Why modern foreign languages in schools needs an overhaul.

Lovely read via the guardian and a system that  currently works. Something for us all to take note of.


Can you imagine a British school system where language learning is thriving – a real success story? What would be different?

A question any headteacher should be able to answer is this: if you had a completely free choice, what would your school curriculum look like? I’ve explored this with different people and usually they have trouble fitting in all their ideas within the confines of a timetable. However, even with a completely free hand, I find that all too often language learning is regarded as a problem area. There are pockets of excellence but we’re not exactly taking the world by storm as a nation of linguists and, sadly, our current education system isn’t likely to change that any time soon. Why is this?

I think that there are a number of serious difficulties that need to be overcome.

Firstly, we simply don’t give it enough time in the curriculum relative to what is needed.  A standard curriculum will set aside two hours a week, in line with DfE guidance. This just isn’t enough to build the level of retention needed to facilitate an interactive communicative approach and to break down students’ inhibitions with speaking. Sometimes schools offer two languages to able students but often this leads to them feeling mediocre in both languages instead of proficient in one.
Too often standard pedagogical approaches are limiting and formulaic. It is still too common for students to be given a diet of vocabulary-driven rote learning with a bit of grammar tacked on. Too often I’ve seen lessons in very good schools where students might learn a list of colours in isolation but could not say “the sky is blue”. Or they learn lists of rooms, clothes, hobbies or fruit but can’t put a related sentence together with any confidence. Furthermore, six months later, the earlier vocabulary has been forgotten.

Plus, popular culture is almost exclusively Anglo-centric, fuelling a complacent cultural-lingual apathy. Obviously this isn’t the fault of any teacher or any school – but it is the reality we operate in. A meagre two hours per week is no contest for the mighty cultural counter-weight that says “Who cares? Everyone speaks English anyway!” And, of course, Borgen has subtitles!

The system is permeated by a strong, self-fulfilling perception that languages are difficult and, therefore, only really appropriate for higher attainers. Fair enough, being blasted too soon with ‘nominative, dative and accusative,’ terms you don’t even use in English, is likely to be off-putting. However, in the right conditions, people of wide ranging ability ‘pick up’ languages all the time. This might be out of necessity or through immersion but it suggests that it can be done if done properly; it isn’t inherently more difficult to learn a language than maths.

Also, I believe, school leaders lack the will and/or the philosophical commitment required to address these issues. I’m sorry to say this but, for a lot of heads, language learning is not high on their list of priorities. If two hours matches the DfE model, where’s the issue? And in any case, where does the time from? There is a sense that this isn’t our problem and that if we’re churning out another generation of poor or mediocre linguists that is just how it is.

Government policy in this area – such as the with the ham-fisted introduction of the EBacc – is not backed up with any resources. Excellent languages teachers are in short supply and this is far worse at primary level than at secondary. So we have a chicken and egg situation: what comes first? More good languages teachers or more high quality language learners who might become teachers? Enabling policies that help to recruit EU teachers and to provide continued professional development to all MFL teachers are not forthcoming. Half the members of our MFL team are native speakers from Europe and China; one of our cleaners is also our Russian language assistant. The people are out there, but schools need help to recruit and train them.

All these difficulties can seem overwhelming, but instead of giving up, let’s push all of the obstacles aside for a moment. Can we imagine a version of British culture and British school life where all these issues are reversed? Where language learning is thriving; a real success story? Where multi-lingualism is an everyday part of the cultural experience of young people and adults? What would be different?

Firstly, languages would take up a lot more time in the curriculum. For example, in the five years since we’ve devoted four hours per week at KS3 to either French or German, we’ve seen a phenomenal impact: our year 9s are more confident speakers and all-round better linguists than our year 11s ever were before with GCSE results to match. Secondly, MFL lessons would always be characterised by interactive, immersive, communicative approaches where grammar and new vocabulary are seamlessly interwoven and students are empowered with the tools to explore the language by themselves. Finally, schools and the media, supported by politicians and businesses, would celebrate multilingualism to the extent that young people regarded monolingual life as a huge disadvantage and distinctly uncool, and would do all they could to avoid being left out.

