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Showing posts from May, 2014

Citroën DS5 review

Sam Wollaston eat your heart out, here is my review of the Citroën DS5, the third in line in Citroën's DS range.

Having owned many Citroëns over the years, but never, alas, their two most iconic cars, the original DS and the 2CV, I had been lusting after the DS5 for some time. About five weeks ago we bought a new one, in the process destroying any environmental credentials we may have had.

The French president rides in one. We also know that the roof is too low for the Queen's hats. What's the DS5 like?

As a car it's hard to categorise. It's on the large side, but shorter than a standard BMW 3 series saloon. It is unique in design, like a cross between an estate and an oversized hatchback. It shares design clues with its smaller sibling, the popular DS3. It sits relatively high off the ground, has a cluttered but bold and rounded nose, handsome creases and chrome along the side and particularly good-looking rear quarters which, with the roof sloping down to a two …

Skype Translate

This is quite an exciting development. Microsoft have been working for 15 years on a "Star Trek style" translator which will work in real time. We already have machine translation and text-to-speech, but Microsoft that the Skype Translator is not just a "daisy chain" combination of existing technologies. I have no idea how the new system works, but the researchers are talking about neural networks and the system being able to improve itself by while learning new languages.

For the moment the system is tied in with Skype and we do not know if you will have to pay for it. A portable device which provided instantaneous verbal translation would be very useful too.

Is this all good news? I think it is. It should bring people closer together. Not everyone can learn new languages easily and people who could not communicate will now be able to do so. I can see this technology being used in a business context, by tourists with hand-held devices and for social communication…

An example of intensive question-answer work for near beginners

File this under nuts and bolts techniques for language teachers. This is mainly aimed at inexperienced teachers, but be useful for fine tuning the practice of experienced practitioners. Apologies if it seems obvious!

This may be of particular use to any teachers who have not, for whatever reason, had a grounding in question-answer technique. The term "circling" is sometimes used in north America.

I'm going to show you an extract from one of my parallel reading texts for near beginners, then give a detailed breakdown of questions I would use with it. Let be clear on the aims of this: to develop alert listening, improve comprehension, practise vocabulary and syntax, give pupils a chance to develop early oral skills (accurate pronunciation, phrase and short sentence level proficiency).

Question types used: true/false (yes/no), either/or, correct false sentences, choice of options, open ended.
Techniques used: whole class repetition, group repetition, individual repetition, use …

Quel est mon problème?

This is a game I came across online which would work very well with good intermediate or advanced students. It would be a great way to practise phrases such astu dois, tu devrais, à ta place je..., il te faut, il te faudrait or even il faut que + subjunctive. It would probably take 15-20 minutes.


Produce on post-its or sticky labels a load of simple problems. To save preparation time you could get advanced students to write them and then dish them out at random.Stick one on the back or the forehead of every pupil in the class. The pupil must not see their own problem. Students must circulate and give advice to the person on what they should do to solve the problem. The person with the problem has to work out what it is.

Here are some which might work well. You will need lots because some will be solved quickly and students will need replacements. Clever advanced students may be able to string out the dialogues by suggesting amusing or obscure solutions to the problems - encourage them…

Five variations on bingo

Loto is a great game for classes. It is worthwhile for reinforcing number recognition, students enjoy it, it is a good class calmer if you need it and it needs no preparation so it's great to fall back on as a teacher. I'm talking about number bingo here, not bingo with pictures or vocabulary.

There are some easy variations if you want to get away from the standard "call out numbers" version. By the way, you can buy ready-made bingo cards with numbers 1-90 - it's a good to have a load of them in the cupboard - or students can just write down, say, 10 numbers in a range you give them. One advantage of having "official" cards is that you can do lines as well as the "full house".

1.  Mental arithmetic bingo

With this one, instead of reading out a number, you give classes a simple mental arithmetic sum to solve which leads to the number which may be on their card. You need to teach them simple terms like plus, moins, multiplié par and divisé par.Th…

Flipping the classroom

Some teachers have been taking advantage of technology to experiment with the "flipped classroom" as it has become called. If you are not so familiar with the concept yet, it involves getting students to start the learning process at home, then reinforcing the work in class afterwards. The theory is that students do some preparation and thinking at home first, at their own pace, then practise what they have learned in class. In some subjects this might mean, for example, that students learn some basic information at home, start thinking about it, then use valuable classroom time for more reflection, analysis and discussion.

The concept is not really revolutionary. Teachers have often set reading to be done at home so that class time can be used for discussion. Typically, an A-level class might read some pages from a novel, guided by a worksheet, then class time is used for communicating in French (which is less easily done at home). What is new is the emphasis on technology …

Baselining for baselining's sake

As English schools continue to obsess over measuring pupil progress, many sticking with the national curriculum levels now abandoned by the government, language departments have a problem in as far as they have nothing very reliable on which to predict the future performance of their students. In maths, science and English pupils arrive at secondary school with a host of data trailing behind them which can be used, despite their unreliability, to help predict how a pupil should progress in the future. There is no previous test of a child's second language learning ability.

Most schools use primary school data and other Y7 test data (e.g. CAT tests) to provide a baseline for future performance. I used to look at this data (CAT data was most useful and detailed) to help me fill in the Excel spreadsheets which would follow a child through their school career. These spreadsheets would feature scores for verbal and non-verbal reasoning, National Curriculum scores, rank order data, scho…