Thanks for the memory

24th January 2003 at 00:00
How do you remember the Spanish word for cow? Elaine Johnson watches pupils learn languages by the use of bizarre images

I can still recall a lecture on memory that I attended at Swansea University in which psychologist Professor Michael Gruneberg explained how mnemonics could be used to teach languages. That was nearly 20 years ago.

So I welcomed the opportunity to try out his Linkword technique, which was originally developed for adults, in school.

At Hove Park Language College, Brighton and Hove, head of languages Charmian Hartley felt the CD-Rom format would help promote ICT for modern languages in the school. We sampled the Spanish and German courses.

Linkword is based entirely on CD-Roms for each chosen language, without other materials, and uses mental images to link an English word to another English word that sounds like the corresponding foreign word. The Spanish word for cow is vaca. The learner is asked to picture a cow with a vacuum cleaner cleaning a field. The German word for tie is schlips and learners are asked to image a man slipping and getting caught up in his tie.

The CD-Rom is divided into 10 sections which include animals, home, colours, clothes, shopping, food, drink, and travel. At Hove Park, we used the Spanish Linkword CD-Rom Level 1 to teach the topic "animals" to a Year 7 mixed-ability class. The German Linkword (Section 5 "In the restaurant") was trialled with a Year 10 group. These are keen classes, although Gruneberg says the method is particularly suitable for weaker and reluctant learners.

Our intention was for pupils to learn new words and reinforce gender and adjectival agreements. Sarah Godsall, French and Spanish teacher, says that before the lesson she felt the resource would be too complicated for her group. Afterwards she changed her mind: "Just because it isn't in the course book does not mean the pupils cannot cope with it. The CD-Rom pushed them on by using more extensive vocabulary, tackling many new things we had not covered in Spanish. Brighter children learned to write sentences in Spanish using the verb estar and practised accents, gender and adjectival agreements. They made reference to French to think about word patterns."

During the plenary at the end of the lesson, Sarah and I checked pupils' learning against the objectives and listened to their opinions about Linkword. Year 7 wanted pictures to be added to the Spanish CD-Rom and suggested the foreign and English words be written in different colours to avoid confusion. Pupils were also keen for a mark out of 10 to be given at the end of each section. We all agreed the CD-Rom should have a rewind as well as a forward button.

Learning support assistant Saminara Malik says her statemented pupil was much more motivated than usual but the resource needed to be supplemented with mime and visuals to support special needs and English as an additional language.

The mnemonic images were too hard for younger children to imagine and we had to explain some of the English words. The Spanish for dog is perro. The learner is asked to imagine a dog pirouetting, but many Year 7 pupils did understand what pirouette meant.

The children did not have headphones to hear the correct pronunciation of the words, but they overcame this by using the English word spelt phonetically in brackets. For example, pig puerco (poo erko).

Sue Brigliadori, deputy head of languages, was impressed with Linkword, noting that her Year 10 German group was very motivated with a longer concentration span than usual.

Here are some examples for German words:

* The gender of plate, der Teller, is masculine. Imagine a boxer smashing a plate over his opponent.

* The gender of fork, die Gabel, is feminine. Imagine a little girl poking you with a fork.

* The gender of knife, das Messer, is neuter. Imagine poking a fire with a knife.

Year 10's reaction was mixed. One boy said: "It is difficult to remember words as well as mental images. At first you don't think it's helping you but subconsciously it is."

Another pupil said it was easy to remember the male image of a boxer with masculine nouns and the image of a girl with feminine nouns but it was harder to remember the image of fire with neuter words.

Most of the Year 10 German class used headphones and said this made it more interesting. They unanimously agreed that Linkword is suitable for teenagers. High praise indeed considering many language courses do not match adolescents' age and interests. Linkword definitely boosted pupil self-esteem. Older pupils enjoyed working independently. "You are able to work at your own pace, nobody knows if you get it wrong," one said. Both classes were engaged and motivated throughout the lesson, even though this was the last week of term before Christmas.

The real test will be whether the pupils' long-term memory improves and they can form correct sentences. Michael Gruneberg stresses Linkword is only effective if learners are tested immediately and, on a full course, are tested again two days later. Early this term we are also going to retest the children on their learning during our trial. We plan to buy Linkword Level 2 French for Sarah's disaffected Year 9 French class.

Elaine Johnson is a former head of languages and is MFL consultant for Brighton and Hove

Linkword Spanish (European) and German level 1 CD-Roms pound;24.95 each.

Also available in Spanish (South American), French, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Hebrew, Greek, Russian, Welsh, and Japanese.Linkword Languages, 54

Mansel Street, Swansea SA1 5TE Email: Mg@linkwordlanguages.comwww.linkwordlanguages.com

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