Language Learning around the World: The Persian Gulf

Over the last few years, the ESL industry in the Gulf states has exploded: look at any TEFL recruitment board and it’s not hard to see why native English-speaking teachers are being drawn to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in particular: if you can hack the restrictions on women and alcohol-based socialising, the tax-free salaries are astonishing and afford a standard of living that is certainly unachievable at home, but also in other popular TEFL destinations such as East and South East Asia. So why the gold rush? Unsurprisingly, it’s intimately connected to the employment market.

Improving standards at home

The Education First English Proficiency Index places Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait among the lowest of their world rankings. Governments and students across the region are acutely aware of the opportunities English proficiency may bring (British Council research shows that employees from the Middle East with good English earn up to three times as much as non-English speakers), but lack of resources in state education often limits access to education to those able to afford private tuition. As a result of this, several countries across the region have partnered with the British Council in recent years in order to improve the reach and standards of English teaching.

Focusing on opportunities overseas

In addition, a number of government-funded schemes intended to help citizens learn English overseas have come to prominence in recent years, not least Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Scholarship Programme (KASP). The fact that Saudi Arabian students made up the highest percentage of students in US intensive English courses with about 38,000 English students – or double the number of students from China, which is often assumed to be the biggest ESL market – is a good example of the region’s commitment to English language learning

Effects in the region

So what does this mean for the Gulf? It certainly seems that proficiency is set to increase, and with it employment prospects and economic growth. However, there are those that worry for the future of the Arabic language as English becomes more widespread – especially among the middle classes. Patricia Ryan, an English teacher with the British Council, makes a particularly rousing call for the preservation of Arabic among other languages in her TED talk ‘Don’t Insist on English’ and this Fortune article has dire warnings for the future of Arabic in an English-focused world.

Links with language learning in the UK

This last concern speaks to the current climate of Anglocentrism which has seen European and East Asian countries develop equally ambiguous relationships with the English language and its cultures. It’s something that we at Struck Fluent feel strongly about – with most of the world bilingual, and a great many of them using our own language proficiently, we and our children are at a distinct disadvantage both professionally and holistically without a second language. With the rise of China and Brexit on the horizon, can we afford to remain monolingual? We don’t think so.

Do you agree? If so, contact us and let us help you with your language learning goals! Feel free to leave your comments below too – we always love to hear from you.

Lucy McCormick is Head of Client Services at Struck Fluent, a community of tutors specialising in Modern Foreign Languages and ESL. She has extensive experience as a teacher and tutor of French and ESL in the UK, China, Korea, Vietnam and India. When not teaching or language geeking, you can generally find her in the company of a book, a gin or (preferably) both.

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Language Learning Around the World: Continental Europe

The attitude towards language learning in continental Europe is markedly different from that of the UK. While foreign languages became non-mandatory at GCSE in 2002, most European countries have been promoting multilingualism as an essential component of European education and identity since the mind-00s. In the context of Brexit, it is interesting (and for the majority of us at Struck Fluent who have benefitted hugely from EU citizenship, saddening) to consider the effect of this attitude on the British sense of identity and our understanding of and relationship with the Continent. Below, we discuss some of the key differences between UK and continental European approaches to the teaching and learning of foreign languages, and their effect on both British and European identity.

Early introduction

The EU stresses the importance of introducing children to a foreign language at an early age. This means that our continental neighbours are already being introduced to another language (usually English) in Kindergarten. In the UK, meanwhile, second-language education is a lottery. At Struck Fluent, we encounter forward-thinking nurseries and schools in the private sector who provide excellent foreign language exposure in the early years which morphs into more formal teaching as the children get older. We also love working with parents to deliver bespoke foreign language playgroups in their homes. However, we recognise that many people cannot afford such options and that as such their children often miss out on opportunities for language learning, especially as state schools are not required to deliver any foreign language education until Key Stage 2. The only stipulated goal for this is that it must adequately prepare children for secondary school language learning, which is open to very broad interpretation. There is also no requirement to space out the teaching throughout Juniors. In practice, this often means that children do not have any significant exposure to a foreign language until Year Six, learning from teachers who may not have a good grasp of the language themselves and are more focused on increased pressure to get their classes through the SATS. By this age, we often find that children have internalised the message that languages are hard and scary, and ‘everyone speaks English anyway.’ As ‘tweenagers’ they are also likely losing the unselfconsciousness of younger children and will be more scared of ‘getting it wrong’ than they would have been aged, say 5 or 6.