If we are ever to reach this point, there is one basic requirement: simply the will to do it.  We can dream of a concerted effort by businesses, politicians and the media to move us forwarded but realistically it will be headteachers and schools who will need to show what can be done. It’s in our hands.

Tom Sherrington is headteacher at King Edward VI Grammar School in Chelmsford.

Character #441: 筆

Really good one for us in schools. This symbol means pen or pencil 筆.

來學正體字 Learn Traditional Chinese Characters

441The character 筆(ㄅㄧˇ) means pen or pencil. Here is the stroke order animation and pronunciation. Here are the individual strokes for writing the character. Here is the definition in Taiwanese Mandarin. Here is the evolution of 筆.

筆(ㄅㄧˇ)劃(ㄏㄨㄚˋ) – number of strokes in a Chinese character
筆(ㄅㄧˇ)名(ㄇㄧㄥˊ) – a pen-name
筆(ㄅㄧˇ)試(ㄕˋ) – a written exam

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Languages are always needed but what were last years top 10?

After reblogging the T index from I talk you talk languages I decided to do some more research to find out what the index was. It seems that over the years T-Index has created a statistical index that combines the Internet population and its estimated GDP per capita. This in turn assists companies in identifying their target markets and in selecting the right languages to translate their websites. This helps businesses ensure online success and increase localization-derived revenue. as a language learner knowing which are the most sought after languages can improve job prospects globally as well as locally.

For lay people like myself interested in languages. looking at the language needs on a  world basis rather than a county, area or country basis opens up a whole new set of questions and also creates a greater awareness of the languages currently most people are using.

The index shows that in 2012 the top 21

2012 Data summary | NEW!

Sort by Country Sort by Language Sort by Region

Trend* Countries T-Index
Languages Internet population Internet
GDP p.c. of Int. pop.**


USA 22.5% 15.6% 1collapse this section 245,203,319 78.1% $58,751


China (!) 13.5% 20.1% 1collapse this section 538,000,000 40.1% $16,133


Japan 6.3% 4.6% 1collapse this section 101,228,736 79.5% $39,863


Germany 4.6% 3.9% 1collapse this section 67,483,860 83.0% $43,476


UK 3.4% 2.6% 1collapse this section 52,731,209 83.6% $41,654
Localizing a website for these 5 markets gives you access to 50% of the worldwide online sales potential.


France 3.4% 3.2% 1collapse this section 52,228,905 79.6% $41,580


Brazil 3.1% 4.3% 1collapse this section 88,494,756 44.4% $22,265


Russia 2.9% 3.6% 1collapse this section 67,982,547 47.7% $27,362


South Korea 2.4% 2.1% 1collapse this section 40,329,660 82.5% $37,667


Italy 2.3% 1.3% 1collapse this section 35,800,000 58.4% $41,797


Canada 2.1% 1.6% 2collapse this section 28,469,069 83.0% $46,743


Mexico 2.0% 2.0% 1collapse this section 42,000,000 36.5% $30,078


Spain 2.0% 1.8% 2collapse this section 31,606,233 67.2% $39,625


India 1.8% 2.3% 2collapse this section 137,000,000 11.4% $8,411


Australia 1.4% 1.1% 1collapse this section 19,554,832 88.8% $45,848


Turkey 1.3% 1.7% 1collapse this section 36,455,000 45.7% $23,524


Taiwan 1.3% 1.1% 1collapse this section 17,530,000 75.4% $48,268


Iran (!) 1.2% 1.8% 1collapse this section 42,000,000 53.3% $18,351


Netherlands 1.1% 0.93% 1collapse this section 15,549,787 92.9% $45,192


Argentina 1.1% 1.4% 1collapse this section 28,000,000 66.4% $24,485


Poland 1.0% 1.3% 1collapse this section 24,940,902 64.9% $26,889

see more at – http://www.translated.net/en/languages-that-matter

If however we look at 2005 it tells a different story and shows how the world is developing. China for example is lower down the list and the UK is higher consistent with the world trend of Chinese manufacturing being more dominant in today’s world.

T-Index data summary 2005

Sort by language Sort by country Sort by region

Countries T-Index Cumulative
Languages Internet population Internet penetration GDP p.c. of Int. pop.*

Here is their prediction for 2015.Unsurprisingly China is now greater and the UK has fallen way behind.

