Global creativity for control freaks

27th January 2006 at 00:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Lost in translation

While looking for those effective little ways to introduce my pupils to a new language, I have been amazed by their ability to spot the world of languages around them. As they have been alerted to the fact that not every kiddie in the world uses English to express themselves, they have begun to notice how these other language needs are catered for alongside their own.

One of the first to notice was Anna. She had spotted that when she played a DVD at home, one of the first things she had to do was select the language she wanted to listen to. One day, she thought she would choose French instead.

The visual content was the same, so she had no problem finding her way around the menus.

She told me that she had been able to follow the story without any problem, but I knew that was because it was about the 300th time she had watched it, not because my teaching had brought her language skills on apace. It was the same reason that I found myself laughing at my favourite episode of Frasier in Swedish.

Other pupils began to notice that many of their games and toys came in packaging labelled in other languages. Dan brought in one he had got for Christmas and it turns out that Mr Potato Head in French is not Monsieur Tete de Pomme de Terre as I would have expected, rather the much tamer M Potate. As in all classrooms, these things are contagious, so soon each day kiddies were telling us different language names for a whole range of board games and toys. The game 4-in-arow turned out to be 4-a-la-suite, marble run was something like parcours billes, but our favourite was good old snakes and ladders, or serpents et echelles as we now call it.

All of this is fun of course, but every now and then something grows out of these little seeds.

We are big fans of the Mr Men books, and while checking out the Mr Men website, Lindsay found that the books had been translated into 15 languages and that Mr Dizzy in Danish is called Faetter Dumbum. She quickly put two and two together to make quatre and, with the help of Babel Fish (, began translating the titles of the books she knew into French. Before long, we had a list of French adjectives to use in our classroom. A few wet lunchtimes later, these were illustrated with Mr Men to act as visual translations for the pupils to refer to. Our use of them, to say nothing of our pronunciation, is far from perfect, but the children are enjoying the new words and we can't all be Monsieur Parfait, now can we?

Anyway, if you'll excuse me, I've just borrowed a DVD of Mary Poppins and I can't wait to find out what "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" sounds like in Chinese.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School, Leicester Email:

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