At secondary school, it has long been possible to give up a foreign language at the end of Year Nine. Throughout Europe meanwhile, it is mandatory to continue with at least one foreign language until the age of 18 and a second language is strongly encouraged. This divergence has put a whole generation of British children at a huge disadvantage to their European peers: as well as access to education and employment outside our small island, they lack the many holistic benefits of language learning that make for a more rounded individual perspective and ultimately a more tolerant society: a deeper understanding of other cultures, of ways of thinking and being, and a contingent sense of respect and unity between these cultures.

Access to education and employment

In the days before Brexit, as part of my degree I spent a year at University in France on the ERASMUS programme. As an EU citizen, this guaranteed me a grant of €300 per month to cover my living expenses (France had no tuition fees at that time). All my continental European friends were well aware of the ERASMUS programme and its benefits, whereas my British university peers had almost all never heard of it unless they read Modern Foreign Languages. My fellow ERASMUS students came from all over the EU and in addition to being French learners, they also spoke excellent English. Even those who proclaimed to have ‘only school English’ were far more proficient in my mother tongue than I had been in either French or German after completing A-Levels in each. This speaks to the seriousness with which competency in English is taken not only in Europe but worldwide. If you want to attend the world’s best universities (all in the US and UK) you need to pass a seriously befuddling English test whether your intended course of study is Sculpture, Computer Science or English Literature. Much academic literature is also now only available in English. Decent English is also expected of employees at any company doing business outside their home country as it has become the go-to lingua franca. However, over the last decade in particular, the EU has also been actively promoting the learning of other European languages in order to encourage the free movement of talented individuals between countries, universities and companies across the continent. Since my ERASMUS days, programmes have been established to encourage EU citizens into apprenticeships, traineeships and a wide variety of study placements across different countries. This reflects a cohesive European identity at odds with the UK’s increasingly isolationist position: having always been somewhat ambivalent re: the free movement principle, our country seems lately to have emerged as wholly against it. Is there a link between this isolationism and our devaluing of language learning? Below, we look more closely at the split between European and British identity and how it can be illustrated by our attitudes to the importance of multilingualism.

Multilingualism and identity

The English language has historically been a tool of oppression both within and without the UK, used to actively wipe out other languages and suppress cultural identities. As such, institutional disregard for the learning of other languages and the ‘everyone speaks English anyway’ attitude feels at best narrow-minded and at worst dangerous. Meanwhile, the EC’s 2008 document ‘Multiligualism: an asset for Europe and a shared commitment’ promotes the learning of two European languages with the specific intent of creating social cohesion, international and intercultural dialogue. Between 2010 and 2015 in particular, the EU has reported a huge increase in the learning of two European languages to a high standard across the continent. This reflects the idea that language learning is crucial to European identity, breaking down the narrow bonds of national identity in favour of a larger, continental sense of belonging. As discussed above, free movement across countries is encouraged for students and employees alike, and the majority of the current young generation enjoy the ability to share in their neighbours’ cultures and languages. For me, this is a stark illustration of how far Britain has drifted from the Continent and illustrates our reluctance to fully commit to European identity. It is a vicious circle: locked out of the languages and cultures of our closest neighbours and often unaware of the advantages – or even the existence – of programmes like ERASMUS, they become ever more ‘other’ and the prospect of language learning and intercultural exchange becomes ever more daunting and/or undesirable.

Have you benefitted from studying or working in Europe? Or maybe you feel you’ve missed out on learning a foreign language? Or maybe you disagree completely with our position! Let us know your thoughts in any case – we love a good debate!

Lucy McCormick is Head of Client Services at Struck Fluent, a community of tutors specialising in Modern Foreign Languages and ESL. She has extensive experience as a teacher and tutor of French and ESL in the UK, China, Korea, Vietnam and India. When not teaching or language geeking, you can generally find her in the company of a book, a gin or (preferably) both.

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Language Learning Around the World: East Asia

In the first of a series of blogs about approaches to language learning around the world, French and ESL tutor Lucy dives into the turbo-charged testing systems and culturally divisive world of English teaching and learning in East Asia, drawn from her time living and working in China, South Korea and Vietnam.

