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Modern Foreign Languages - Memory joggers

Invent 'word families' to build student's speaking skills

Invent 'word families' to build student's speaking skills

Anybody who has ever tried to learn a foreign language will know that receptive skills such as listening and reading always develop first. You may be able to understand a conversation between native speakers, but you will find it a lot more difficult to take part.

Using cognates and near-cognates helps students to develop their confidence and builds up their vocabulary. In addition, they are easier to understand and commit to memory.

Introduce students to the concept of "word families" and get them to look at the most commonly used prefixes and suffixes. Getting students to "invent" words by playing around with prefixes and suffixes is also a fun way to get them to understand how words are formed. The "invented" words can then be checked in the dictionary and points can be awarded to the team that "created" the most correct words.

Simple visuals can be associated with key sentence starters to scaffold extended oral or written answers. For instance, a "V" is a great prompt to encourage students to use the near future in French (Je "vais"). And visuals created by students can be used as mnemonics to help them remember key language structures.

Tools that can support the development of both writing and speaking skills include: Spell with Flickr, a source of pictures of individual letters; Memorize Now, which takes letters or words out of a text; and Mindomo, a mind-mapping site.

Students are more likely to try to speak if they are given some privacy to experiment with the phonic system of the new language. Opportunities to record themselves with Audacity or use Text-to-Speech can really help.

CuePrompter, an online autocue, or the LineLearner mobile application, which can easily produce gapped recordings, can encourage students to practise larger chunks of language.

Students often assume that if they understand a word or a phrase in the language they are learning, they will be able to use it. But when they are searching for a word, it doesn't always come to them because they are thinking first in English. To cement it in their minds, try using the readcoverwritecheck approach used to teach young pupils how to spell. It's simple, but effective.

Later, you can use a simple translation test of short sentences from English to see if they can actively use the language.

Isabelle Jones is head of languages at the Radclyffe School in Oldham and teaches French and Spanish. She speaks at language events and blogs at


Create language prompts with Spell with Flickr, Memorize Now and Mindomo mind maps.

Help students to develop their speaking skills with Audacity, Text-to-Speech, CuePrompter and LineLearner.


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