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Showing posts from August, 2012

It's the teaching quality, stupid.

I've been following the debates on academies and free schools with interest. Labour's academy policy, hugely expanded with frenetic gusto by Michael Gove, and supplemented with free schools, is predicated on the huge assumption that school autonomy is a route to higher pupil achievement.

I have always been a bit suspicious about that claim, even though international evidence (OECD - PISA) has detected a correlation between achievement and educational systems which allow for autonomy..

What we know for certain is that it's teaching quality, above all else, which determines pupil's attainment.* The focus should be totally on that. If it could be demonstrated that school autonomy increases teaching quality, then a strong case could be made for it. There appears to be some evidence that chains of independent academies have had some success in raising standards, for example the Harris chain in London. The idea is this: if one school is doing well, get it to share its practi…

Why have A-level MFL entries fallen so much?

In 1993 nearly 30,000 students entered for A-level French. In 2012 the figure was just over 12,500. Just compare with a few other common A-level subjects (I am grateful to Brian Stubbs for these figures, which I have rounded up or down - apologies for formatting):

                             1993                            2012

Maths                   66,000                         86,000
History                 46,000                         52,000
Geography           46,000                         32,000
Physics                38,000                         34,500 (fell, but rising since 2006)
Biology                48,000                         63,000
Chemistry            41,000                         49,000 (fell, but rising since 2003)
Psychology          22,000                         56,000
Religious studies   9,000                           23,000
Media,film,TV      7,000                           32,000
Business              23,000                          28,000

French   …

Sounds of the world's animals

A few years ago there was a website called Sounds of the World's Animals from Georgetown University. It featured tables of words such as quack, moo, woof in umpteen languages. Not only that, it had sound files for a good many of them. It was brilliant and it's a pity it no longer exists.

Children in classrooms love this topic and it is guaranteed to produce mirth and not a little chaos as the little darlings all try out their best animal impressions.

There are still some sites which list animal sounds across the world, including French ones. My Twitter friends have reminded me of one or two:

The University of Austin, Texas people (of Tex's French grammar fame) have a list here based on the original Georgetown University one.

There is a longer list here, by Derek Abbott from the University of Adelaide (which, to judge by its appearance, may have also come from the original source?).

This one is fun, because it has sounds too, though the quality varies and some of the pigs …

Frenchteacher updates

I've been less busy than usual with the site over the summer holiday, but there have been some significant additions.

I am aware that quite a lot of my subscribers are previous users who knew the contents of the site well, but I wanted to make potential new users aware of the contents behind the paywall, so I have created a full contents page so that people can get an instant glimpse of what's available. Up to now there are 580 members of I am happy to consider anyone's ideas for new additions to the site.

As far as new content is concerned, well, I have added a text and exercises on Usain Bolt which I have pitched at the upper intermediate level (higher GCSE), although it could be used at AS level for the AQA sport theme. I was going to add English questions, but instead I have added the task: "note down in English as many points as you can". We sometimes used this approach at my former school to encourage students to produce as much as they c…

A-level French results over the years

A* A B C D E N U A - E French 2012 6.8 32.6 29.4 18.5 8.8 3.1 0.8 99.2 12511 2011 7.7 32.4 29.3 18.0 8.7 3.0 0.9 99.1 13196 2010 7.7 31.4 28.5 18.2 9.6 3.7 0.9 99.1 13850 2009 38.6 27.6 18.3 10.5 4.1 0.9 99.1 14333 2008 37.3 27.7 18.9 10.6 4.3 1.2 98.8 14885 2007 36.3 28.0 18.2 11.6 4.6 1.3 98.7 14477 2006 34.7 27.4 19.5 11.8 5.3 1.3 98.7 14650 2005 32.9 27.5 20.0 12.4 5.6 1.6 98.4 14484 2004 33.4 26.8 19.8 12.6 5.8 1.6 98.4 15149 2003 31.4 26.4 20.0 13.3 6.6 2.3 97.7 15531 2002 29.3 25.2 20.9 13.8 7.7 3.1 96.9 15614 2001 24.7 20.5 19.4 16.0 11.2 5.5 2.7 91.8 17939 2000 23.5 21.5 20.1…

Fin de vacances

Got back home from the house in Puyravault after two and a half weeks of warm sunshine, Olympics on the telly, visits from friends and family. Charente Maritime is a lovely place to be in the summer, usually sunny, usually comfortably warm (though this year was exceptionally hot) and with plenty to do. We returned to our favourite beaches near the Coubre lighthouse on the Côte Sauvage and Châtelaillon with our friends Douglas and Isabelle, did a guided tour of the Abbaye de Maillezais during which talented actors played out imaginary scenes from the abbey's past - not always easy to follow!