Teaching to the Test: English as a Commodity

In many East Asian countries students spend their entire school careers preparing for a single high-stakes, summative exam. This is teacher-speak for one massive, multiple-choice test at the end of Year 13 which determines essentially your entire life, from which university you can go to, which career you can aspire to and who you’ll be able to marry. A testing system like this demands the reduction of learning to measurable chunks of information that can be tallied up to generate a numerical result for comparison with that of other learners. There is absolutely a place for this kind of testing – it’s a useful tool for keeping an eye on how the mechanics of language, or any kind of rote-learned facts and figures, are being learned. When knowledge starts to exceed such measurable chunks though, the test’s usefulness starts to peter out. I mean, how do you reduce an entire language to a multiple-choice quiz? How do you judge a person’s spontaneous understanding and spoken communication; their written composition? What about pronunciation? As it turns out, for a start, you remove any spoken and compositional element. Then you give learners chunks and chunks of dull (I mean, deathly dull) passages with some bits underlined. Then you get them to say which of the underlined bits are grammatically wrong, or which ones you could substitute with another construction. Over and over and over again. I took one of these tests once. Turns out, being a native speaker and a trained language teacher does not guarantee anything near success. It is, however, quite an efficient way of eroding a lifelong love of language learning.

Unlike an A-Level student who can just drop the subjects they don’t fancy and zero in on their passions to gain entrance to university, in this system if you ain’t got English you ain’t coming in (imagine the uproar if all British universities suddenly started demanding A*s in Mandarin Chinese as a prerequisite for undergraduate entry?) The result of this then, is a system in which those who can pay for high-quality private language tuition, or send their kids to International School, or to an English-speaking country for a year or two, have a clear advantage over everyone else. As a starry-eyed new teacher and language lover, this dismayed me: the world language should be inclusive – it should be a means of opening doors and understanding each other better, linguistically and culturally. Instead, in this context it largely becomes a commodity. One which also functions as a tool of exclusion – of those too poor to pay the tuition fees; of those who aren’t as adept at one, rigid learning style.

Teaching and learning English in (post) colonial societies

The fact that the language being learnt is English comes with its own set of thorny issues. The existence of English as the world language has its roots in Anglo-American colonialism, which presents a deeper, nastier set of barriers to meaningful relationships between first- and second-language speakers and between teachers and learners. High-stakes summative exams have given rise to a booming private tuition industry and the streets of Seoul, Beijing and Hanoi are lined with private English schools offering cram sessions late into the night. They are notoriously shirty employers with transparently racist hiring practices: many straight-up advertise for white teachers only and will openly state that appearance matters more than qualifications. The biggest losers here are clearly the overworked students being taught by unqualified staff, but teachers also report having a hairy time, with unpaid wages, visa issues and the overnight folding of businesses common. What I experienced in East Asia was a widespread, boiling and kinda justified resentment of white teachers: in my case, although I arrived with the best of intentions I was just not aware of the multiple and multi-faceted obstacles my students faced, or of how my occupying a position of authority in their space and society was already problematic. As a white teacher, I was also paid more –  think up to  three times more – than my home-country counterparts for doing much less and getting to take more holiday. These discrepancies existed (albeit to a slightly lesser extent) in both the public and private schools I worked in. It’s very difficult to have meaningful cultural exchange with either students or colleagues when a relationship begins on such uneven turf, and I often wonder what the long-term effects of this will be.

How did you feel about this article? What was your experience of language teaching and learning? Let us know – we love to hear from you!

Lucy McCormick is Head of Client Services at Struck Fluent, a community of tutors specialising in Modern Foreign Languages and ESL. She has extensive experience as a teacher and tutor of French and ESL in the UK, China, Korea, Vietnam and India. When not teaching or language geeking, you can generally find her in the company of a book, a gin or (preferably) both.

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Raising Bilinguals: Tips from the Coal Face


At Struck Fluent, many of our clients as well as tutors Alice and Lucy, are raising bilingual families. We’re often asked for our thoughts on how to ensure children grow up fluent in both their parents’ language (or languages!) so we asked Lucy to share her top tips and tricks for multi-lingual family life.

What is fluency anyway?

