Get the ball rolling in Spanish - with #ftbol

29th May 2015 at 01:00
Pupils can learn a surprising amount from foreign language tweets about football matches

I began my lesson with that breezy staple "What are we going to learn today?" The answer to this question shocked the class: "Vamos a estudiar el encanto de la Copa FA." Yes, the romance of the FA Cup. There was a palpable frisson of excitement.

As a Cambridge-based teacher, I had been handed a gift: Cambridge United versus Manchester United in la cuarta ronda (the fourth round). My plan was to use the Twitter action from #mufc as the basis of my lesson.

A positive feature of the Premier League is its collaboration with language teachers. Spearheaded by the exemplary polyglot Arsne Wenger, Arsenal leads the way with the Arsenal Double Club ( And many other football clubs run modern foreign language resource programmes and host foreign language Twitter accounts.

Twitter does a good job as a languages teacher. By definition it observes the golden rule of "little and often", serving up bite-sized portions of grammar alongside classic and contemporary idioms. It promotes Spanish as a global language, and it teaches what not to do via the ugly abbreviations embraced by users trying to stay under Twitter's 140-character limit.

Back of the net

For this lesson, I took tweets from before and after the game. We began with a rallying tweet from Ecuadorian right-winger Antonio Valencia: "Nuestra mentalidad tiene que ser siempre la misma. Somos el Manchester United y tenemos que salir a ganar." From this we learned that, memorably, all "dad" words are feminine nouns. We saw exemplified the use of ser (to be) to define identity (We are Manchester United) and the formula tener que + infinitive to express obligation (We are Manchester United and we must go out to win).

This same construction reappeared in the aftermath, with manager Louis van Gaal urging on Manchester United: "An estamos en la FA Cup, tenemos que jugar en casa y tenemos que ganar" (We are still in the FA Cup, we must play at home and we must win). Added bonuses were the use of estar (also "to be") for location and the moral message embedded in ganar (to win), which also means "to earn" and, interestingly, "to beat".

Even fouls turned out to be welcome. Thanks to yellow cards for Marouane Fellaini, James Wilson and Cameron McGeehan, we not only practised the principle of adjectival agreement but also picked up the preposition sobre (a foul on). We even extended our English vocabulary by translating the elegant amonestar (to warn) as "to admonish".

Twitter, so ephemeral in spirit, repays unhurried investigation. Each chunk has poetic density and resonance. This weekend, Arsenal will take on Aston Villa in the FA Cup final. Dig deep and there's a good chance your class will learn more from the tweets that emerge than from most textbooks.

Dr Heather Martin is head of languages and enrichment at St Faith's School in Cambridge. @drheathermartin

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