Modern foreign languages - Exasperation stations

20th January 2012 at 00:00
The top three bugbears in MFL

Being a languages teacher is great. You go abroad, listen to music and watch films as part of your teaching. And if you are lucky, you have German colleagues who bring in great food at Christmas. But I would bet my last piece of stollen that we all share a list of things that drive us completely mad.

Online translation sites

Google Translate has a lot to answer for. To convince my classes that brains are better than computers, I used to type in a nursery rhyme, turn it into French, then back to English, and it would come out completely different from the original. Things have improved, but there is still an easy way to tell if pupils have been "cheating". If a Year 7 hands in a piece of A-level standard writing, I can be pretty certain that it is not their own work.

'Or summat'

To understand this, you need to know that I spend a lot of time working on pronunciation with pupils. One Year 10 class I have taught since Year 7 has done everything from holding their noses and honking like angry geese to reading French poems about hedgehogs in silly voices. Their French would be a delight were it not for the fact that, however beautiful their pronunciation, sentence structure or choice of vocabulary, for some reason they feel compelled to mutter "or summat" at the end of every line they speak. I keep asking them, "Why do you do this? Do you think you're not saying the words correctly? Is it just because we're from Yorkshire?" Their response? "We didn't know we were doing it."

Why do we have to do French, anyway?

The one that makes you scream. It does not matter what language you teach, pupils will insist that there is no point learning it. "I don't speak French, I'm full English," a Year 8 pupil once proudly informed me, making himself sound like a breakfast.

Of course, I have known hundreds of kids who recognise the benefits of language learning and really enjoy it, whatever their ability. But there are inevitably those who, at the age of 12, state decisively that they do not need to learn a language because they are never going to leave England and everyone abroad speaks English anyway, don't they?

All we can do is try to persuade pupils to have an open mind and give it a go. It does not work with everyone, but I have taught pupils who had never considered living abroad until they started to learn a language. Now they are planning a year abroad before university, so we must be doing something right.

Rosa Ford has taught English abroad and now teaches French and Spanish at a secondary in the North of England

What else?

Get pupils away from Google Translate and heading for the dictionary with knotty80's clear introduction to dictionary skills or The Bexster's dictionary quiz.

Improve pupils' confidence in pronunciation with Comberton Village College's "Jollyphonics" lesson.

And give them a reason to be excited about French - engage them in the culture with miss_moneypenny's quiz cards.

In the forums

Teachers share their dismay about the use of Google Translate and discuss ways to tackle the problem.

Find all links and resources at

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