When you start breaking it down, fluency in a language is a pretty involved idea. Language teachers divide language into four skills which are categorised as ‘active’ (speaking and writing) and ‘passive’ (listening and reading). Even in our first languages, we’ll be better at some of these skills than others and depending on the kind of work we do and the lifestyles we lead, we’ll also need to use some more than others.

When you start out on your bilingual journey, it’s worth thinking about how important each of these skills are to you and your family, and how realistic a balance you can achieve whilst keeping your sanity. For example, my husband and I are bringing our son up bilingual in English and Korean. Most important to us is that he can communicate with his grandparents and extended family, so our focus is on speaking and listening. Options for formally learning to read and write Korean are limited where we live, so while we read to him in Korean and will teach him the Korean writing system when he’s old enough, we are more relaxed about these skills: we’d love him to have the option to live and work in Korea if he wants to, and feel that with a solid foundation in the spoken language he will be able to pick up writing skills later in life.

Motivation, motivation, motivation

Given the above, it’s rare that bilingual children will be equally able in both languages. They will almost always have stronger and weaker skills in both a primary and a secondary language, with the language of the country they live in being the primary one. This is normal, and in their younger years children will generally be happy to natter away in both regardless.  It is worth considering though, that as they grow up children will spend increasing amounts of time outside the home interacting in and – this is the crucial bit – building relationships in their primary language. Relationships are the lifeblood of language: linguists highlight every generation of teens inventing their own language to mark themselves out as separate from adults, or twins inventing whole languages of their own. Especially by the time they hit their teens, peer relationships become children’s focus, and unless they have a clear set of motivations to use their secondary language, the appeal begins to fade. Add in some standard teenage rebellion and fear of Being Different and it’s easy to see how the secondary language becomes a chore; an imposition; something they only use to speak to their dad anyway so what’s the point (door slam, eyeroll, sigh).

One way to combat this is to provide contexts outside the home in which the secondary language is spoken, thus helping children (and you!) to build a network of other secondary language speakers. If you’re in a big city this can be pretty simple – just rock on down to your local foreign-language playgroup (check ours out here) or hit up Meetup for some relaxed socialising. Chinese speakers in particular can be pretty sure of a Saturday school nearby for more formal learning and friend-making. If you live further afield, this is tricksier and you may have to travel further or set up your own groups.

Finances allowing, the more regular you can make trips to the country where your language is spoken, the better – many families dedicate summer holidays to such trips, or head over for the main festivals – this is a great option as it helps children participate in and understand their second culture as well as their second language.

If all of the above are impossible, don’t despair – there are a number of approaches to using the language in the home that work well too, and we look at these below.

Which language when?

Bilingual families usually lean towards the One Parent One Language method (OPOL for short). This is pretty much what it says on the tin: children communicate with one parent in the primary language and the other in the secondary language. Sounds great, right? And in many ways it is – in fact it’s widely regarded as the most successful method out there. But. As discussed above, if it’s all you do, after a while children cotton on that the only time they’re using the secondary language is with that one parent. Also, how do you have a three-way conversation between parents and children using this method? Especially if you don’t speak your partner’s language yourself? As children get older and have a decent foundation in their secondary language, it can make sense not to stick too rigidly to OPOL. There are a few things you can do to mix it up a bit and keep that motivation flowing:

  • If you don’t speak your partner’s language, get in touch and let us help you learn it! Aim at least to muddle through everyday family conversation: this has the dual effect of setting a good example and allowing your children the opportunity to teach you – this reversal of the typical power dynamic is often really good for keeping kids and teens engaged.


  • Mix up how and when you use the secondary language. For some families, this means dividing the week into – for example – ‘German days’ and ‘English days’. For us, what’s really worked is concentrating on space rather than time and dividing our flat into ‘Korean rooms’ and ‘English rooms’. This adds an element of humour and playfulness – kids can enforce this rule on parents (reversal of power dynamic again) and can literally step out if they need to switch into the other language, before plunging back in again. For us, it makes things a bit silly and – for me as an adult language learner too – a bit less burdensome.


  • Bring the second culture into the home as much as the language. Media is your friend here: family film nights and series binges, second-language music and second-culture festival celebrations all make great opportunities to dive into the secondary language.

