A major review of language teaching recently urged key stage 3 teachers to experiment with methods. It mentions the scheme created by Paul Howard, of Queen Elizabeth's grammar, a private secondary in Blackburn, Lancashire. Mr Howard has created Spanish lessons for 11- to 13-year-olds based on the method devised by Michel Thomas (below), which aims to get pupils confident at speaking as soon as possible by concentrating on how to use verbs.
The vocabulary is stripped down to the most frequently used words and cognates, those words that have the same origin and often sound similar to their English counterparts, such as night: nuit (French), nacht (German) and noche (Spanish).
But while the Michel Thomas method only teaches speaking and listening, Mr Howard has adapted the methodology to cover reading and writing as well.
"A conventional course is topic-based: 'What's in my pencil case?' or 'What do you like about school?' The idea is that the topics chosen will motivate children," says Mr Howard. "In my opinion, that methodology is doomed to fail, no matter what topics are chosen, because the pupils don't have the language skills to talk about anything and are very much restricted to phrasebook Spanish or French.
"I have stripped away the topic areas and concentrated on the language itself. The first lesson is based on the cognates ending 'ible' and 'able'
- such as possible, acceptable and terrible - and the verb 'to be'. So pupils learn how to say 'It is possible', 'Es posible'.
"GCSE and A-level are topic based and that's the point at which they pick up the specialist vocabulary needed."
The first course of Es Posible is due to be published by Hodder in the summer (pound;599 plus VAT). Mr Howard has plans to write French and German series as well.
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