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English - Avast ye! Here be booty

Talk Like a Pirate Day is sure to enthuse pupils about language

Talk Like a Pirate Day is sure to enthuse pupils about language

There is always a rhythm to school years. September kicks off with a mood of giddy optimism and, as well as the lessons, there are festivals, special days and themed events that punctuate and add variety to the passing year.

The most obvious are: Harvest Festival, Remembrance, Children in Need, Christmas, Comic Relief, sports days and so on. But there's enthusiasm from pupils and teachers alike over International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Even headteachers have been known to embrace the mood, starting Monday's motivational staff briefing with sentences such as: "Right, you scurvy dogs, get them barnacles scraped or I'll have ye walking the Ofsted plank."

It proves surprisingly easy to summon up the rhythms and vocabulary of pirate talk. Indeed, hundreds of websites on the topic are conveniently gathered at

The basics seem to include: "Ahoy" (hello); "Avast" (an expression of surprise); "Aye aye" (strong affirmation); and the hugely versatile "Arrrr" (yesI'm happyclever you).

Advanced users might deploy "beauty" (the apparently ubiquitous label for a woman), "bilge rat" (a term of abuse) and "lubber" (someone who doesn't go to sea and therefore highly pejorative).

This is rich terrain for language study at key stage 3. Set pupils the challenge of researching pirate lingo and give them some standard English expressions ("Good morning, Mr Barton") to convert into what we might term "piratese". Then get them to explore accents and the way our culture gives lower status to the strong pronunciation of the "r" within a word (for example, "caRt") - usually accents that are rural rather than urban. In the US it's often the opposite, with use of the "prevocalic r" being higher status (as in "New YoRk").

Then we might investigate characterisation. Pirates were, and remain, generally bad people who did nasty things and made people's lives miserable. Why, then, do they so often achieve a positive, even comic presentation - a bit like how the Ahlbergs made Burglar Bill a sympathetic character - in literature? How do writers achieve this?

We could also explore the associations of the word "pirate" (pirate radio, pirate copies, pirating movies, South Sea pirates) and get pupils to think of all the references to pirates they can recall from books and films, and to classify them as positive or negative.

All this would be exploratory, collaborative and rooted in a fascination with our changing language. I would like to think that by the end of a class peppered with lively conversation and debate, pupils' timbers would have been truly shivered.

Geoff Barton is headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds and the author of Comprehension to 14 and Writing to 14 (OUP)

What else?

Revise rhyme, rhythm and more with TESEnglish's pirate language lesson. bit.lyO8CNED

Introduce literature to your Year 7s with riacymru's Treasure Island resource pack. bit.lyQIkmee

A pirate dictionary. Savvy?

Ahoy! - Hello.

Avast ye - Pay attention.

Aye aye - I'll get right to it.

Be - Is, are or am.

Bilge - The most unpleasant part of a ship.

Bilge rat - An insult.

Booty - Goods stolen or treasure found.

Clap of thunder - A strong, alcoholic drink.

Crow's nest - A lookout point at the top of the mast.

Doubloons - Coins.

Jack - The ship's flag.

Head - The ship's toilet.

Hearties - A familiar way to address your shipmates.

Hornswaggle - To be dishonest.

Lubber - A person who prefers to be on land. Often used as an insult.

Matey - Friend.

Me - My.

Peg leg - A wooden leg.

Pieces of eight - A silver Spanish coin.

Plunder - To steal goods.

Savvy? - Do you understand?

Shiver me timbers - An expression of surprise.

Smartly - Quickly.

Strike colours - Lower the ship's flag as a sign of surrender.

Swab - To clean.

Ye - You.

Yer - Your.

For more pirate language, see vixtrix's profile at bit.lyPRTPda.

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