We hope this has been helpful – giving your kids a second language is an awesome thing and opens so many doors for them. It’s also super tough so bilingual-family readers: we salute you! Let us know what you think of our ideas – we always love to hear from you.

Lucy McCormick is Head of Client Services at Struck Fluent, a community of tutors specialising in Modern Foreign Languages and ESL. She has extensive experience as a teacher and tutor of French and ESL in the UK, China, Korea, Vietnam and India. When not teaching or language geeking, you can generally find her in the company of a book, a gin or (preferably) both.

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Top Three Language Learning Apps

At Struck Fluent, we’re avid students as well as teachers of languages. In addition to keeping up the languages we teach, we are currently enjoying expanding our horizons into a range of languages from Serbian to Classical Tibetan.

As such, we’re constantly seeking new and innovative ways to help us along the road to fluency. The tech age has been revolutionary in this respect: an explosive range of language-learning apps has meant that the days of mind-numbing hours spent rote-learning vocab are long gone (Hallelujah!), and finding native speakers to practice with is easier than ever before. Below we introduce our top three apps – hope you find them as useful as we have!

  1. Duolinguo

Top of the download list, Duolinguo users rave about its masterful gamification of the language learning process. It’s a simple yet addictive app that aims to help you use language skillfully rather than just learning reams of vocab: two of our favourite features are the ‘Stories’ section, where you read and answer questions on a story to boost your comprehension skills, and the speaking/listening practice using your phone’s microphone to listen and check pronunciation.

We also really like that Duolinguo’s courses are created by native speakers and not aimed exclusively at first-language English speakers. Gives us a warm, fuzzy, anti-colonial kinda feeling.

2. Memrise

Memrise uses similar tactics to Duolinguo in that it’s gamified to the max: you score points at each stage of the course which position you on a global leaderboard. However, it’s very much a vocab app: the courses are created by the user community who also generate and share memes that have helped them remember individual words. Some of these are absolutely genius: the Chinese character for ‘capital’ (the ‘jing’ in ‘Beijing’) looks like this:  京. It is is made up of three parts stacked on top of each other:

–  亠 is a radical (it has no meaning on its own but is a part of quite a few characters – kind of vaguely like silent letters in English). It gets called a ‘lid’.

– 口 means ‘mouth’

 – 小 means ‘small’

So the way to remember it is that the Chinese capital keeps a lid on the mouths of the small people. Make of that what you will!

3. HelloTalk

Essentially pen-pals for the digital age, HelloTalk links you up with speakers of the language(s) you want to learn and lets you chat WhatsApp-style through texts and voice messages. The basic version is free and allows you to list one language that you speak and one you wish to learn, but if you upgrade to the paid version you can list more. It has a built-in dictionary feature which is great for quickly checking and using words in context – proven to help you internalise vocab more quickly!

What do you think of our top three? Are there any you think should be here? Let us know! We love hearing from you lovely lot.

Lucy McCormick is Head of Client Services at Struck Fluent, a community of tutors specialising in Modern Foreign Languages and ESL. She has extensive experience as a teacher and tutor of French and ESL in the UK, China, Korea, Vietnam and India. When not teaching or language geeking, you can generally find her in the company of a book, a gin or (preferably) both.



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Language Learning for Young Learners

This was originally written as a guest post for the very lovely people over at 100 Toys. You can read it and check out their work here.

As a collective of tutors specialising in Modern Foreign Languages, we’re often approached by parents keen to introduce their little ones to a language but unsure of how best to do so. This post is a whistle-stop tour of the whys, whens and hows of children’s language teaching from the perspective of our seasoned language tutors.

What’s the big deal about language learning anyway?

Many parents who contact us for help with their children’s language learning do so for practical reasons: while children all over the world now learn English to a serviceable level – often in addition to another language – proficiency in a second language is a vanishing skill among British children. In a post-Brexit, globalized world, however, those with the linguistic and cultural fluency gained from learning another language stand to do much better in the job market than their monolingual counterparts. On a holistic level, the ability to speak and think in a different language also opens the door to relationships, experiences and perspectives outside the norms of one’s home country, which may parents consider a valuable and enriching aim.

What age is best to introduce a language?

