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Modern foreign languages - A bit lost for words

resources | Published in TES magazine on 27 January, 2012 | By: Rosa Ford

Dictionaries are a necessity, but they can trip pupils up

Over the years, the rules on dictionary use in MFL assessments have changed. Now, in the age of controlled assessments, it is crucial that good-quality dictionaries are available and that pupils are adept at using them. But it's not that simple.

Dictionaries are expensive, especially if you are buying for several classes and your department teaches several languages. We spent a fortune on dictionaries last year after battling to prepare controlled assessments with graffiti-laden, one-between-three dictionaries that had been in the department for years.

But pupils don't all appreciate these new ones. I take care to keep my dictionaries pristine, but a Year 7 pupil recently called me over and said, "Miss, there's something rude in my dictionary!" The page featured a sketch of a part of the male anatomy and an instruction to "turn to page 78". Curious, the pupil had obeyed, and was rewarded with another drawing and a rude comment about someone's mum. My strategy now is to inspect dictionaries at the end of each lesson, so at least if there's damage I have an idea who is responsible. Any better ideas out there?

And there is another problem with dictionaries: they are only good if pupils can use them properly. I get pupils to find out the gender of a noun, how to conjugate a verb and, most importantly, how to choose the correct word for what they want to say. I urge them to use their brains, vocab sheets and books rather than heading straight for the dictionary. Is this a recipe for success? Non, actually. However much time I spend with them practising dictionary skills, there will always be one pupil who suddenly forgets every foreign word they have ever learned as soon as they have access to a dictionary, looking up every single word in their sentence and even, on occasions, checking for a translation of their own name. ("Miss, why isn't 'Liam' in the dictionary? What would it be in French?")

The more words they look up, the more likely it is that they will be scuppered by the helpful English language, which has so many words spelled the same but with different meanings. Do they mean the "play" you see at the theatre or the verb "play"? "Light" as in not heavy or a type of lamp? Get enough of these problems in a sentence and the teacher ends up spending less time marking the work and more time puzzling over what the pupil is trying to say. Occasionally, it even leads to some surprising confessions, such as the time a Year 11 pupil writing about her daily routine wanted to say, "I come to the bus stop at 8 every morning", but fell foul of the multiple meanings of the verb "to come". This resulted in a startling "revelation" about what she does every morning while waiting for her bus.

Rosa Ford has taught English abroad and now teaches French and Spanish at a secondary in the North of England

What else?

Improve pupils' vocab memory skills with a learning loop quiz from annelousiep.

Knowing words is one thing, pronouncing them is quite another. But rhawkes' Spanish phonics presentation can help.

Try Lindsay Rawnsley's Categorias game for a quick-fire test of pupils' vocabulary skills.

In the forums

There is an interesting discussion about behaviour management in the TES MFL forum. Do you tell pupils off in English or in the language you are teaching?

For all links and resources visit www.tes.co.uk/resources019.


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