Understanding the Gallic shrug and other useful gestures

20th June 2008 at 01:00
When Ann Robertson, a French and German teacher at Gracemount High in Edinburgh, was asked to trial some draft outcomes for modern languages, her interpretation was quite surprising in some aspects
When Ann Robertson, a French and German teacher at Gracemount High in Edinburgh, was asked to trial some draft outcomes for modern languages, her interpretation was quite surprising in some aspects.

Rather than speaking lots of French or German, her pupils invented their own language and then focused on the use of gestures rather than words as a means of communication.

Ms Robertson was trialling outcomes for the upper primary - Level 2 of A Curriculum for Excellence - with P7 pupils in Gracemount High's two feeder primaries, Gracemount and Burdiehouse.

She focused on two outcomes in the listening and talking section:"I have explored comparisons and connections between sound patterns in different languages through play, discussion and experimentation. I can use my knowledge about language and pronunciation to ensure that others can understand me when I read aloud or say familiar words, phrases and short texts.

"I have explored how gesture, expression and emphasis are used to help understanding. I can listen and respond to familiar voices in short, predictable conversations using straightforward language andor non-verbal techniques, such as gesture and eye contact."

In order to fulfil the criteria of "play" and "experimentation", she asked the class to invent their own language. "They had to make up rules and follow them - the objective was to look at the rules of language," she says.

One of these was that adjectives had to go in front of nouns.

As part of this exercise, she discussed with the class the origins of some Scots words, such as the root of "Burdiehouse" from "Bordeaux House", the name given to Craigmillar Castle when Mary, Queen of Scots, lived there centuries ago.

Ms Robertson also explored the importance of gestures, particularly in the context of French, like the Gallic shrug in all its forms. "We looked at how body language impacts on understanding," she says.

On reflection, while she felt the project worked well in many ways, Ms Robertson would target it at P6 pupils in future, as an introduction to modern languages, rather than P7s who had already been doing French for nearly two years.

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