Multilingual make-believe

15th June 2001 at 01:00
Totty Aris unfolds a drama involving eight teachers, six languages and pupils of all ages

Riding on the wave of the European Year of Languages, I believe that language learning need not be confined to the classroom. "Real" situations are expected in language teaching these days, a far cry from the drilling practices of 20 years ago. However, language teaching can be effectively approached through drama, and chorusing can play an important part.

The key is to use the resources available within the whole school. Set up a scenario: any storyfairytale can be used. The main scene is to be repeated in a variety of languages, varying from French or Welsh to Hungarian or Polish. The beginning and end are to be in English. For a short scene, it is amazing how many teachers can bring their language ability out of the woodwork.

Suddenly you become aware that your colleagues are a linguistic gold mine: some have lived abroad, someone's mother was Swedish, another is married to an Italian, and someone else is going to Japanese classes. These teachers can become part of a project that will raise the profile of languages, cross the barriers of departments and involve pupils of all years, levels and standards.

At Tring school, we rounded up English, French, German, Serbian, Swedish and Swahili, (which was included because the current sixth-formers were raisng funds to go to Tanzania in the summer and were learning Swahili). The Golden Goose, a fairytale by the Brothers Grimm, was chosen because it had an obvious beginning, a middle that could be repeated as necessary and an end that would include the whole class. It is also simple and funny.

With eight teachers, each responsible for their own language scene, the team effort culminated in a production performed to the school and Year 6 pupils from local primary schools. With 74 pupil-volunteers of all ages, plus an orchestral group to provide an interlude between the scenes, this was a polyglot festival.

It truly is languages for all: no setting, no restrictions, no auditions even - to choose a language was the only requirement. It resulted in a production involving pupils from Year 7 to Year 13. The German group, for example, had two sixth-formers (currently taking A-level German), two Year 8s, two Year 7s and a Year 9.

As we present our projects to join the European Year of Languages and raise the profile of our subject, we have to remember that languages are not just for the intelligent or talented; they can be appreciated and used by all. The multilingual Golden Goose script and hints for production (in English) can be obtained from Totty Arris, e-mail:

Totty Aris is a teacher at Tring school, Hertfordshire

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