My best lesson - Unleash the endless possibilities of language

16th May 2014 at 01:00

When talking to parents, I often find myself reminding them that learning a language is a long-term apprenticeship. When engaging with students, though, I sometimes like to take a fast-track approach.

Let's not mess about, I say. By the end of this Spanish lesson you will be able to write - and therefore, in principle, utter - 1,001 sentences. (Try a more modest 101 for younger children.)

This grabs their attention. They doubt that it can be done, and it is so satisfying to prove them wrong.

For seven- to nine-year-olds, the challenge arises out of singing the traditional Mexican song Arroz Con Leche ("rice pudding"), in which the powerful verb quiero ("I want") features prominently. Just add the magic ingredient of another verb in the infinitive (they have been learning these since the early years) and away you go.

As the first thrill of discovery begins to wane, I introduce the rebellious note of negation, no quiero ("I don't want"), thereby doubling the tally. With the second-person singular you have positive and negative questions: a veritable explosion of everyday sentences that leaves the children excited and empowered.

For nine- to 11-year-olds, your best bet is the verb ir ("to go"). It is easy to conjugate and, with the help of the connective a ("to"), it easily offers up the near-future tense. Given 41 or so infinitives, the impossible total of 1,001 sentences is easily reached, leaving the children buzzing with a sense of infinite possibility.

Dr Heather Martin is head of languages and head of enrichment at St Faith's Independent Prep School in Cambridge

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