The approaching Christmas holidays set me thinking about my first trip abroad as a teacher, when the drama started before we had left the county. Every school trip features at least one child who suffers from violent travel sickness but has bravely come along on the 20-hour coach journey. Then there is the boy who has been advised by his older brother that the best way to travel is to drink several cans of strong lager before setting off.
Once the journey is over and done with and the kids have been outraged at having to pay for toilets in Belgian service stations, discovered that the selection of Haribo in Germany is far superior to what we have in England and tested out their French on German-speakers and their German on French-speakers, you can get on with the business of language learning.
After all, is that not what it is all about? Well, that depends on the pupil. Some of them figure out pretty quickly that it can be easy enough to get by without anything but English and dramatic mimes when faced with a well-meaning shopkeeper, but does that mean they have not got anything out of the trip? Not at all. Just being out of their comfort zone and hearing people speak in another language is a fantastic learning experience.
One of my favourite memories from a trip is seeing previously shy, quiet pupils on a chairlift in Germany, waving and shouting "Hallo! Wie geht's?" to hapless tourists passing them in the other direction. The pupils later told me this was their favourite part of the week because they had not realised until then that if they said the things they had learnt in German at school then real, live Germans would be able to understand them.
So how can you encourage pupils to take this first step and have a go? The most important thing is to get them into a situation where they can see the necessity of speaking the foreign language, but also where they feel confident enough to do it.
Many pupils, if they are put on the spot, will clam up and forget everything they have ever learnt. But if they have time to plan out what they want to say, using familiar language, and can see rewards for it, they will be more likely to give it a try. Ordering food or buying things in shops is a good opportunity, as is sending pupils off in groups on a treasure hunt where they will have to speak to people to ask directions or get information.
Not all pupils will give it a go, but if they do it works wonders for their confidence and enthusiasm - two of the most important things for learning a language successfully.
Rosa Ford has taught English abroad and for the past seven years has been a French and Spanish teacher at an 11-18 secondary in the north of England
For practising German phrases and useful expressions, try the five-star rated speaking booklet from sommersprossen - it is a big hit with teachers.
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