There’s some debate among linguists about when to introduce a foreign language. Whilst many assume that the earlier a child begins language learning the better, there is evidence to suggest that formal learning before the age of 5 may not be beneficial. This is because, in general, children don’t master their mother tongue until that age, so throwing another language into the mix can interfere with first-language acquisition. The main exception is when children are brought up bilingual from birth: in this case, it’s usual that either the parents speak one language each, or that everyone uses the second language in certain contexts only. Bilingual children thus acquire the languages in tandem, with a clear context for when to use each language and strong motivation for learning, whereas those studying formally sometimes struggle with when and why they should be speaking the second language.

With the above in mind, although we offer foreign-language playgroups and play-based individual sessions for younger children, we do more formal work with clients from around the age of 5. Some of the most important points we consider when doing so are listed below.

The Silent Period

Young Learners respond best to methods that mirror the natural pattern of language acquisition they’ve just come through. One of the most important stages in the process is known as the ‘Silent Period.’ Chances are, your baby didn’t say a recognisable word for about a year, but that they showed clear signs of understanding prior to this. Young Learners encountering a foreign language for the first time will go through the exact same process, often taking several lessons to drink in the new sounds before they feel safe and confident enough to actually produce the language.

Show Don’t Tell: Demonstrating understanding without speaking

This is a great way to help Young Learners through the Silent Period. For example, we’ll stick pictures of animals around the room and ask a child to run and touch the cat/dog/monkey etc. In a lesson on food, I once placed different pieces of fruit around the room and asked children to bring me each piece We then made a fruit salad. This showed me they understood the names of each fruit and also instructions such as ‘cut the banana’, etc., but removed any pressure to speak before they were ready. Games that operate on the same principle include ‘Simon Says’ and ‘Describe and Draw’, where the tutor describes a person or thing and the learner draws and colours it as per their instructions.

We always make sure to heap on the praise when children manage the task – it all goes into their confidence bank and brings them closer to speaking.

Routines and Repetition

As well as routine and repetition helping Young Learners feel secure, it’s another great way to ease them into speaking. For example, I use the same ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ song to bookmark each lesson, as well as a date, weather, and emotions chart. Children tend to find these routines a familiar, non-threatening setting in which to produce language as they’re used to hearing and responding with the same or similar phrases. By the same principle, it is helpful to model and repeat certain simple phrases in every lesson such as (when offering an object) ‘here you are’ and ‘thank you’: the clear context, simple language and regular repetition will again create a feeling of security which will lead to children feeling confident enough to speak

Keep it moving: We try and make sure that our sessions include activities to suit all learning styles, with each activity lasting around 10 minutes. We like to kick things off with a good physical warm-up like a song or chant with actions to burn off some of that fabled 5-year-old energy (!) and help children switch into the target language and the learning mindset. Sitting-down activities like colouring or stories are interspersed with more physical activities and games such as Simon Says, Escargot (French Hopscotch – great for practicing numbers!) or ‘what’s the time Mr Wolf?’ This keeps kids focused, energised and enjoying the session which is vital for their confidence and motivation.

Respect your learners

My old boss had a great saying that has now become a mantra when I train Young Learner tutors: “they’re small, not stupid”. I’m constantly amazed by my young learners’ ability to soak up language like sponges, but like all of us they have their off days – they’re tired, they fell out with a friend, they miss their mum. We try to always be respectful of their emotions and their lives outside our one hour a week with them, which means bringing extra patience and humour, leaving our own troubles at the door, and having a few extra-fun activities up our sleeves to whip out when they’re struggling.

Lucy McCormick is Head of Client Services at Struck Fluent, a community of tutors specialising in Modern Foreign Languages and ESL. She has extensive experience as a teacher and tutor of French and ESL in the UK, China, Korea, Vietnam and India. When not teaching or language geeking, you can generally find her in the company of a book, a gin or (preferably) both.

Teaching Materials Series: Videos

People get tetchy at the mention of using videos in the classroom – and sure, there’s little educational value in learners zoning out in front of a cartoon with no context! But done right, video is a great way to engage learners, enlarge their horizons and – our crucial aim here at Struck Fluent – encourage them to produce language.

