-10 key pieces of information. When you think you have finished with that topic, try the quiz and see if you can remember the answers without looking in your notes.
#6 Tackle one or two past papers to check your timings. Time management is an important exam technique as it is vital to leave enough time to tackle all of the questions on the paper. Your teacher may give you some past papers, or you can usually find some on the website for the relevant exam board.
#7 Successful multi-tasking is a bit of a myth. If you are watching TV, listening to music, checking social media AND revising, then you aren’t concentrating properly on any of them. Book time in your schedule to check email or messaging apps, tell your friends you are going off-line for a while, and allow yourself to really focus.
#8 Remember to leave some downtime in your revision schedule. Not days or a whole weekend, but careful slots to allow you to exercise, meet friends, go to that party.
#9 Eat well. Lots of fruit and veg, of course, but also proper good quality protein and carbs. Yes to home-cooked stir fry, stew, bolognaise etc. Proceed with caution when it comes to doughnuts, chocolate and fast food.
#10 Sleep properly. Although it can be tempting to revise late into the night you have to balance the likelihood of retaining something important read at midnight, with the probability of impaired thinking if you have been up that late!