Je ne comprends pas le problme

18th October 2013 at 01:00

Anyone reading Alex Harrison's article, "Seeking the right words" (How I teach, Professional, 11 October), might be left with the impression that teachers of modern foreign languages (MFL) educate via lists of vocabulary, rote learning and long lectures in English on how to form the perfect tense. Anyone, that is, who hasn't stepped into a French, Spanish or German lesson since the 1960s.

For decades MFL teachers have been using overhead projectors, flash cards, images and "realia" (real objects such as fruit from their own kitchens or plastic bags of sports equipment), all in a bid to teach without the use of English. Regardless of our ability to draw anything more than a stick man, all MFL teachers become masters and mistresses of mime and gesture, and develop more facial expressions than Jim Carrey. Not only do most MFL teachers agree that it is beneficial to avoid English but we have also been told by experts that the "target language" should be used most if not all the time.

The addition of "between three and five students who spoke no English" to Mr Harrison's lessons should not have been especially challenging. Problems do arise, however, when we need to teach more advanced concepts - such as the imperfect tense or adjectival agreement - the explanation of which requires a sound understanding of English. This is the sort of "advice" that language teachers would welcome from TES.

Juliet Green, Ilkley, West Yorkshire.

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