Here are a few of our fave video resources and how we use them:

TED talks

A language teacher’s manna from heaven, TED offer engaging material on a host of topics from social issues to environmental concerns; from philosophy to the latest scientific research. In other words, material to suit the needs and interests of every learner – this is great news for us as we’re all about tailoring our sessions to learners’ individual needs! TED talks are mainly in English which make them a go-to ESL resource but there are a few foreign-language talks too. The one above is a firm fave of mine addressing the status of English as a global language and the harm it may be doing – guaranteed to get even the most reticent second-language speakers talking!

Once I’ve selected a talk, I’ll use a range of techniques to approach the video. I might begin by discussing issues around the selected theme, then watch the video once in order to establish its gist. I’ll then do a second watch with some more detailed questions to answer, and end with sharing views on the speaker’s position or (if it’s a larger class) a debate. TED also include transcripts of all their talks, which are useful for detailed listening practice and language study. As an added bonus, you’ll find all kinds of accents and dialects in the talks, which is great for reinforcing the concept of World English and introducing learners to new sounds and expressions.

The News

We tend to use a mix of target-language clips like this one (ie those for and by speakers of the foreign language) and those specially created for language learners, like A la Une, above. Resources like these are great for leading engaging sessions around current affairs and present the opportunity to learn and practice grammar and vocabulary in a meaningful context. Research shows that this makes it much easier to remember, which is great news for our learners!


Similarly to picture books, these are a great way to build confidence for lower-level learners as they tend to use minimal words and focus on visual images. For this reason, we often like to play the infographic with the sound off to begin with, allowing learners to glean and discuss the overall meaning of the clip, before adding the sound and moving onto a more detailed discussion of the information.

To state the obvious, infographics are particularly useful to quickly show learners concepts or processes that might be boring or time-heavy to explain in words, and will definitely not appeal to visual learners. To this end, I’ve used infographics to introduce learners to the difference between England, Britain and the UK (tricksy distinctions for non-Europeans in particular – my Korean students were surprised to learn they were not one and the same!) or to processes like the water cycle in the clip above.

Lucy McCormick is Head of Client Services at Struck Fluent, a community of tutors specialising in Modern Foreign Languages and ESL. She has extensive experience as a teacher and tutor of French and ESL in the UK, China, Korea, Vietnam and India. When not teaching or language geeking, you can generally find her in the company of a book, a gin or (preferably) both.

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Teaching Materials Series: Songs

For Young Learners, it’s not a lesson if we haven’t raised the roof with at least one ridiculously catchy tune (accompanying actions obligatory). Songs are fantastic for raising kids’ energy, learning grammar passively, and getting in some Total Physical Response (co-ordination of language and movement to help cement words and meaning).

You can use foreign-language versions of English classics, such as this French version of ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’, which has the added bonus of covering other emotions too:

…a French classic like this one (great for parts of the body and future tense):

…or alternatively something utterly bonkers such as this (seriously, the bonkers-ness makes the vocab more memorable):

Songs are also a great tool for older children and adult learners. They can be used to teach grammar points in context, for example this beauty for the difference between the perfect and imperfect in French:

Or this, for ESL learners battling with the second conditional:

They’re also great for straight-up listening practice. I’ve used this fun rap with adult beginners as much as Young Learners, usually getting them to fill in the blanks in a copy of the lyrics to consolidate the sound of the word with its written form:

Hope you enjoy this selection of our musical faves – let us know what you think!

Lucy McCormick is Head of Client Services at Struck Fluent, a community of tutors specialising in Modern Foreign Languages and ESL. She has extensive experience as a teacher and tutor of French and ESL in the UK, China, Korea, Vietnam and India. When not teaching or language geeking, you can generally find her in the company of a book, a gin or (preferably) both.

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Teaching Materials Series: Board Games

We love a board game at Struck Fluent. We all learn better when we’re enjoying ourselves and applying language in context, and board games are a great way to tick both these boxes. They’re enjoyed by adults and Young Learners alike, and can be adapted for all levels and to suit a whole range of learning objectives. Beginners reinforce numbers by rolling the dice and counting the spaces they move, and everyone gets to reinforce functional language such as checking and clarifying (‘is it my go?’) and requesting things (‘could you pass me the dice?’).

