• Paul Wade

Modern Foreign Languages

Today, as a follow up to a previous post about what to do if you just don’t know the answer, it’s time to take a little look at modern foreign languages and how to help your child if your only experience of speaking another language is learning how to ask the way to the grocery store on holiday each summer.


First up, the fact is that by the time many of your kids have reached the age of about ten, they may well have picked up more of their school’s designated modern foreign language (MFL) than you can possibly recall from your school days. That is OK. In fact, you don’t need to know anything about the language they are studying in order to be able to help. We will start from that assumption and anything you do happen to know is a bonus.


Now remember that the work will almost always be a little bit too hard for your child. This was covered in the ‘Mistakes are Good’ post, but it bears repeating. Your child is unlikely to be expected to get everything right on their own. It is, therefore, absolutely fine if they cannot do all of the work set in MFL. Getting over the initial ‘I can’t do it’ moment is the main aim here.


There will likely be two main themes to the work that children have to complete that you might not be able to help them with.


1) Work set entirely in the language they're studying

2) Work set in English, that needs to be completed in the foreign language


Where the work appears in the foreign language, the first hurdle to overcome will be “What is it Asking Them to do?”. The simple answer is – “Use Google Translate”. This will allow you to unpick the basis questions. (Note that when accessed from smartphones it has a feature that allows it to 'read' printed text, so you don't have to type it in if cut and past isn't an option.) You will then at least have made a start. In the case of work that is set entirely in the foreign language, it will often only be one or two words that are confusing a student. Help them unpick this bit and they will usually be operating at a language level that allows them to make a decent stab at completing the work set. Beyond that, there is not much more you can be expected to do, apart from helping them think about that do know that can help them to answer the question they now understand.


In the case of work appearing in English, it is likely to take two forms. Either it is asking a series of grammar and comprehension-style questions or it is instructing a student to do some writing of their own. In the first instance, you can, again help. Ask them what different words from the question would be in the language they are studying. Unpicking questions on word at a time will make them more manageable and should offer your child the confidence to tackle them. With tasks that require answers to be written at greater length, get your child to formulate the answer in their preferred language and then have a go at gradual translation.


The above suggestions are not optimal in terms of modern foreign language teaching methods, but will help you and your child to get through things when they are stuck and you don’t have a clue about the language that they are studying. Remember:


  1. Unpick what they are actually being asked

  2. They do not need to get it all right

  3. Google Translate can help, but you don’t need to use it to answer all of the work

  4. Use what they do know to answer what they don’t


Next, I will be dealing with the potentially thorny issue of ‘No Hands Up’ – or “Why is the teacher not paying attention to my child during video conference lessons?” Until then, everyone, happy home learning.

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