2015 projection of the 10 langauges with the highest potential for online sales.

1 USA 33.9% 33.891% 1collapse this section 203,576,811 68.8 % $54,872
2 Japan 8.9% 42.809% 1collapse this section 78,050,000 61.3 % $37,663
3 Germany 5.7% 48.504% 1collapse this section 47,127,725 57.2 % $39,833
4 UK 4.9% 53.440% 1collapse this section 37,800,000 62.5 % $43,041
5 France 3.6% 57.074% 1collapse this section 25,614,899 42.2 % $46,759
6 Italy 3.6% 60.664% 1collapse this section 28,870,000 49.7 % $40,989
7 China (!) 3.1% 63.729% 1collapse this section 103,000,000 7.9 % $9,807
8 Canada 2.9% 66.582% 2collapse this section 20,450,000 62.3 % $45,988
9 South Korea 2.8% 69.381% 1collapse this section 32,570,000 67.0 % $28,325
10 Spain 2.2% 71.552% 2collapse this section 16,129,731 40.0 % $44,370
11 Russia (!) 2.0% 73.518% 1collapse this section 22,300,000 15.5 % $29,051
12 Mexico 1.8% 75.333% 1collapse this section 16,995,400 16.0 % $35,207
13 Australia 1.8% 77.146% 1collapse this section 13,991,612 69.6 % $42,698
14 Brazil 1.7% 78.838% 1collapse this section 22,320,000 12.0 % $24,993
15 Taiwan 1.5% 80.385% 1collapse this section 13,800,000 60.3 % $36,954
16 Netherlands 1.4% 81.834% 1collapse this section 10,806,328 65.9 % $44,186
17 Turkey (!) 0.84% 82.677% 1collapse this section 10,220,000 14.7 % $27,181
18 Poland 0.80% 83.477% 1collapse this section 10,600,000 27.5 % $24,901
19 Sweden 0.79% 84.272% 1collapse this section 6,800,000 75.5 % $38,509
20 Belgium 0.70% 84.976% 2collapse this section 5,100,000 49.2 % $45,480
21 Switzerland 0.68% 85.651% 3collapse this section 4,836,671 64.6 % $46,05

Speech Translation Technology moves forward

Going back a few years John talked about being able to talk to people from all different languages like in Star Trek. At the time it seemed so far fetched that most thought it was not a possibility, and often their lack of foresight hindered his vision. He wanted to be able to speak in English yet the people to understand in their home language. As teachers this would be so invaluable when we have new arrivals to our classrooms.  We haven’t time to wait for an interpreter or translator to arrive, most schools do not have the finances to have a qualified teacher who is also a native speaker so cheaper and simple solutions are sought daily as people move around globally more now than ever.

It is really good to see that Microsoft are nearer to this goal than ever before.  The good stuff it at around 7.05 where he speaks in English and out comes Chinese


As Dr. Rashid’s post explains in detail, this demo is less of a breakthrough than an evolutionary step, representing a new version of a long-established combination of three gradually-improving technologies: Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR), Machine Translation (MT), and speech synthesis (no appropriate standard acronym, though TTS for “text to speech” is close).

In 1986, when the money from the privatization of NTT was used to found the Advanced Telecommunication Research (ATR) Institute in Japan, the centerpiece of ATR’s prospectus was the Interpreting Telephony Laboratory. As explained in Tsuyoshi Morimoto, “Automatic Interpreting Telephone Research at ATR“, Proceedings of a Workshop on Machine Translation, 1990:

An automatic telephone interpretation system will transform a spoken dialogue from the speaker’s language  to the listener’s  automatically  and simultaneously. It will undoubtedly be used to overcome language barriers and facilitate communication among the people of the world.

ATR Interpreting Telephony Research project was started in 1986. The objective is to promote basic research for developing an automatic telephone interpreting system. The project period is seven-years.

As of 1986, all of the constituent technologies had been in development for 25 or 30 years. But none of them were really ready for general use in an unrestricted conversational setting, and so the premise of the ATR Interpreting Telephony Laboratory was basically a public-relations device for framing on-going speech technology research, not a plausible R&D project. And so it’s not surprising that the ATR Interpreting Telephony Laboratory completed its seven-year term without producing practical technology — though quite a bit of valuable and interesting speech technology research was accomplished, including important contributions to the type of speech synthesis algorithm used in the Microsoft demo.