Here’s our pick of the crop:

Guess Who:

This is a Struck Fluent staple and is fantastic for practicing describing people in any language. For ESL learners, it also helps to practice English names and to reinforce gender pronouns (he/she): Chinese, for example, does not distinguish between ‘he’ and ‘she’ in the spoken form so many of our Chinese ESL students struggle to remember this in English, even at quite a high level.


monopoly german

A brilliant choice for higher-level students and a chance to get super-competitive! Monopoly is great for introducing more advanced financial vocabulary, and I usually play entirely in the target language so players get the chance to interact in a ‘real’ but relaxed situation which usually boosts confidence. I also like to adapt the game to use local currency in order to reinforce larger numbers.

Snakes and Ladders


A fab option for beginners, Snakes and Ladders allows learners to practice basic numbers and functional language such as ‘my turn’/’your turn’; ‘go up (the ladder)’/’go down (the snake)’. The version shown also has a verb on each square: to revise the verbs they’ve learnt, players have to make a sentence using the verbs when they land on each space.

Make your own!

I often make my own board games, and love to include features like question cards and tasks (making objects from plasticine, for example, or miming an action). I also like to include ‘go back’ and ‘go forward’ squares as a way of introducing this kind of useful vocabulary.

One of my favourite things to do though, is to get my students to make and play their own board games based on the topic we’re currently working on: they start by devising the rules, practicing instruction-giving language along the way, then move on to discussing and designing the board – all in the target language. Finally, they play the game together, reinforcing the original topic plus a lot of extras!

Lucy McCormick is Head of Client Services at Struck Fluent, a community of tutors specialising in Modern Foreign Languages and ESL. She has extensive experience as a teacher and tutor of French and ESL in the UK, China, Korea, Vietnam and India. When not teaching or language geeking, you can generally find her in the company of a book, a gin or (preferably) both.

Teaching Materials Series: Picture Books

Welcome to our new blog series! Here we will be introducing some of our most commonly used teaching materials and how we use them. As always we welcome your feedback and – for the teachers among you – if you have any ideas to suggest, we’d love to hear them (and add them to our stash!)

This week we’re talking picture books. At Struck Fluent, these are an essential part of our repertoire with Young Learners. We use a mixture of classic English books in translation and original foreign-language texts, and both always go down a storm. As well as being fun, interactive and supportive of our students’ school learning, there are tons of benefits to using picture books when learning a foreign language. These include:

Visual cues


Even children with no former experience of a language can follow a story from the pictures, and learn to positively identify the new language with a fun activity. As the children progress, they begin to link word and image: one of my 5-year-old French students loves counting and naming the fruit in La Chenille qui fait des trous (The Very Hungry Caterpillar), for example. All along, they are developing listening skills: becoming used to the rhythm and flow of the language and later being able to pick out and identify words and phrases.

Motivation to speak


A new language can feel overwhelming, and even at a young age children have often internalised a fear of ‘getting it wrong’ which causes them to hold back from speaking in sessions. In picture books, language is stripped back to its bare essentials and accompanied by bright, attractive pictures which enable children to follow the story (as discussed above). The language used also tends to be fun and enticing: children love making the different sounds of the grass, mud and snowstorm in foreign-langauge versions of We’re going on a Bear Hunt, or joining their tutor in shouting ‘Va-t’en!’ to the big green monster in Va-t’en, Grand Monstre Vert. Much like songs and chants – other mainstays of our Young Learner sessions – children need no encouragement to repeat the sounds, words and phrases they discover in picture books. Way more effective –  and most importantly way more fun – than drilling vocab!

Introducing and supporting new language

Once children are comfortable with their tutor and the new language, picture books can support a range of learning objectives: this week, for example, I have used La Surprise de Handa to focus on animals and fruit, and Je m’habille et je te croque (see video above) to introduce clothes. Linguists have long trumpeted the benefits of learning a language in context in order to help it stick in the mind, and stories are a perfect context for Young Learners.Often, if children are struggling to remember a word I can prompt them with a scene from the story we’ve read (what fruit did the ostrich steal from Handa?) and they will be delighted to find they can remember the French for guava after all!

Lucy McCormick is Head of Client Services at Struck Fluent, a community of tutors specialising in Modern Foreign Languages and ESL. She has extensive experience as a teacher and tutor of French and ESL in the UK, China, Korea, Vietnam and India. When not teaching or language geeking, you can generally find her in the company of a book, a gin or (preferably) both.



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