Tag Archives: languages

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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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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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!

Infographics

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: 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

vhc

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

grass

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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On the politics of English names in China

Roughly 12 hours after landing in China, fresh off the back of a messy break-up and fresh out of Europe for the first time in my life, I staggered up to the Reception desk of my new school and introduced myself as coherently as I could manage as the new English teacher.

“You need Fish and Shopping”, the receptionist announced.

“I’m sorry?” I replied, my neural synapses fizzling around vague notions of an Omega-3-and-retail-therapy-based jet lag cure.

“Fish. And Shopping. The HR managers. This way please”

Hang around any group of ESL teachers in the Middle Kingdom for more than five minutes and the subject of their students’ English names will come up. Some are convenient Anglicisations of names or surnames (I taught a lot of Lees and Lynnes); others choose favourite fictional characters (High School classes were rarely without at least one Harry Potter namesake, Draco and Severus included) whilst still others opt for any noun they feel affinity with (my personal fave: the gym aficionado named Muscle).

And to be fair, there is undeniable humour to be found in hearing yourself yell ‘Muscle, Challenge!’ during a heated game of ‘Just a Minute’ with a roomful of teenagers.

But. But. I always felt slightly itchy about not knowing my students’ real names. The standard reason given for the practice of taking English names is that foreigners can’t remember them, or that they’re too tough for us to pronounce. In fact, my school didn’t even list students’ Chinese names on the register. And sure, Chinese names are different to European ones. But…isn’t that kind of par for the course when you go and work in, er, China? It felt disrespectful for me as a teacher to be ‘renaming’ my students for me own convenience. There’s also a particularly nasty history associated with the ‘giving’ of European names by white people to people of colour, which made referring to Xiu Ying as ‘Tina’ especially uncomfortable.

When I approached this topic with my students, their answers surprised me. There was only one who refused to take an English name, reasoning that his two syllables – one of which had more or less the same pronunciation as ‘way’ – would not be beyond the reach of even the most hapless of foreigners. ‘And anyway’, he said, ‘it’s my name. It’s who I am. Foreigners don’t take Chinese names, so why should I change mine?’

His classmates, though, found his attachment to his name as a marker of identity a bit odd, and in fact paradoxically foreign, citing the many times Chinese people have traditionally changed their names to mark a new stage of life. For many of them, an English name was also a handy way of opting out of the finickity etiquette around forms of address: first names are only used for those on the same or a lower social level, otherwise an honourific title must be used. The advantages of bypassing this system – particularly in a business context – were clear.

I was interested to learn that it was my own Eurocentric conception of identity that had contributed to my unease around name-changing. However, the nagging feeling that the practice was part of an unbalanced relationship remained. As my student had said, surely if Chinese names are so hard to remember the difficulty is reciprocated so why wasn’t I ever encouraged to become Liu Xi?

There were to be many more dents in my Eurocentrism by the time I left China, and many more questions than I could hope to explore around the imbalance between the Western world and our expectations of everyone else. But the politics of names and name-changing remains a fascination and I always love to hear views on the topic! Please comment below and let me know your thoughts!

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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Songs for Kleine Katzen: German-speaking playgroup 22/03/2017

We’re looking forward to seeing you down at Good Hope Cafe in Ladywell this Wednesday 22nd March for Kleine Katzen, our German-speaking playgroup!

All levels of German are welcome, so every week we’ll post the songs for the next session here to help you get familiar with/dance around your sitting room to them before the group. Here are four simple songs that German tutor Alice will be  introducing:

  1. Seeing as we’re meeting on a Wednesday, we thought we’d include…

 

2. Guten Morgen everyone!

 

 

3. One to get the small ones stamping and clapping:

4. Lovely to see you!

Our theme for the first group will be Frühling (Spring!) so we’ll post a couple of spring-themed tunes over the next couple of days too.

Happy singing and bis Mittwoch!

From the team at Struck Fluent, playgroup wizards and tutors of Modern Foreign Languages and ESL in London. Need a language tutor? Get in touch here.

 

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