Modern Foreign Languages - Amateur detectives - Pupils pick up some basics by tracking an international villain

Jo Cole

"I enjoyed it because it was a challenge, but it was a challenge that was fun!" That was one 11-year-old's view of a 40-minute lesson from the Languages Bridge.

She and her Year 6 classmates, working in teams, had taken the role of a detective who received multilingual witness statements from fictional colleagues around Europe about the movements of Mr X, an international jewel thief. They had learned that Mr X was travelling through Italy, France and Spain and they knew where he was going, where he was staying and what he was doing. They learned these facts by interpreting cognates, images and phrases in three foreign languages.

But how did these primary children make sense of it all when they had yet to study a language? This is one of the purposes of Languages Bridge, a web-based programme of multilingual materials designed to teach pupils how languages work. Developed between 2004 and 2007 by the International Learning and Research Centre, it aims to help pupils focus on the similarities between languages and realise that learning another language can be easier than they expect.

The programme includes more than 20 hours of interactive material for children aged 7-14, focusing on listening and reading skills and word, sentence and text-level comprehension. Activities - using stories and active learning - involve comparisons of nine European languages, plus Mandarin and Japanese.

The programme is particularly useful for preparing primary children with no experience of languages for study of a foreign language at secondary school. Perhaps most importantly, it gives them confidence in listening, speaking and analysing texts, and diminishes the fear of attempting to learn something new.

Each lesson ends with pupils presenting and discussing their conclusions about how languages work. There is now an online community of learners, with 180 schools accessing the materials and contributing to their development. Teachers can see an overview of the Languages Bridge at For details of each building block, PowerPoint presentations of sample materials and lesson plans, click on "What is the Languages Bridge?"

The full set of lesson plans and all resources, including sound files, are available for a small subscription. Many primary teachers using the resources are not specialist languages teachers, so all necessary support is provided.

Josephine Cole is a senior consultant at the International Learning and Research Centre. For more information, email

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