In the 26 years since 1986, there have been two crucial changes: Moore’s Law has made computers bigger and faster but smaller and cheaper; and speech recognition, machine translation, and speech synthesis have all gotten gradually better.  In both the domain of devices and the domain of algorithms, the developments have been evolutionary rather than revolutionary — the reaction of a well-informed researcher from the late 1980s, transplanted to 2012, would be satisfaction and admiration at the clever ways that familiar devices and algorithms have been improved, not baffled amazement at completely unexpected inventions.

All of the constituent technologies — ASR, MT, speech synthesis — have improved to the point where we all encounter them in everyday life, and some people use them all the time. I’m not sure whether Interpreting Telephony’s time has finally come, but it’s clearly close.

In any case, the folks at Microsoft Research are at or near the leading edge in pushing forward all of the constituent technologies for speech-to-speech translation, and Rashid’s speech-to-speech demo is an excellent way to publicise that fact.

The ability to speak Welsh is not a burden. On the contrary, it is an expressway to cognitive development.

Recently a local Welsh paper shared  story that suggests Welsh speakers are reducing in Wales, but this local person shares statistics that Welsh-speaking is increasing and

that being bilingual is not a burden…It’s a doorway to a multilingual world where the advantage of early bilingualism can be translated into skills in a multitude of languages, placing the Welsh workforce at a great advantage in comparison to our monoglot friends.

Do you agree?


Promoting bilingualism supports other language learning

One of the benefits of promoting bilingualism in ones own country I believe is that it gives that underlying support for languages.  It subtly says it doesn’t matter what your first language is we can communicate and are willing to meet you half way. It doesn’t mean we are going to bend over backwards to accommodate you and neither should it influence the countries social, financial or political aims, but, become a tool with which to get a message across to your neighbour.

This story about Canada shows this well. The country is clear that its languages are French and English but that doesn’t stop the need for other languages to be incorporated into everyday lives.  I would suggest that this is very similar to Wales where English and Welsh are the languages within its community for communicating with everyone, but there is still the celebration of other more diverse languages also within each smaller community. Currently they report that almost 200 languages are spoken in Canada and 17.5% of this community are bilingual

In one school that I worked with the Head clearly told all members of our community that the language for communication within our school was English.  This didn’t stop us celebrating Greek and Turkish festivals, Divali or St Davids day or in assemblies sharing another language but what it did do was to make us all richer in the knowledge and cultures of others, less fearful of the unknown and proud of our own heritage wherever that may have been from.

It let me experiment with language allowing me occasionally to call the register and asking the children to respond in their preferred language. Learning how to say a phrase in one language and then everyone in the class to use that phrase for a month. More difficult in secondary when each class would choose  a different phrase so I would have to remember which it was.

8 Year campaign led to legal proceedings and bailiffs removal of wedding presents until the council relented.

Sometimes I think it is important to remember what went before.  In Wales bilingualism and letters etc available in both languages in now commonplace but it wasnt that long ago that it wasnt the case as can be seen by this blog.

The blog recounts the steps Eileen Beasley and her husband went to ensure that they received letters in Welsh their first language.


The Rosa Parks of the Welsh language movement

The Rosa Parks of the language movement in Wales was a polite but steel-willed housewife who, with her husband, refused to pay rates on their house in Llangennech, Carmarthenshire, while Llanelli Rural District Council issued demands in English only.

In this Eileen and Trefor Beasley had, at first, the support of nobody but themselves. They reasoned that as they lived their lives through the Welsh language, and their village was Welsh-speaking, as were the majority of Council members, it was reasonable that they should be able to use the language in their dealings with officialdom.

But the Council, like most others in Wales in the 1950s, had never thought of providing services in Welsh. They flatly refused to comply with the Beasleys’ request, continuing to communicate with them in English only. In this they greatly underestimated the couple’s strong wills.

Bailiffs began calling at their home and removing household goods such as chairs and tables, and then the family’s piano, the carpets, the bookcases and even food from the larder, distraining goods to the value of the rates that remained unpaid.

