Modern foreign languages - Allez les garcons!

16th September 2011 at 01:00
Play to their strengths to enthuse reluctant boys

It's a well-worn cliche - supported by recent statistics - that boys don't "do" languages - for which read "can't", "won't" or "shouldn't". Language learning in the UK is in terminal decline, even among girls, while the figures for boys taking a GCSE in a modern foreign language (MFL) are dire and getting worse.

So what's to blame? Well, a lot of things - not least our national psyche, which still believes everyone beyond these shores speaks, or wants to speak, English. So how do we motivate boys in language classes, or get them interested in the first place?

MFL is no longer a core subject, so we have to learn to market ourselves positively and build a higher profile at school. Bringing languages into assemblies, music and drama events, sporting events and even parents' evenings (why not a French caf or Bierstube?) is essential. We also need to work with other curriculum areas, particularly the traditional "boy" subjects such as sciences, technology and PE. You can easily arrange to teach some biology in a French class or do a joint project on a German chemist or a Spanish football team.

Foreign trips are a fantastic way of making languages exciting to young people (especially boys) and it is often easier if you organise one with another department. Geography, history and art are obvious choices, but even music and sport are possibilities. Consider linking up with schools abroad (check out schools online) and set up joint projects, email exchanges and video conferencing (via Skype). Get the PTA to fundraise for a foreign trip, or contact local employers who use languages or export to Europe.

We also need to choose our topics wisely, so they are more appealing to boys. Why teach them about housework or buying a rail ticket (even I buy mine online) when they are more interested in youth culture, computers, sport and dating?

Technology is brilliant at helping to deliver exciting, varied and vibrant lessons. Boys enjoy working with the interactive whiteboard, they enjoy being able to move around and compete, and technology promotes personalised, differentiated and independent learning. I am not saying ditch the textbooks completely, but sites such as,,,, stepintogerman and TES Resources are terrific.

Praise, incentives and recognition are essential for keeping boys motivated. I always have a jar of sweets and reward good effort and work with merit stickers and even postcards home (check out schoolstick Have a man (or player) of the match at the end of each lesson and reward good work and behaviour. Keep boys busy with a variety of different activities. Allow them to have fun (humour is a great teaching tool), experiment, use their imagination and, most importantly, experience success. Once they feel safe and successful, they will be hooked and will be more likely to carry on with their language learning.

Andy Holland is head of faculty at Havelock Academy and teacher of French, German and Dutch

What else?

Visit the primary MFL collection for resources to help with phonics and to engage your pupils through familiar stories, songs, games and interactive activities.

All resources can be found at


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