Boating in the marais, otherwise known as the Venise Verte is always peaceful and amusing.

We cycled, walked, went to the night market in Surgères, enjoyed very good company, ate and drank a good deal, read a bit and idled far too much on Twitter. I even managed to add a couple of exercises to - I couldn't resist.

Now back home, digesting exam results, but with the knowle…

The best languages to study?

The Telegraph reported today a top ten of most desirable foreign languages from the point of view of businesses. The rankings are based on a survey carried out by the CBI which received replies from 542 UK business managers.

The rankings are not terribly surprising, actually, as German was ranked first, followed by French. Spanish was third with Mandarin fourth. One slight surprise to me, though it should not have been, was Polish, which was ranked fifth.

When teachers are asked by leaders and parents why Mandarin is not the main language offered in a school they should remind them that we do most of our business with our near neighbours in the EU. But just as important, and maybe more so, is the fact that our cultural heritage is more closely related to that of our European partners and that learning French, for example, is a route into a world of culture, literature, film, art and the rest. We ar…


Martin Lapworth, the Taskmagic man, has come up with a very useful idea for language teachers. Textivate, currently in Beta form and free, is tool which creates online interactive tasks with texts. You can create tasks such as jigsaw reading, gap fills, re-ordering tasks, filling in letters and separating continuous text into words. Exercises can be stored on line if you register, or stored "locally" on your own computer. You can also embed tasks into blogs and web sites.

In a sense, this tool is a further development from the original Fun with Texts programme from Camsoft, which you may already be familar with. It is not revolutionary in that the exercise types are very familiar to anyone who has used Fun with Texts or Taskmagic, but this latest incarnation looks flexible, instantly accessible, easy on the eye and very functional.

Taskmagic is an excellent all round resource for enjoyable games and worksheet production, worth its significant price. Textivate will do some of…

About vocab learning

Jennifer Wagner tweeted an interesting article about research findings on the importance of vocabulary in second language learning. There is a growing feeling that we have over-estimated the importance of grammar in our courses at the expense of vocabulary.

Keith S. Folse from the University of Central Florida writes here about eight myths regarding vocabulary. These are neatly summarised in his second paragraph, but I would like to pick up one which struck me as quite counter-intuitive. I wonder if you agree.

Folse explains that studies clearly show that it is better to present vocab lists in a non-themed way. In his words:

The commonly used organization of words into semantic groups is not a good technique. In fact, it actually confuses learners and can hinder vocabulary retention.

He adds:

Organization by semantic sets continues, however, because it is much easier for textbook writers and teachers to present vocabulary in semantic sets such as family members, animals, or days of the…


I'm sure I am not alone in thinking that we cannot be far from having the technology to do quite sophisticated instant voice translation. If you had a mobile device capable of translating your speech instantly into another language, why would you bother with the lengthy and difficult process of learning a language?

The iTranslate app from Sonic Mobile does a decent job for simple sentences across a wide range of languages. You choose your source language and target language, tap, make your utterance and await the translation which appears almost instantly in written form, then, within a second or two, spoken. I have tried a few utterances and the voice recognition is pretty good, whilst the pronunciation of the translated utterance is accurate. You can speak at a reasonable pace, but the quality of translation is less sophisticated than, say, Google Translate. For a traveller needing to produce simple questions or statements the app is very effective. Grammatical complexity pro…

Olympic experience

We've been caught up in all the excitement of the Olympic games and were lucky to get tickets for the basketball at the Olympic park. We also took the opportunity to watch the men's time trial going through Kingston, so we got caught a fleeting glimpse of Le Colonel Wiggo himself.

We got a superb impression of the organisation of the games in London. The Javelin train from St Pancras to the park was swift and comfortable, the welcome at the park warm and efficient, security fuss-free and friendly. The atmosphere around the park was exciting, food not unreasonably priced and of fair quality, and the venue we experienced was superb. We watched two basketball matches: Lithuania versus Nigeria and Great Britain against Brazil. We had the distinct impression that basketball fans have a short attention span, what with the constant entertrainment in the warm-up, time-outs and half time, Mexican waves, singing, kiss cams and chanting. It was a lot of fun.

The Lithuania match was one w…