Having bailiffs in the house was, for the law-abiding Beasleys, a distressing experience, especially as they would arrive without warning and, without consultation, take items of furniture that had been wedding presents.

Legal proceedings for the non-payment of rates were taken against the Beasleys on twelve occasions but still they would not accept demands in English. They could hardly afford to pay the fines, especially as they lived on a coal-miner’s wage and had two small children, and they stoutly refused to do so as a matter of principle.

The campaign that had begun in 1952 came to an end in 1960 when the Council grudgingly issued a Welsh form and the Beasleys promptly paid their rates. In 1958 Eileen was elected as a Plaid Cymru member of the same District Council, where she continued to press for a degree of official status for the language.

In 1962 their determination proved a stimulus to the activities of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society), especially as Saunders Lewis, in his famous radio broadcast of that year, Tynged yr Iaith (The Fate of the Language), singled out the Beasleys for praise and urged supporters to emulate their civil disobedience.

His aim was to persuade Plaid Cymru to adopt ‘direct action’ techniques which would win for Welsh the legal status it had enjoyed before the loss of political independence, a condition he considered essential if the language was to be saved from extinction. But Plaid Cymru felt unable to contemplate unconstitutional methods, preferring to use electoral methods only. Lewis’s other aim was to make the governance of Wales impossible while the authorities, both local and central, refused to employ Welsh for public purposes.

The challenge was taken up instead by the Cymdeithas which, over the last half-century, has played a leading role in the achievement of many important goals in such areas as broadcasting, education, the law, and local government, while Plaid Cymru has been left free to concentrate on its political agenda. Today the language is much more visible and used in an ever-increasing variety of contexts.

The Beasleys’ stand inspired a generation of young Welsh nationalists to challenge the law, for which many were fined and some imprisoned, and they remained heroes of the movement ever after. Trefor spent a week in prison for refusing to acknowledge an English-only fine for the non-payment of road-tax.

Like her husband, who was the very type of a cultured miner, widely read, politically aware and radically inclined, Eileen was highly literate; she published a selection of her short stories as Yr Eithin Pigog (The prickly gorse) in 1997.

At this year’s National Eisteddfod in the Vale of Glamorgan there was an empty stall, representing the Beasleys’ living-room stripped of its furniture, which was meant to be a tribute to the courage and dignity of a couple who were well-liked and generally admired. It was a poignant reminder of what sometimes has to be done to persuade officialdom on a point of principle whenever it is a question of the public use of the Welsh language.

What is bilingual education – research

As I have posted the other two papers I though that posting the first one that discusses what bilingualism is may be useful as a starting point to discussion particularly for new teachers.


What is bilingual education and what purposes does it serve? This paper aims to introduce bilingual education and clarify why there are such diverse patterns of languages used in education. Although education in only one language is taken for granted in some regions of the world, there is still the question of what purpose it serves. In other regions bilingualism or multilingualism is more common, resulting in different types of bilingual education. Language education reflects largely unstated government policies, mainstream cultural values, and minority group aspirations. Their diverse aims result in monolingualism or various types of bilingual education in school systems around the world.
This paper briefly introduces bilingual education and various purposes behind it. Then a second paper will show how various school systems in Japan and the world can be analyzed into types of bilingual education. Weak or strong forms of bilingual education will be distinguished in terms of bilingual outcomes among students. Finally, a third paper will take a pedagogical approach, offering lesson plans to guide non-native speakers of English in doing the analysis themselves. Ten realistic cases of school systems in Japan and the world will be presented for analysis. A worksheet for students to construct a paragraph will add further criteria to decide the type of bilingual education. Utilizing the list of ten varying aims of bilingual education in this paper, and the chart of ten types of bilingual education detailed in the second paper, by completing the convenient worksheet with ten items in the third paper, the ten cases or any other school system in the world involving different languages can be analyzed according to established criteria in the discipline of bilingualism.
Key words: bilingual,multilingual, monolingual, assimilation, minorities, education

Understanding Bilingual Education 1. Analyzing Purposes of Bilingual Education (This paper) 2. Analyzing Types of Bilingual Education (coming soon) 3. Analyzing Cases of Bilingual Education (coming soon)


Introduction to Bilingual Education

Bilingualism is the study of languages in contact, typically in situations where people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds share the same space. Bilingualism was analyzed into four levels in another paper: individual, family, societal, and school levels (McCarty, 2010b). Bilingual education is bilingualism at the school level. It is not to be confused with bilingual child-raising (Pearson, 2008; McCarty, 2010a), such as speaking two languages to an infant systematically at home, which is bilingualism at the family level. Bilingual education should involve teaching in two or more languages in a school, that is, more than one language as the medium of instruction for students to learn regular school subjects.

