Modern Foreign Languages - Nothing is impossible

Si, you can stage a production in both English and Spanish

Heather Martin

"That's impossible", the Year 4 children chant as one, after learning that they are to stage a production in English and Spanish. "No," I reply, deploying my most authoritative Spanish accent, "No es imposible!" They look sceptical, but interested.

It is a simple formula. Four groups of 16 children spend six weeks working on four poems and songs in each language, linked by a single theme: this year it was los cuatro elementos (the four elements). Fit the jigsaw together and the outcome is beautiful to behold, with the added bonus that children see their teachers collaborating, too. At St Faith's, we have done this for three years, kicking off with a day-long performance workshop and culminating in an evening of bilingual theatre.

Back in the classroom, the process begins with a paradigmatic reading of Novia del Campo, Amapola by Juan Ramon Jimenez, backed up by strong visuals. The children are asked for first impressions of mood, tone, rhythm and rhyme, words they can recognise or guess: they have limited formal knowledge of Spanish, but being participants in our integrated learning programme they are developing an instinctive feel for the language. "Can't we read it in English?" they plead. Maybe. But it is vital to arrive at the gist through the original Spanish first. Gradually, we join the dots by cross-referencing images and inferring themes, making links with experience. By the second week they can tell the story in their own words, along the way discovering that Tenerife's Teide volcano is the third highest in the world.

"Es imposible," they chime, realising that they will not have the words in front of them during the performance. But secretly they have faith, and adding actions - from around week three - gives their knowledge physical grounding. This year, the biggest challenge was the music: the folk song Virgen de Candelaria, climaxing in a virtuosic tour de force of rapid-fire phonemes and a flamenco song by Jose Merce. That really is impossible, the children tell me. But they love singing and so do I, and months later we still find them singing the tunes. They have learned to live with these life-enhancing poems and songs.

Federico Garcia Lorca defined poetry as "lo imposible hecho posible", the impossible made possible. By that definition, our bilingual production is poetry in motion. Set the bar high and young people will trust your belief in them.

Dr Heather Martin is head of modern languages and curriculum coordinator at St Faith's Independent Prep School, Cambridge


Help pupils to be creative with Maria_Collado's Spanish calligrams.

Use the poem El Mar, la Mar to develop pupils' vocabulary in another activity from Maria_Collado.


Teachers are discussing the Department for Education consultation on primary languages. MFL teachers should feed back by 28 September. Have you added your thoughts?

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Heather Martin

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