However, other levels of bilingualism, including their cultural dimensions, do influence bilingual education. All people have a cultural identity and a linguistic repertoire, the languages they can use to some extent. Grosjean (1982) explains that “language is not just an instrument of communication. It is also a symbol of social or group identity, an emblem of group membership and solidarity” (p. 117). As a result, the attitudes people have toward different languages tend to reflect the way they perceive members of the other language groups.

Furthermore, languages have a relative status or value as perceived by the majority of a society. Languages are regarded as useless or attractive according to the economic power or cultural prestige attributed to them by the mainstream of a society, which tends to privilege national or international languages. Native languages of children of immigrants may seem to be of no use, and tend to be disregarded, while languages that are valued by the mainstream society tend to be used in education. However, Sweden has offered educational support in 100 languages (Yukawa, 2000, p. 47), while Japan’s limited support has been nearly all in the Japanese language. This shows that it is not a matter of wealth but of the dominant way of thinking in the nation. The contrast in treating minority students can be as stark as a choice between assimilation and multicultural policies (Grosjean, 1982, p. 207).


Various Purposes of Bilingual Education

There are “varying aims of bilingual education” because it “does not necessarily concern the balanced use of two languages in the classroom. Behind bilingual education are varying and conflicting philosophies and politics of what education is for” (Baker, 2001, p. 193). These different purposes then lead to various actual school systems of monolingual or bilingual education. Ten typical aims of bilingual education were cited by Baker:

Varying Aims of Bilingual Education
  1. To assimilate individuals or groups into the mainstream of society.
  2. To unify a multilingual society.
  3. To enable people to communicate with the outside world.
  4. To provide language skills which are marketable, aiding employment and status.
  5. To preserve ethnic and religious identity.
  6. To reconcile and mediate between different linguistic and political communities.
  7. To spread the use of a colonial language.
  8. To strengthen elite groups and preserve their position in society.
  9. To give equal status in law to languages of unequal status in daily life.
  10. To deepen understanding of language and culture. (adapted from Baker, 2001, p. 193)

As can be seen from the above list, there are many and diverse purposes for conducting school programs that are called bilingual education, according to the way of thinking of decision makers in different cultures. Grosjean summarizes how implicit government policies affect the languages used in education: “Depending on the political aims of the authorities (national or regional), some minority groups are able to have their children taught in their own language, while others are not” (1982, p. 207). “If the government’s aim is to unify the country, assimilate minorities, or spread the national language, more often than not minority languages will not find their place in education” (p. 207). Whereas, “if a society wants to preserve ethnic identities, give equal status to all languages and cultures in the country, revive a language, teach a foreign language more efficiently, or make its citizens bilingual and bicultural, it will often develop educational programs that employ two languages and are based on two cultures” (p. 215).


Conclusion to the First Paper on Bilingual Education

As Grosjean identifies the key issues above, the concerns of bilingualism researchers and practitioners shine through. A society may be judged by how it treats its minorities or protects the human rights of its vulnerable members. Some purposes for selecting languages to use in education may be better than others from both ethical and pedagogical perspectives. In any case, analyzing the diverse purposes behind the languages that appear in schools can deepen the understanding of resulting educational systems in the world, and possibly suggest improvements in terms of bilingual education.

Welsh for beginners – 1

Learning Welsh can be easy and fun so I thought I would have a  go.

There is infact two different dialogues in Wales the North and South have slight variations of similar words.

Lets start with just being able to say Hello.  It may seem simple but there are quite a few different phrases you can use for the same thing.

Helo    –   best used when talking to friends

Bore Da    – to say good morning

prynhawn da   – to say good afternoon

Noswaith dda    – to say good evening

Nos Da    – to say good night

Have a go.